SCHOLARSHIPS FOR ADULTS RETURNING TO SCHOOL (Updated)

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by Willette Coleman ©2014

“Are there any scholarships for older adults who want to go back to school?”  I get that question often. You’d be happy to know you could be eligible for state, federal, corporate and private organizations’ scholarships, or free tuition, to earn an undergraduate or Associate’s Degree, or a certificate, as I told listeners of  “Part II – Learning Forever: Who else is Returning to the Classroom and How to Pay for It?” on the Sage-ing Baby Boomer Show

Some individuals go back to school to gain new or update skills to compete in today’s job or business market.  Others just like the challenge.  Charlie Ball, an 89-year-old veteran, graduated from Arkansas Tech University in May 2012 (see video here).  Whatever your reason, consider these scholarship (or free tuition) opportunities.

American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) – Community CollegePlus 50 Initiative. Over 130 community colleges across the nation receive grants from AACC to give scholarships to unemployed older adults to train and help them get back to work.  If your school of choice isn’t listed on their website, contact AACC and ask if your school is eligible.

American-Opportunity-Tax-Credit   You could claim up to $2,500 per year for tuition and other school-related expenses.  

FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid).  THERE IS NO! AGE LIMIT to apply for -

Pell Grant:  $555 – $5,550 for undergraduates who demonstrate financial need.

Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant:  $100 – $4,000 for undergraduates with exceptional financial need.

Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act.  Awards up to $1,000 to students age 55 and older for 350 hours of volunteer service can be used for your own education or transferred to your child, foster child or grandchild.  On the website, click on “Get Involved,” select your state or jurisdiction, select the service you want to provide, and sign up.

Talbots Women’s Scholarship Fund awards five (5) $10,000 scholarships and fifty (50) $1,000 scholarships to women seeking an undergraduate degree.  Check here for guidelines and watch their online video.

AARP Foundation Women’s Scholarship Program.  Low-income, 50-plus women can qualify for this scholarship for “education, training, and skills upgrades….” in any course of study at an accredited education institution or technical school.   You might also qualify for another AARP scholarship which is offered through community colleges and universities that train mature workers in health care fields.  For example, Anne Arundel Community College (Arnold, Md.) provides two free online webinars to older students interested in health care careers in the college’s “Allied Health Pathway for Encore Careers” initiative.  More details here.

Emerge Scholarships are offered to “women whose educations have been interrupted, who have overcome significant obstacles, and who give back to their communities.”

Dr. Wynetta A. Frazier –Sister to Sister Scholarship annually allocates $500 to “two recipients, 25 or older, that are returning to college without the moral or financial assistance of a spouse.”  

Jeanette Rankin Foundation Grants for Low Income Women provides “scholarships and support for low-income women, 35 and older, to build better lives through college completion.” 

TheAmerican Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations’ (AFL-CIO) Union Plus Scholarship targets adult members, spouses and dependent children.  Awards range from $500 to $4,000.  If you or family members are in a different union, talk to your union representative.

The AMVETS National Scholarship Program annually awards scholarships to veterans, their offspring including grandchildren of deceased veterans.  

The AFCEA EducationalFoundation offers scholarships and training programs to individuals of  ANY AGE who served in the military and are engaged in the “hard science” disciplines related to C4ISR [Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance].

COLLEGES and UNIVERSITIES

Contact the Financial Aid Office at the institution you choose and ask the Officer about

  • scholarship opportunities for mature students,
  • tuition and fee waivers,  
  • a reduced tuition rate for credit, or 
  • taking non-credit classes.   

Also, check the Higher Education Assistance Authority in your state or territory (e.g., google Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Authority) to learn about more opportunities for mature adults.

GET COLLEGE CREDIT

Mature adults have mucho experience and skills that can correlate to any number of academic subjects.   To shorten the number of subjects and hours you may need when you return to school, consider earning college credits for your life experience through the College-Level Examination Program® (CLEP), which is administered at more than 2,900 colleges and universities and costs $80.  

EMPLOYERS
Numerous companies, such as McDonald’s USA National Employee ScholarshipProgram that “selects one outstanding student-employee applicant from each state and the District of Columbia to receive a $2,500”, encourages returning college students.  Their “McScholar of the Year” gets a $5,000 scholarship.   

To find other businesses check here.  If your company isn’t on this list, talk with your supervisor or human resources personnel.  Ask about any age limit.

NOTE: Employers might stipulate specific criteria for financial education support, such as you agreeing to work for the company for a designated number of years after graduation.  Others like The Target Tuition Reimbursement Program, pays “for job-related courses at accredited technical schools, colleges or universities.  Operative words:  “job-related”.

So, all you mature adults thinking about going back to school……GO FOR ITThe $$$ are out there!
Thanks for reading,

Magic, Miracles & Blessings,
Willette

YOUR SOCIAL SECURITY NUMBER…JOB SEEKERS BEWARE (Updated)

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by Willette Coleman ©2014

 

People who are desperate for a job may give potential employers all kinds of personal information.  Should a copy – yes, a COPY – of their Social Security card – yes, CARD – be included?  Is it even legal?

 

 

That’s the question Marie (name changed) asked personnel at a temp-to-perm executive employment agency.  She had filled out the job application with her social security (SS) number, so why did the employer need a COPY of her card on file?  “You can’t work for us if we don’t have a copy,” the company’s associate stated flatly.  This was Marie’s first experience with an employer making this demand.  Usually recruiters looked at her card, then, initialed the application to confirm seeing it.  “What do you do with the copy?” Marie asked.  “We scan it into our system for E-Verify,” the associate quipped.  Marie almost laughed when the woman declared, “your information is secure.” 
Your Information is Secure…HA!
Charles C. Mann’s and David H. Freeman’s book, At Large, “blows the lid off the frightening vulnerability of the global online network, which leaves not only systems, but also individuals, exposed.”  According to the Pew Research Center, 11% of Internet users have had personal information stolen.  Studies also show that “21% of users had had an email or social network account compromised.”
In 2013, hackers stole millions of social security numbers and IDs, including First Lady, Michelle Obama (Michelle Obama’s IDdetails hacked from data brokers), “Bill Gates, Beyonce Knowles, Jay-Z, Ashton Kutcher and many others,” before being shut down. 
According to experts, hackers break into systems numerous ways, from using computer programs like “Trojan horse” (spyware disguised to look like one of Unix’s or Windows’ legitimate components), that are available on the Internet, to obtaining or guessing “root-access, which, [experts say], is as easy as getting your or my password, because servers are often shipped from the factory loaded with supposedly default ‘backdoor’ passwords…” meant to be “used by vendor technicians….”  Also, hackers can access individuals’ PCs “through a PC in a nearby home or a neighborhood cable switch,” because “cable companies that provide home Internet access treat entire neighborhoods like one local-area network,” said Freeman.
You’d think that government agencies and financial institutions would be invincible, but “Banks get hit by cyberattackers all the time and typically have some of the best defenses against them. This time, they were outgunned,” David Goldman wrote in, Major Banks Hit with Biggest Cyberattacks in History.  The 2008 World Bank Hacked, Sensitive Data Exposed article reported, the bank had “had multiple hacks…..”  If I were going into e-crime, I’d hit a bank,” said security specialist, Jon David, in Forbes Magazine‘s How to Hack A Bank.  Hacked companies include Sony, Google Inc., Lockheed Martin,  Target is still reeling from the 2013 security breach.
An employer (or anyone) who has a copy of your SS card – which contains your signature – puts your identity at risk.  In 2011, “More than 11.6 million adults became a victim of identify fraud in the United States,” Javelin Strategy & Research reported.  The risk is equally great when you put your SS number on online job applications.  Months before the 2012 tax season, applicants couldn’t submit H.R. Block’s job application without inputting their SS number.  Consequently, H.R. Block has and will receive hundreds, maybe thousands, of applicants’ SS numbers.  With many employers using resume scanners to search keywords and phrases to select compatible candidates, what’s the point of having SS numbers of individuals in whom there’s no interest?

