Tuesday, March 22, 2011

22 Secrets HR Won’t Tell You About Getting a Job

22 Secrets HR Won’t Tell You About Getting a Job

What You Should Know About Résumés

1. “Once you’re unemployed more than six months, you’re considered pretty much unemployable. We assume that other people have already passed you over, so we don’t want anything to do with you.” –Cynthia Shapiro, former human resources executive and author of Corporate Confidential: 50 Secrets Your Company