Job scams, which go hand-in-hand with identify theft, are another reason to NOT put your SS number online, nor allow an employer to make a copy of your SS card.  Not all companies are as legit as they appear.  Even legitimate companies may – unknowingly – have an unscrupulous employee who steals IDs.  Considering the risk, you’d think that an employer’s common sense would dictate that having individuals’ SS cards – hard copy or online – poses a security threat.
CareerBuilder is among few job search databases that alert job seekers:  
“For your privacy and protection, when applying to a job online:
Never give your social security number to a prospective employer;
provide credit card or bank account information, or perform
any sort of monetary transaction.”  (Author’s emphasis.)

SS CARD COPYING  POLICY – LEGAL Or NOT?
Curious about the associate’s by-the-book spiel about “e-verify,” Marie learned that E-Verify is “an Internet-based system that compares information from an employee’s Form I-9 to data from U.S. Department of Homeland Security and Social Security Administration records to confirm employment eligibility.”
Her online search also revealed an employer that queried online human resource advisors whether it’s “illegal to make and keep copies of employees’ social security cards.”  Part of the reply stated:   “…the I-9 form specifically gives employers the right to make copies of the supporting documents the employee presents….”; it would “be unlawful for you to require that job applicants — as opposed to employees — fill out an I-9 or give copies of identity documents. That is why the I-9 is completed AFTER a job offer has been accepted, but before the employee has worked for 3 days.”  (Author’s emphasis.)  Since Marie was an applicant, not an employee, no one asked her to complete an I-9.  Yet, they wanted a copy of her SS card.  

While the I-9 form “gives employers the right to make copies of the supporting documents…,” (e.g., SS cards), under Section 2, on the I-9 form, it clearly states:  “Employers may, but are not required to photocopy the documents presented.”  (Author’s emphasis.)  Even had she been offered and accepted the job, the employer wasn’t REQUIRED to copy her card despite the recruiter’s emphatic reply to Marie’s email thanking them for the interview and confirming her refusal to allow them to copy her card.  Marie stood firm knowing that the employer’s “copying policy” is ILLEGAL.

In today’s “wired/wireless” world, when and where possible, I minimize threats to my personal information.  I don’t my put home address on my resume and marketing materials.  I have a P.O. Box.  As I stated in 6 TIPS TO AVOID JOB SCAMS, anyone, I mean ANYONE, can see where you live via electronic “maps.”  Research shows that twelve percent of users have been stalked or harassed.  Just having his email address on his resume, Tyrone (name changed) said he’s noticed an increase in spam urging him to: “Follow up on your job application,” or claiming “Job application status pending.”  The point is: He NEVER applied for a job to these individuals or entities.     

So, to be as safe as reasonably possible, take CareerBuilder’s advice and just say “no thanks” should an employer request your SS number online.  [NOTE:  Government online applications, such as www.usajobs.gov, force you to input your SS number.]  And, if an employer reaches for your SS card to make a copy, quote the I-9, Section 2  Homeland Security law. 

Share your thoughts on this issue.
Thanks for reading.
Magic, Miracles & Blessings,
Willette

6 TIPS TO AVOID JOB SCAMS (Updated)

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by Willette Coleman ©2013 

IT’s enough to be out of work and struggling to pay the rent; it’s worse that heartless and unscrupulous people prey on individuals who simply want to work and take care of themselves and their families.  These predators use unmonitored job search websites, like craigslist, to “phish” for personal information (e.g., home addresses on resumes; Internet maps can show your exact location), or lure unsuspecting applicants into job scams.  So, we all need to be careful in this “unseen virtual” world and use good instincts discussed in How to Avoid Job Scams onCraigslist.

“Angela” (name changed) didn’t follow her instincts and soon became anxious about her social security number and fingerprints being in the hands of….who?, and would she lose her money? 

This all began when Angela’s qualifications matched a tutoring job description on craigslist.  Observing no contact information and no website link, red flags waved; her gut said “let it go.”

~ Tip 1 ~

Listen to your gut!  If it doesn’t feel right, do not apply!

Angela ignored her gut.  The perfect part-time hours fitted her schedule and, unlike other tutoring jobs, she didn’t need a car.  So, she Googled the company’s name.  The website looked authentic (but that’s easy to do).  She clicked on the“contact” tab, and dialed the Northern Virginianumber.  The person who answered seemed surprised that someone was calling.  Angela explained that she wanted to be sure the ad wasn’t another job scam because no contact information was provided.  The woman, who didn’t identify herself (and Angela failed to ask her name), gave the name and email address of the individual to whom Angela should send her resume.  Within two hours,“Sallie” (name changed) acknowledged Angela’s cover letter and resume and scheduled an interview at a popular book store in a mall in a nearby suburb.  Angela was hopeful.

The November llth interview went well.  Angela was even encouraged to be a Tutor Coordinator and given documents explaining the company’s policies, and the job’s tasks and responsibilities; some documents needed her signature.  Sallie confirmed the job post’s statement that Angela would need to get a background check and fingerprints, and said she’d be reimbursed for the cost by the 15thof the month, “when we cut checks.”   

~ Tip 2 ~

Don’t Pay a Fee for a Background Check Without ASSURANCE You Have the Job! 

Angela paid for the process without an official offer.  A week later, Angela met Sallie outside (not inside) another mall and handed her the signed documents containing her social security number, the card with her fingerprints she’d secured through the local police department, and the original receipt for the $10 fee.  Sallie, in athletic attire and pushing her carriaged one-year-old daughter, thanked a professionally dressed Angela, and reassured her she’d be reimbursed. 

~ TIP 3 ~

Don’t Fill Out Forms Online that Require Your SSN

Angela had kindly declined to put her social security number on forms via email.  Sallie said she understood.  Only the hard copies she gave Sallie had that information. “I would prefer to keep that number safe until hired, but it is not always possible,” wrote Susan M. Heathfield in You Want My Social Security Number?“It might cost you the employment opportunity,” but she suggests you write in the required space, “SSN available upon job offer.”  {Note:  You have no choice when filling out government job applications on http://www.usajobs.gov}

~ TIP #4 ~

Document Emails, Receipts – Everything!

Angela did the right thing here.  She has all her emails and hard copies of documents and the receipt.  Over the course of two weeks, Sallie emailed Angela and other candidates she’d interviewed about public and charter schools that needed tutors, and that she would confirm assignments soon.  Then, on December 6, Sallie emailed all candidates saying:

Sadly, I decided Commonwealth Education is not a good fit for me at this time.

Randi Franklin or Ryan Garton will be taking over – I forwared all of your paperwork – please check with them regarding new students, reimbursement, and payroll. For those of you waiting to be reimbursed, Randi will be sending checks out on the 15th of the month. For those of you still waiting for background checks, I will send them to Randi as I receive them.

I was such a pleasure meeting everyone and I’m sorry if this causes any future inconveniences. I wish you all the best of luck.

[Email printed with permission, and includes the actual spelling and grammar errors.]

Two weeks later, Angela hadn’t heard from either individual Sallie had said would contact candidates.  She began to feel uneasy about her exposed social security number and fingerprints.  They were in the hands of….who?  So, she emailed three other individuals Sallie had interviewed and inquired whether they’d been contacted.  One person responded saying that “Janice” (name changed) had contacted her.  Angela asked for Janice’s email address and emailed her December 21.  Janice replied the same day:  [Email printed with permission.]
Thank you for emailing us.I did receive confirmation of your fingerprints and am in the process of checking with PrinceGeorges Countyto see where we stand. You are on my list and I will get with you next week to let you know what I have found out.

Thank you for your patience and have a very joyous holiday!

Angela thought it odd they were “in the process of checking… to see where we stand.”  The craigslist’s post and Sallie’s emails had listed confirmedlocations and stated that tutors only needed to be assigned.  Angela also noted that Janice didn’t mention why she hadn’t contacted her since Sallie’s departure, nor said anything about reimbursing her.  Another two weeks later, Janice hadn’t kept her promise to get back to Angela.  So, on January 17, Angela emailed Janice:

I am following up on your last email on December 21.  Although you said you would get back with me a week later, I’ve not heard from you.

I am a little concerned that no timely communications is coming from [*company name].  Therefore, I have moved forward in my job search and may not be available to tutor should a schedule be finalized.

In the meantime, when [Angela gave “Sallie’s” real name] interviewed me, she said that the company would reimburse me the $10 I paid for my fingerprints.  To date, I’ve not received the reimbursement.  I would appreciate it if you would inform me of the status of reimbursement.  Also, since it appears I will not be in (*company’s name) employ, I am inquiring about your policy for returning to me my fingerprint card and all information that shows my social security number.   *Author omitted company’s name.

With no response, on February 2, Janice called the number at the start of this situation.  The individual (Angela got her name that time) took her information and concerns, and said that Janice would call her back.  She didn’t.

Angela felt scammed, and rightly so.  The company possessed her social security number, fingerprints and background information.  No job and $10 short, she had also spent valuable time and commuting funds in this employment effort.  Concerned that her identity could be at risk, Angela considered emailing the Better Business Bureau (BBB) until she learned that filing a complaint could be a waste of time. 

BBB is a private franchise – yes, franchise – not a local, state or federal government agency.  Companies can purchase membership.  Which provoked one person to ask the BBB in Canada: If all your funding comes from business, how can you be fair to the consumer?  BBB‘s reply was more like a promo statement.  As a franchise and a non-profit (yes, non-profit) “…the BBB receives millions in grant money every year from the US Government,” according to Rip-off Report .  The ABC News program 20/20  investigated the BBB in November, 2010. 

While Angela’s situation may not be a scam in the word’s exact meaning, it clearly is a rip off. From now on, Angela says she won’t bypass her gut reaction, puts her P.O. Box number on her resumes (she has 5) instead of her home address, and is extra diligent about giving out her SS number. 

~ TIP #5 ~

Take the Time to Check Out Companies

Searching whether a company has a bad rap sheet takes vigilance and patience.  It’s time-consuming and tedious, but it’s worth it in the long run.  Ask:

1.    Does the company belong to a professional association?  At the time, Angela didn’t think to check the National Tutoring Association, or the American Tutoring Association.

2.    Is it licensed?  According to www.sba.gov, “Every business needs one or more federal, state or local licenses or permits to operate.” Licenses can range from a basic operating license to specific permits.  Regulations vary by industry, state and locality.  None-compliance with regulations can lead to fines. 

3.    For a fee, Angela could have viewed the company’s business details in Dun &Bradstreet or www.hoovers.com databases.

4.    WetFeet.comand glassdoor.com, as I noted in POWER INTERVIEWS: How to Sharpen Your Query Skills, are helpful for searching information about companies.  Keep in mind that not all companies are listed on these sites, and opinions can be bias for valid or invalid reasons.

Afterwards, Angela contacted the Virginia State Attorney General’s office and a representative said they covered such cases and instructed Angela to download and mail the multi-page complaint form on their website.She sent the document by certified mail.Some four months later, the Attorney General’s office replied:  “Your complaint is not in our jurisdiction.”

Six months later, another Commonwealth Education representative emailed Angela: [Partial email printed with permission.]

Regarding your query about fingerprints, I do not believe we ever received anything from PG County with your fingerprints.  If we still have any docs in our office with your ssn, we will gladly mail them back to you (along with a check for $10).  Please send me your address so we can get a check sent to you.

Again, my sincerest apologies for our oversight on this matter,…

Angela sent her address, and corrected him that:

An email from Randi Franklin on December 21, 2011 confirmed that Commonwealth Education received confirmation regarding my fingerprints[Author's emphasis.]

Angela never heard from anyone from Commonwealth Education again.  Frustrated, she filed a review on www.yelp.com.

At least Angela’s experience wasn’t deadly as it was for three unfortunate men who responded to a job posted on craigslist to work on an Ohio cattle farm.  On November 18, 2011, WEWS-TV reported the scam led to one man’s death and the other injured.   Another man’s body was found on the farm  ten days later.

~ Tip ~

Don’t Let a Desperate Need for money Place You in a Questionable Situation

and

ALWAYS FOLLOW TIP 1!

If you’ve been scammed, ripped off or undeservedly disappointed, I’m listening

WORKPLACE and the F-WORD

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Fun & Work: Can They Just Get Along?

by Willette Coleman ©2013

Generally, you look for a company where you can efficiently and effectively use your knowledge and skills in your job search.  Right?  Right.  Well, there’s one other thing you might look for – Fun.  

Knowing whether a company’s culture includes fun will give you some insight into the employer’s management style.  Are employees made to feel like prisoners?  Or, does management show appreciation and incorporate fun?  “Putting subtle cues in the environment that can suggest fun can be a powerful motivator,” Juliano Laran, Assistant Professor, Marketing, University of Miami, School of Business, said in Hans Villarica’s article, To Keep Willpower from Flagging, Remember the F-Word: ‘Fun’ 

Some managers consider fun in the workplace to be a distraction, unprofessional and not taking your work seriously, assuming that joking and laughing on the job means you’re goofing off.  If done too often and for long stretches of time during the work hours, those concerns have merit.   Nonetheless, employers are embracing the F-word to the extent of creating “fun committees” or appointing “a mirth manager” to schedule joyful and de-stressing events during work, without employees sacrificing their lunch hour.  “This openness” says Paul McGhee, PhD, author of Changing Corporate Perceptions of the Value of Humor, “has led many CEOs to consider the idea of putting humor and fun to work, to support the bottom line.”

Playfair, with a mission to increase fun-in-the-workplace awareness, says that business managers are beginning to understand that, “Having fun isn’t the same as goofing off.  It is a way to bolster productivity, teamwork and company loyalty by showing workers they are appreciated.”  In 1996, Playfair designated April 1st (or the first Thursday in April, if April 1 falls on a weekend) as International Fun at Work Day.  Initially, they were reluctant to associate the occasion with April Fool’s Day, “Then we realized it was actually the perfect time to spotlight the notion that fun, especially at work, does not have to equal foolish.”  No foolishness means, “non-toxic humor; absolutely no sarcasm, put-downs, or offensive jokes that targets any particular group or minority.” 

I’m fortunate to have worked in two environments where the managers embraced the F-word.  The former branch manager of the DC Public Libraries was unique among the 25 neighborhood branches.  Major Shackleford encouraged staff to participate in events – yoga, dance classes, meditation, health seminars, lectures, movies and plays – that took place at the library.  Without shirking our duties, we could get involved in any activity, if we chose.  Staff also had fun planning and managing the monthly yard sale fundraiser.  Mr. Shack, as many employees called him, encouraged me to produce a quarterly newsletter for the “Friends” of the branch, as he’d observed that, for me, writing and researching, while labor intensive, was (and is) fun.  A kind and caring man, Shack made sure staff celebrated birthdays, retirements or promotions.  He also gave each staff member a generous appreciation bonus each Christmas, out of his own pocket.  Even after retirement, Mr. Shack continues to surprise us with his generosity. 

The former executive director of a small national profit, Linda Haithcox, who loves to bake, make homemade ice cream (yummy!), and entertain, is the other F-word embracer.  The loyal sports fan orchestrated football fantasy competitions, betting (no money) whose team would win the season.  Staff birthdays and milestones were always celebrated at an upscale restaurant of choice.  We went to Atlantic City and danced until 3:00 A.M for her birthday.  Charitable events included buying new clothes for orphans during Christmas, and having staff and board members participate in community service, such as at the organization’s 2010 Economic Development Conference, where they got sweaty, dirty and laughed a lot while helping Habitat for Humanity help New Orleans, LA Katrina victims rebuild their homes.  And, I’ll always remember the fun staff had decorating individual White House Christmas tree ornaments.  “I’m afraid I won’t find another place to work where there’s so much laughter,” an intern lamented as her year’s stay at the organization ended. 

Fun is a healthy component to work that increases productivity and reduces stress what with going to meetings, traveling, and meeting company deadlines and goals.  Reduced stress and relief from corporal tunnel syndrome, eyes, back and neck strain from long hours sitting at computers translates to better health.  Better health translates to employees taking fewer sick days.  Decreased sick days translate to a cost-saving bottom line for employers that provide health insurance for employees.  

Finally, the F-word makes us smile.  “Smiling is a natural drug,” Dr. Stibich, adjunct faculty member of the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine, said in Top 10 Reasons to Smile.   “Studies have shown that smiling releases endorphins, natural pain killers, and serotonin.  Together these three make us feel good.”   

Finding Companies that Embrace the F-Word.  Olivera Perkins’ article, Northeast Ohio Companies Encourage Employees to Have Fun at Work, sites examples of companies that subsidize on-site message therapy sessions; have free fitness centers and offer rejuvenation stations with cushy recliners and cleansing ocean sounds.  To find F-word-friendly companies, you’ll need to do some research.  Technology companies, the arts organizations and those that focus on education, philanthropy and enriching the lives of others appear to lead the pack as fun places to work.  Some careers, such as cartoonist, photographer, writer, website designer and clown, are inherently fun.  McGhee says companies today must “find ways to make work enjoyable, if they want to survive and thrive in the 21st century.” 

Fun Ideas for the Workplace. 

  • Traveling Bouquet.  Give a bouquet of flowers to a co-worker.  Say:  “Keep this on your desk for the next hour.  Then pass it on to someone else and tell them to do the same.” 
  • Company Limo Lottery.  Hold a lottery where the winner is driven to and from work in a limo for a day or week.  Don’t have a company limo?  Rent one.
  • Offer employees unusual gifts (e.g., free housecleaning certificates) to show your appreciation.
  • On-site Masseuse  - weekly, bi-weekly or monthly.
  • Pop-champagne Wednesday (or sparkling apple juice).  Comedian Sinbad  popularized Wednesday as “hump day.”  Each Wednesday, toast each other for successes and fabulous failures of the past week.
  • Add 5-minute “stretch-n-breathe” breaks (preferably every hour or two)
  • Take “Joy Breaks” during the day, and enjoy low-tech games like marbles, ball-and-jacks, or building a 5,000 piece puzzle.
  • On-site exercise, yoga, dance or juggle classes (juggling has HUGE brain benefits).
  • Celebrate new accounts, employees’ career milestones, or the company’s existence. 
  • Chili or barbecue cook-offs; Easter egg dyeing and decorating.
  • More tips at 11 Easy Ways to Make Work Fun.

Hal Rosenbluth, former CEO of Rosenbluth International, and consultant for Walgreen’s healthcare services, told Dr. McGhee that it’s “almost inhumane if companies create a climate where people can’t naturally have fun….  Our role and responsibility as leaders and associates is to create a place where people can enjoy themselves.”

So, the verdict is in:  Fun and work CAN get along!  They merge to create an environment where people WANT to work and are motivated to provide quality services and products. 

Is your workplace F-word friendly?  If so, share.

Magic, Miracles & Blessings,

Willette

THE ART of NETWORKING

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by Willette Coleman

As a member of the 43rd Annual Congressional Black Caucus Foundation Legislative Conference’s Bloggers Row (September 18-21), I sat with a cup of hot, strong black coffee and planned my workshop-going and networking strategy.  From among nearly 50 Braintrusts and forums on health, education, media, community and global violence, business, politics, finance, and international affairs, held at Washington, DC’s Convention Center, “I’d be lucky to cover 20,” I mused.

Networking is a career lifeskill. The conference’s bold and motivating theme, IT STARTS WITH YOU, that urged participants to be active in their communities to improve them, also applied to networking.  Here are some basic networking lifeskills’ “do’s” and “don’ts” at conferences (or anywhere).

DO

1.     Register.  Conference fees can be beyond a lot of people’s budget, so consider these tips to get FREE access. 

·        Register as “Press,” if you have a professional blog, website or newsletter.

·        Ask about “general registration” for forums/seminars open to the public.

·        Intern

·        Volunteer

 

2.     Purpose.  Before stepping into the networking arena, pinpoint your purpose.  Clarity about who you are, what you are about and what your boundaries are, is your foundation; your strength, and makes networking easier.  My purpose included education, careers, scholarships and exposing my blog to more people.  Renown author and motivational speaker, Ilyana Vanzant, encouraged over 300 participants at the Networking Luncheon, to “Be Clear and authentic about your purpose,” because “Networking comes from inside you.”  I witnessed hundreds of 20 through 30-somethings clearly articulate their purposes with and get career guidance from mature leaders, such as former Congressman Ronald Dellums, at the Emerging Leaders – Instant Apprentice Power Luncheon

 

3.     Dress professionally.  Pretend you’re going to a job interview.

 

4.     Smile.  Even if you’re nervous (networking can be intimidating) do 7 deep belly breathing exercises, look the person you approach in the eyes and smile.  If you’re shy, participating in a networking group beforehand can be helpful.  While some career advisors recommend shy individuals begin by networking on sites like LinkedIn, the Internet doesn’t provide the face-to-face interaction needed.   I recommend role-playing with family, friends, or, if you’re a student, teachers.  It isn’t easy pretending they are strangers, but the practice helps you act out your anxieties.  Remember those 7 deep belly breaths.  Keep practicing.  Over time, you’ll relax. 

 

5.     Familiarize Yourself with the Program’s Agenda (choose sessions that relate to your purpose) & Read about the Speakers and Panelists.  For example, the Beacons for the Future:  Trailblazers in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) Education for African Americans correlated to a proposal I’m editing for a nonprofit that offers a STEM program for underserved children and youth.  I networked with Dr. Reagan Flowers, founder and CEO of C-STEM.  And, Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson offered exceptional networking opportunities at her Science & Technology Braintrust.

 

6.     Pay Attention to Speakers (or anyone you approach); Take Notes.  Taking notes helps you approach an individual or a panelist at the end of a session with clear intention, and shows you were paying attention.  Refer to something a panelist said in their presentation that stood out for you.  Connect that statement to your purpose.  This will get and hold their attention. 

 

7.     Business Cards – essential networking tools.  Students can order or create your own cards that contain your name, email address, and phone number.  To make it interesting/ stand out, include your major, school you’re attending and a brief statement of your plan  (e.g., Future marine biologist, chemistry teacher, fashion designer, novelist, airline pilot, mechanical engineer, yoga instructor, etc.).  Ask permission to give your card.  Usually, when you hand it over, he/she will return the favor.   Don’t force it, if they don’t. 

 

8.     Followup/Reconnect. 

·        In a quiet space, put business cards in alphabetical order by his/her last name, or company or school.  Review each.  If you need to, make additional notes on the back. 

·        Browse her/his company’s or school’s website.  If you’re looking for a job, search for a career tab.

·        Email a “thank you” to individuals you really want to connect with.  Remind him/her of your conversation at the event.  Refer to the statement in your notes that connects to our purpose.  Ask:  “May I stay in touch with you to (regarding your purpose)?” 

 

Many conference speakers represent companies that offer scholarship, so, again, search their website.

DON’Ts

1.     Don’t just “work the room.”  Interface with individuals on more than a superficial level. 

 

2.     Don’t ask for a favor.  If you have a business, don’t ask anyone to send you customers, or blatantly ask for a job.  Allow people to get familiar with you first.  Networking, like relationship building, takes time.  Although waiting can be frustrating, being pushy will reap you little success.

 

3.     Don’t spend a lot of time…. texting, tweeting or scrolling pictures on your iPhone in a workshop session.  Again, pay attention. 

 4.     Dress Code:  Again, think “job interview.”  Males:  No saggin’ pants/jeans, shirts hanging outside pants, or tee-shirts.  Females: No thigh-revealing dresses or skirts, too-tight fitting pants; cleavage-revealing dresses or tops, and spiked heels; kill the bat-wing eyelashes and heavy makeup.  Remember – Leggins’ are not pants/slacks.  Males & Females:  Cancel the heavy cologne or perfume.  Some people are allergic, others gag on heavy aromas.  Unfortunately, some people tend to exhibit poor grooming when policies aren’t in place, which is why Newsweek Magazine enacted dress ethics.

 

5.     Don’t lie about your accomplishments or what you can do.  Operate in Integrity

 

6.     Don’t Interrupt.  If you approach someone engaged in a conversation, wait.  Don’t show impatience if you aren’t acknowledged immediately.  If they acknowledge you, say:  “Forgive me for interrupting…”

 

If nothing else, networking is fun, especially if you like meeting and talking with people – near and far.  Kenyan and South African panelists, on the Africa Braintrust, provided numerous networking opportunities, as did Congresswoman Maxine WatersBanking Issue Forum, the Avoice Student Voting Rights Workshop, and the Author’s Pavilion that showcased prolific authors like Terry McMillian (How Stella Got Her Groove On, and other best-sellers), and actress/author Victoria Rowell (The Young and the Restless daytime soap), whose book, The Women Who Raised Me, documents her life in foster care.

My own networking yielded a surprise.  Along with being allowed into numerous receptions (plenty of music and delicious food), Donna Brazille’s associate, at the Not for Sistah’s Only Political Conversation with Heroic Women session, unexpectedly, gave me a ticket ($300 value) to the conference’s 2013 Phoenix Awards Dinner.  President Obama was the keynote speaker.  To say it was thrilling to see him and the First Lady walk onstage, hand-in-hand, in the flesh – a breathing reality of pictures on the many Obama-themed calendars hanging on walls throughout my living space – is an understatement.  On a profoundly personal level, I was honored to be a witness, for my ancestors who have transitioned to the Other Side, to the first African American president.  Thank God for favoring me. 

Go here for more information, videos and pictures at the 43rd Black Caucus Legislative Foundation Conference.

“Life is like a box of chocolates; you never know what you’re getting……”  But you do know that if you want to build and maintain an effective network, It Starts With You.

Resources for successful networking strategies.

How To Network

How To Network Like A Pro

Magic, Miracles & Blessings,

Willette

LETTERS of RECOMMENDATION for SCHOLARSHIPS and COLLEGE APPLICATIONS

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by Willette Coleman

You are more than your GPA and test scores. That’s why scholarship providers, college/university admission officers and some vocational schools require Letters of Recommendation (LOR).

Letters can be average or gripping. Like your essay, judges read your LOR to assess your passions, goals and character. The compelling ones – that “include details of specific events that demonstrate your strengths,” says Susan E. Jackson, Education Consultant and Advocate at Celebrating High Potential, in Arizona – can persuade judges to select you from among thousands of applicants.

So, how do you get that winning LOR? The following tips can help.

Who Should Recommend You? Look for people who know your character and ambitions, and can write well. Generally, high school teachers or college professors are preferred. Some schools and scholarship providers allow LOR from previous employers (e.g., where you volunteered or interned), coaches, clergy, community leaders, Boys & Girls Clubs and Boy Scouts or Girl Scouts leaders.

Family LOR. Some educators advise against family members writing letters of recommendation, but that depends on the school, and possibly, special circumstances. Parents, grandparents, brother, sister, aunt or uncle may have compelling stories that address your perseverance, such as overcoming an obstacle. “Specific stories make you stand out,” says Susan, who,also, is an Adjunct Instructor of Education and Psychology at Lone Star College System (LSCS)‎, in the Houston, TX. “Two or three brief stories are even better.” Hopefully, the admissions and/or scholarship guidelines will state whether letters from family members are accepted. If it’s unclear, query the institution’s admissions officer or the scholarship provider via email or phone.

Networking/Relationship Building. Networking is an essential, life long, career life skill, and your high school years are a good time to start practicing.

Tip 1
While in high school (and college or vocational school), create a list of names,
addresses, emails and phone numbers of potential LOR writers.

Building a relationship with your teachers can be as cool as with your peers. Get to know your teachers, guidance and/or college counselors before you ask for recommendations. Take advantage of opportunities to speak with teachers when you seek help or advice for a difficult paper or test. Over time, he/she may be able to write about your true character, strengths, and accomplishments. Networking with professors in college can result in grad school recommendations, and post-college and post-vocational school networking with peers may help you score employment or business opportunities.

Organize. The letter writer will need the following materials:

• correct contact information (your full name, address, email and phone number), as it appears on the scholarship’s and/or school’s application;
• correct deadline information;
• full title and description of the scholarship;
• two copies of any forms the writer needs to fill out (give one copy for a “rough draft” and a copy for the “final”);
• recommendation form (with your information already filled out);
• copy of your completed scholarship application and essay;
• list of your achievements, activities;
• short-term and long-term goals;
• description of your coursework;
• copy of your resume;
• stamped envelope (Note: As with college applications, some LOR are submitted electronically. If that’s the case, give the writer the CORRECT email address where to send the LOR.)

Also, “If the scholarship organization provides a rubric [special instructions/directions] for letters of recommendation, make sure that you provide it,” Susan points out. This organizing task is important because, “Even counselors or family friends may not be aware of everything that you’re involved in,” she adds.

Time Management. People are busy, so don’t wait until the last minute to ask for a LOR. Give the writer(s) PLENTY of time to compose the letter before the deadline – a month, if possible.

Respect. You’re asking for a favor, so be humble. Make a polite, formal request (call or email) to schedule an appointment! Say something like the following:

“Hello, Mr. or Ms (Name), this is (your name).”  If some time has passed since you’ve been in touch, remind her/him how they know you (e.g., a class project). Show you respect their time and ask: “Is this a good time to talk?” If you get the green light, say:  “I’m applying for a scholarship,” and/or “I’m applying to (name of college or university) and was wondering if you wouldn’t mind writing a letter of recommendation for me.”

If she/he says “sure,” you say: “Thank you. I really appreciate it.” Ask: “May I come to your office to discuss it with you?” If he/she says “okay,” ask: “What would be a good day and time?” Try to keep your own schedule flexible so you are free to accept any date the writer confirms.

Get a “yes or no” in this initial contact. You don’t want to waste your time scheduling an appointment to have a discussion that yields no result. If she/he sends evasive or uncomfortable vibes, or says “no,” due to a stressed-out, busy schedule, thank him/her, and ask someone else. Just as teachers are thrilled with enthusiastic students, you want enthusiastic LOR writers.

Face-to-Face Delivery. Give your organized materials to your writer(s) during the in-person discussion, and ask if there is anything else they need from you.

Followup.

A) After the discussion, send a “Thank You” to the writer for taking the time to do you this favor. This gracious act will help to keep your request on the writer’s mind.

B) Once the LOR has been mailed or emailed, send another “Thank You” note.

C) Let him/her know when you’re admitted to the school, and/or you won the scholarship.

He/She Forgot. You approached the writer a month earlier.  Two weeks later, no word.  Gently and politely remind him/her. Ask if they need more information, or if there is anything more you can do to help.

Tip 2 – Don’t
“Don’t re-use letters, even if they have been written
recently,” states Susan.

Otherwise, you “run the risk of a lower score, which will affect your overall score, on that part of the college application, because each letter MUST address the specifics in each scholarship and each educational institution’s rubric.”

Continue the Process. Ask for LOR immediately after you’ve finished a course with a professor or instructor in college or vocational school. If you wait until you need the letter (two or three years later), you risk the possibility of the professor not remembering you. Follow Tip 1 and create a file of names and contact information before you need them.

Magic, Miracles & Blessings,

Willette

14 STEPS to WRITING COMPELLING SCHOLARSHIP ESSAYS

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by Willette Coleman ©2013

You’re responding to a college admissions application’s short response essay or applying for public and private scholarships.  Soon, you may find yourself staring into space contemplating: “How do I craft an essay that creatively addresses the standard queries – my college plans, career goals, future contributions to society, and show how the scholarship will help with my short and long term goals?”  You may feel some intimidation, confusion, fear; or all three.  Even with the addition of essay writing to SAT tests in 2006, many students still find writing challenging. 

Hundreds of annual scholarships worth millions of $$$ are unrewarded because of the fear of writing essays.  Instead of giving in to fear, turn to your personal power by using these 14 steps.

1.  Self-Empowerment.  You probably didn’t expect this to be on the “to do” list, but composing compelling personal essays is done best from a strong self-awareness position.  To tell judges about you, YOU need to know your passion, skills, experiences, strengths and weaknesses, even hardships.  A self-assessment Me-Chart helps tremendously.  This tool makes you think deeply to pinpoint your distinctions/ uniqueness, and empowers you to build strong essays.  As your baseline/foundation to rethink, improve, modify and polish your language to fit each scholarship application you submit, your Me-Chart should include the 7 factors listed in my post, A Game Plan for Your Career Plan – Part 1Feel free to add more factors.

2.  Generic Essay.  After you’ve created your Me-Chart, draft a personal generic essay.  It’s your OPPORTUNITY to talk about YOU and GET YOUR THOUGHTS ON PAPER or in Word.  Writing in Word helps correct spelling, grammar and word count.  But, at this starting point, don’t stress over perfection.  Your generic essay may consist of all or only some of the factors in your Me-Chart.

3.  Read your draft and begin shaping your essay like sculpture.  Add and delete words, sentences, paragraphs; shift sentences and paragraphs from one place to another to create a good flow.    

4.  Essay Opening.  Throughout the writing, editing and reading process think about your opening sentence.  Don’t stress.  A revelation may not come forward until you’ve read 4 or more drafts.  Just remember, like media headlines, your opening should be an ATTENTION GRABBER.    

5.  Stay On-Subject.  As I stated in, How Scholarship Applications are Judged, answer the question.  Don’t write about oranges when the provider asked for apples, unless you can show a clear correlation.

6.  WWWW&H.  Always follow the Who, What, When, Where & How rule.  Think of storytelling.  

7.  Keep it Formal.  Your overall tone should be professional, but not stiff.  Even with fun or promotional contests your essay shouldn’t read as if you’re “conversatin’ ” with a friend on social media.

8.  Be Creative.  “Blending” is not a good strategy when competing for a college or vocational school scholarship.  A little risk can be refreshing, so it’s okay to enhance your essay with an off-beat idea or take a different approach, but stick with the scholarship’s objective.  Following are two examples: 

            A.  Applicants for the Common Application for college admission were told to “Evaluate a significant experience, achievement, risk you have taken, or ethical dilemma you have faced and its impact on you.”  Drew took a risk and wrote:

 The Job I Should Have Quit

You can learn a lot about me from a quick glance in my closet. You’ll find no clothes, but shelves filled with motorized Lego kits, Erector sets, model rockets, remote control race cars, and boxes full of motors, wires, batteries, propellers, soldering irons and hand tools. I’ve always enjoyed building things. No one was surprised when I decided to apply to college for mechanical engineering.  [Read the entire essay and the critique here.] 

The judge concluded that Drew’s essay “succeeds in showing off his strengths at the very time it examines his weaknesses.”  Also, Drew presented a creative way to inform the judges that his passion is mechanical engineering.

            B.  Applicants were instructed to respond to the “Topic of Your Choice” section of the Common Application.   Lora wrote about

 Eating Eyeballs

[Note:  This excerpt is the 6th paragraph into the essay.]

The first couple of meals I had in France were reassuringly familiar: a little bit of cheese, omelet, gazpacho, or quiche.  Then Patrice, Anne’s father and a marine biologist, grilled sardines the length of my hand for dinner.  His method of grilling the sardines was charring them.  I had tried charred meat before, and hadn’t liked it.  This dinner was charred, a fish, and it was looking at me with an eyeball in a head that I was going to have to eat.  Patrice explained that the best way to eat these sardines was to eat the whole thing — bones, skin, eyes, and all.  Since my French was still a little shaky, I hoped that I had misunderstood him — one of the few times I would have enjoyed feeling stupid.  [Read the entire essay and critique here.]

Although lighthearted, Lora’s essay has substance regarding her healthy attitude/ personality/character, international travel experience, and people and language skills.

9.  Transitions.  Throughout your re-reading, re-writing/editing process, make sure your essay flows smoothly from thought-to-thought and paragraph-to-paragraph.  Adding a unique detail, or anecdote that you or someone else experienced that connects to the scholarship’s objective, can smooth transitions. 

10.  Research.  When you write about a specific topic, research supports your statement.  For example:  To meet the Foreclosure.com Scholarship Program’s task to analyze two foreclosure investment properties, then show reasons supporting the decision, detailing investment strategy, describing “all that you would do (improvements, rehab, etc.) and how it would impact your potential bottom line,” applicants should undergird their arguments with one or two credible real estate investment facts.  [Note:  This scholarship’s deadline is December 2013.  Top prize $5,000.  Second through fifth place $1,000.   Check it out!] 

11.  Word Count.  As I stated in How Scholarship Applications are Judged, word count, COUNTS.  The Foreclosure.com Scholarship essay limit is 800 to 2,000 words.  A 1,999-word essay is best.  Follow the directions in Step 3 to meet word counts.  You may even have to remove worthy information, but that’s part of the world of writing.  [Note:  Short response college essays average 500-word limit.]

12.  Action Verbs.  As I’ve championed in previous posts, Action Verbs reflect measurable, observable, verifiable, and reliable behaviors; give your narrative movement and power; and keep it concise/tight.  Lists of action verbs are on English/grammar websites, and here

13.  Proofread!  Proofread!  Proofread and correct spelling, grammatical errors, tenses and synonyms.  Word won’t flag “piece,” when you meant “peace.”

14.  Re-Charge.  Set aside your essay for a day or two.  Let it marinate.  Then, proofread again.   

By now, you should feel more empowered and ready to ask your teacher, coach, parents and/or friends to read your essay.  Listen to their input, but stay confident (not ego/arrogant) in what you said and how you said it.  With confidence, you’ll decide whether to include others’ suggestions and how much.

Now get started on your Me-Chart and generic essay!  Remember…, they’re your baselines/foundations to rethink, improve, modify and polish your language to write compelling essays for each scholarship application you submit.

Magic, Miracles & Blessings,

Willette

HOW SCHOLARSHIP APPLICATIONS ARE JUDGED

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by Willette Coleman ©2013

You’ve met the deadline and your scholarship application is now in unseen hands.  Judges.  You may wonder:   Who are these judges?  Will they evaluate my application fairly; will it measure up?  Usually, judges are a panel of academicians and/or professionals from various disciplines.

Judging scholarship applications “is tedious work” says Mark Davis, President of the Coca-Cola Scholars Foundation that receives “thousands of applications from high school seniors.”  According to the foundation’s website, they “review every one carefully.”  Here’s a peek at the scholarship application review process.

Round 1.  In the “first glance” process, judges assess whether you meet the minimum requirements, such as: 

               Did applicants dot all “i’s and cross all “t’s” in the application and essay?  Unfortunately, hundreds of scholarship applications are rejected in this phase due to poor grammar, incorrect spelling, missing documents, and/or incomplete answers to some questions or not answered at all.  With applications now being submitted electronically, sloppy handwriting (wherever handwriting is allowed), coffee, tea, or food stains are less of an issue, but, where a hard copy is still accepted, make sure your application is LEGIBLE and CLEAN.

              Does the applicant’s GPA match the scholarship provider’s requirement?  If the provider specifies that applicants must have a 3.5 GPA to qualify, an applicant with a 3.0 should not apply.   {NOTE:  Hundreds of scholarships are available for students with GPAs as low as 2.0.  Check Fastweb.com and other scholarship directories for a list.}

              Word Count, counts!  Some scholarship providers stipulate a limited number of words for essays.  Applicants that submit an essay with a single word over the limit won’t get past this round. 

Round 2.  At this point, judges separate applications into “average” and “great” categories.

             “Great” applications have thorough and thoughtful answers to ALL the questions, and the essays are focused, forthright and insightful

              Stay “on subject.”  If a provider asks applicants to submit an essay on “how you would help reverse the dire effects of global warming,” for example, don’t submit an essay about panda bears giving birth, unless you can show how the panda’s birth rate is impacted by global warming and how you would help.  In other words, don’t write about oranges when the provider asked for apples, unless you can show a correlation.   

Round 3.  Here, the judges narrow their select winning applications by evaluating your ~

              Course load:  Is it challenging; are you taking the right courses to reach your career goals; how well do you perform in those courses?  

              Leadership – Were you the editor of your school’s newspaper, president (or treasurer, record keeper, etc) of your class, or community or school book club, coordinator of fundraising drives, leader of a community cleanup/environment event; or organized a community sports team, and so on.  Leadership also shows Initiative – a trait judges admire.

              Creativity - Do you play an instrument, sing (i.e., in a church choir), write poems or stories, blog, paint pictures, sew/design, publish newsletters, act in or write plays, dance (tap, jazz, ballet, hip hop), design websites, develop video games?  Tell the judges.

               Skills:  Are you a “fixer”/like to repair things – electronics, machinery, home items? A budding IT guru?  Tell the judges.

               Internships:  Did you intern for a television or radio station; at a grocery store, book store; library, museum, hospital, corporate or nonprofit office?  If you interned at a barbershop or beauty shop, you can tell the judges what you learned about grooming and grooming products. 

               Volunteering:  Volunteering can range from working with a nonprofit that helps the homeless, to volunteering to shovel the snow off your neighbor’s driveway every winter, or reading stories to younger children, even your siblings.

               Special Circumstances:  Have you overcome any obstacles?  Tell the judges how you did it to show your “can do” and “follow-through” spirit.  (See my earlier post:  GETTING SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCE SCHOLARSHIPS for a list of awards.)

              Awards:  Were you recognized for any activity, including growing the best rose bush in your community or in a sport like bowling?  (Find bowling scholarships here.)

YOUR ESSAY 

Clear descriptions and Action Verbs are two elements make any written communication stand out:

  1. Clear descriptions.  Describe WHO, WHAT, WHEN, WHERE and HOW about any experience to best inform the judges (i.e., what you did, for whom; for how long; what did you contribute; what problems/conflicts did you encounter and solve; what did you learn; how you will use what you learned).
  2. Action Verbs reflect measurable, observable, verifiable, and reliable behaviors; give your narrative movement and power, and keep the judges awake.  You can find numerous lists of action verbs on English/grammar websites. 

For more tips on scholarship essay writing, see my next post coming soon.  Thanks for reading.

Magic, Miracles & Blessings,

Willette

10 STEPS TO WRITING A KSA to BOOST YOUR JOB SEARCH CONFIDENCE

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by Willette Coleman

A few months ago I conducted a KSA (Knowledge, Skills and Ability), also called ranking factors, writing workshop at a public library in Washington, DC.  After the first workshop, participants commented on evaluation forms that their confidence level in writing KSAs increased from 0 to 5 and to 9 or 10 after the final class. 

KSAs supplement federal job applications, but each level of government has its own procedure.  For the federal government, it’s a SF-171 form, resume and KSA; for local governments, such as in the District of Columbia, it’s a DC2000 application, resume and S.T.A.R (Situation, Task, Action and Result).  While formats may differ from one government entity to another, submitting a narrative with appropriate key words and phrases is consistent.

As a persistent job seeker, you’ve probably come across federal and local government, even some NGOs (Non-Government Organizations) requiring applicants submit a KSA, or

Supplemental Narrative Statements

Selective Factors

Selective Placement Factors

Evaluation Criteria

Executive Core Qualifications

Professional/Technical Qualifications                                                                

If you’re intimidated by the process of writing such narratives, as some of my workshop participants confessed, don’t be.  A KSA or ranking factor is just an essay.  Essay writing is a craft – like making jewelry, painting a picture, composing music, etc. – and takes time, thought, persistence and PATIENCE.

Think of writing KSAs or ranking factors as an essay that tells your career story with the objective to grab and hold the Hiring Manager’s (HM) attention.   To increase your chances of doing just that, apply these 10 steps.

  1. READ, READ, READ government job descriptions CAREFULLY; three or more times.  With lengthy descriptions – even some confusing language – you might miss critical tasks. 
  2. The “I’s” have it.  Always write your KSA in the FIRST PERSON.
  3. Discuss each task noted in the job description – clearly and succinctly – as it relates to your knowledge, skills and abilities.
  4. Follow the U.S. Office of Personnel Management’s (OPM) recommended CCAR (Context, Challenge, Action and Results www.resume-place.com/ ksa_builder/ template/) model. 
  5. EVIDENCE:  Be ABSOLUTELY CERTAIN you can back up your knowledge, skills and abilities with one, preferably two, examples.
  6. Like any good story, the writing rule of Who, What, When, Where, and How (WWWWH) gives HMs critical information to measure your qualifications, and shows how you used your “k-s-a” to complete a task at a present or past job.  The “WHO” is you communicating with team members, supervisor, other department managers, or external parties. 
  7. RESOLUTION:  Emphasize solving problems/challenges.  Give an example(s) of the action you took, even from a related volunteer situation.
  8. QUANTIFY and QUALIFY your experiences, solutions and outcomes in terms of benefits to your employer, clients, or population served (i.e., increased sales or membership by “x” numbers or percentage; improved reading comprehension for children by a specific degree, etc.)   
  9. ACTION VERBS, such as – design, supervise, audit, analyze, evaluate, report, etc. - reflect measurable, observable, verifiable, and reliable behaviors; give your narrative movement and power and keep the HM interested.  You can find numerous lists of action verbs on English/grammar websites.
  10. Use an ACTIVE VOICE, and again, be succinct, to minimize word usage.  For example:

Passive Voice re workforce development experience for “K – Knowledge”:   In January 2004, I completed the course, “Writing Analytical Reports,” offered through the NationalIndependentStudyCenter.  This was a six-month course involving 24 hours of training and covered such areas as planning an analytical report, collecting and analyzing data, identifying possible solutions to problems addressed in the report, and organizing, writing and editing the report. {56 words}

Passive sentences are not grammatically incorrect, but too many can diminish your work’s vitality. 

Active Voice same narrative:  In January 2004, I completed the NationalIndependentStudyCenter’s course, “Writing Analytical Reports.”  The six-month, 24 hours training covered planning, organizing, writing and editing analytical reports; collecting and analyzing data; and solving problems (give example*). {34 words.}

The Active Voice saved 22 words compared to the Passive Voice.  *Providing an example of the type of “problems addressed” might adds 10 words, but still save 12. 

CONFIDENCE BOOSTER                                                                                         Your biggest reward from writing a good KSA or ranking factor, albeit time consuming, is empowerment; it elevates your confidence.  Confidence is essential to getting a government job, or any job.   Human resources consultants, WorkplaceDynamicsEmployee Confidence Index , based on more than a million survey responses, showed that “confidence levels hit a high in December 2011, but then dropped quickly in the first few months of 2012 and stayed at or below those levels for the remainder of the year.”   

Presently, we’re in a challenging job market, which makes remaining self-assured difficult.  “You can send out 100 resumes and get zero responses,” says Ellyn Enisman, author of Job Interview Skills 101.  “Zero responses” are discouraging.  When we get discouraged, it impacts our confidence, which impacts our follow through and output.  We may despair and consider quitting our job search.  If, after long term and Goliath efforts, you get in a funk, as many of us have, try not to let it suspend you more than 3320 minutes (3 days).  Then, pick up your faith, stand back up and go for it again with a fresh point of view; that this as an OPPORTUNITY to write your professional memoir, so to speak.

So, although the requirement for supportive narratives may seem unnecessary (“My resume should be enough,” you say), the procedure builds your confidence by encouraging you to

  • FOCUS;
  • communicate YOUR WORTH by interpreting your knowledge, skills and abilities;  
  • translate the narrative/your career story onto paper, instead of just talking about it to others or in your head;
  • hone your persuasive skills and sell yourself to a HM that you are the best candidate for the job.

Finally, by developing – even mastering – this important skill, you can modify your narrative and strategically put some points into your cover letter; supplement NGO job applications; even add a portion to a business plan.

~     ~     ~

Share our experience with writing KSAs or ranking factors.  Have you mastered writing supplemental narratives?  What worked? 

Thanks for reading,

SCHOLARSHIPS for OLDER ADULTS RETURNING TO SCHOOL

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by Willette Coleman ©2012

“Are there any scholarships for older adults who want to return to school?”  I get that question often. The answer is, “Yes.”  “Non-traditional students,” is the general description, although there is no precise definition for the term.  The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) includes age in its definition of non-traditional students.

Charlie Ball, 89, who graduated from Arkansas Tech University in May 2012 (see video here) is an example of individuals ages 30 to 90 plus, who have returned to school.  College or vocational school re-entry may be necessary to gain or update skills to compete in today’s job market.  Some individuals want to expand his/her knowledge to become entrepreneurs. Others just like the challenge or are reinventing themselves.

As a guest on the Sage-ing Baby Boomer Show, Ayo Handy’s Internet radio listeners of  “Part II – Learning Forever: Who else is Returning to the Classroom and How to Pay for It?” were delighted to learn they could be eligible for state, federal, corporate and private organizations’ scholarships to earn an undergraduate or Associate’s degree, or a Certificate.  You could be eligible, also.  Here’s what’s needed.

Preparation & Action

Cconsider earning college credit for your life experience through the College-Level Examination Program® (CLEP).  Mature adults have a lot of long-term experience and skills that can be translated and correlated to any number of academic subjects.  The exam is administered at more than 2,900 colleges and universities, and costs $77.  Locate an institution in your area that facilitates CLEP.  The following steps can also help:

  • Check here to get help assessing yourself and determining funding options for your education.
  • Compile a list (or do a spread sheet) of colleges (including community colleges), universities and trade/vocational schools in your state, county or city.
  • Check whether the school you choose is accredited at the database of accredited postsecondary institutions and programs provided by the U.S. Department of Education.
  • Contact the Financial Aid Office at each institution on your list and ask the Officer what scholarship opportunities are offered for mature students.
  • Adults, over 60, should ask Financial Aid Officers about tuition and/or fee waivers, or a reduced tuition rate for credit or non-credit classes.  Generally, students must buy their own books.
  • From your list of community colleges, check here to find out if your school is a Plus 50 Champion College. Over 130 community colleges across the nation receive grants from the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) to conduct the Community College Plus 50 Initiative.  AACC focuses “on training programs to get unemployed older adults back on the job.”
  • If you meet certain criteria, you could claim the American Opportunity Tax Credit of up to $2,500 per year for tuition and other eligible expenses.  Check here for details.

Continue your quest for scholarships here and here and at the following:

Federal Level Funding

FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid)

  1. Fill out the FAFSA application and create an online PIN here.
  2. Locate and assemble required documents and financial information stated in the step-by-step instructions.

There is NO! age limit to apply for the U.S. Department of Education’sgrants. See the following for 2012-13 Academic Year grants.

Grants include:                                      

Pell Grant:  Amount $555 – $5,550; for undergraduate students who demonstrate financial need.

Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant:  Amount $100 – $4,000; for undergraduates with exceptional financial need.

Teacher Education assistance for College and Higher Education (TEACH):  Amount:  $4,000; for undergraduates or graduate taking courses to become elementary school teachers.  Requires a commitment to teach in underserved communities.

Another federal level funding initiative is through the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act.  Education awards of up to $1,000 (which can be used for your own education or transferred to a child, foster child or grandchild), are offered to students age 55 and up for 350 hours of volunteer service.  Go here, click on “Get involved,” select the state or jurisdiction where you live, select the service you want to provide, and sign up/join.

State Level Funding

Many states, such as Alabama, through the Alabama Commission on Higher Education (ACHE), offer a free tuition program for persons aged 60, “who meet the admission requirements and attend public two-year post-secondary institutions in Alabama.”  If you live in this state, you can check ACHE Financial Aid Programs here, or contact the Financial Aid Office at any public two-year post-secondary educational institution in Alabama for more information.

For other states,see EROD for the Higher Education Assistance Authority in your state or territory to learn about opportunities for mature adults.

College Level Funding

Some community colleges have partnered with universities and the Association of American Retired Persons (AARP), an organization serving individuals 50 years and up.  For example, Macomb Community College in Warren, Michigan, collaborated with AARP-Michigan to train mature workers in health care fields.  In 2010, the college used a $25,000 grant to train and certify students for careers in senior care.  This is the kind of information you might uncover when you do the “Preparation & Action” activity described above.

Students, 60 or older, are offered free tuition and mandatory fees through Arkansas Northeastern College’s ACT 678 SCHOLARSHIP.  Check here, or contact:  Rachel Gifford,  www.rgifford@smail.anc.edu, or call 870.838.2902; Ammi Tucker, 870.780.1205.

Private Level Funding

AARP Foundation Women’s Scholarship Program provides scholarships to low-income, 50-plus women for “education, training, and skills upgrades that can lead to better employment and increased financial security” in any course of study at any accredited education institution or technical school.  The next application period opens February 2013.  Check here to learn when the 2013-2014 application is posted.

Talbots Women’s Scholarship Fund awards five (5) $10,000 scholarships and fifty (50) $1,000 scholarships to “women seeking an undergraduate degree who earned their high school diploma or GED at least 10 years ago.”  Check here for specific criteria, watch their online video and learn when the 2013-2014 application is posted.

Business and Professional Women’s Foundation allocates the Career Advancement Scholarship Award to African American women aged 25 and over who are in financial need and are returning to school for career advancement or job training.  BPW Foundation – Scholarships, 2012 Massachusetts Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20036.  Details here.

The annual $500 Dr. Wynetta A. Frazier – Sister to Sister Scholarship is awarded to “two recipients, age 25 or older, that are returning to college without the moral or financial assistance of a spouse.”  National Hook-Up of Black Women,1809 E. 71st St., Suite 205, Chicago, IL 60649; Phone (773) 667-706.  Details here.

Jeanette Rankin Foundation Grants for Low Income Women offers scholarships to “African American women aged 35 and over who are enrolled in an accredited college or university pursuing a technical or vocational certificate, associate’s degree or bachelor’s degree, and who demonstrate financial need.”  Jeannette Rankin Foundation, 1 Huntington Rd., Suite 701, Athens, GA 30606; Phone (706) 208-1211.  Details here.

MORE RESOURCES

Unions

The American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations’ (AFL-CIO) Union Plus Scholarship targets adult members, spouses and dependent children.  Awards range from $500 to $4,000.  Union Privilege, 1125 15th St. NW, Suite 300, Washington, DC 20005; Phone 202-293-5311.  Details here.

Veterans

This North Dakota website lists a number of scholarships available to veterans, like 89-year-old graduate Charlie Ball, who served in the military.  Examples include The AMVETS National Scholarship Program (check here for the 2013 deadline), and the AFCEA Educational Foundation.  If it’s not clearly stated on their websites, you’ll need to contact each provider to learn their age policy.

Employers

More and more companies are offering scholarships – e.g., McDonald’s USA National Employee Scholarship Program, and Target’s All Around Scholarships – to employees pursuing undergraduate or graduate degrees. Talk with your supervisor or human resources personnel about scholarships or employer tuition assistance.

  • Ask about any age limit and GPA minimum for eligibility.

With tuition assistance, an employer might require you agree to work for the company for a specific number of years after graduation, and may choose to reimburse your tuition and fees after you’ve completed a course or graduated.

So, all you mature adults thinking about going back to school……GO FOR IT!

Thanks for reading,

Willette

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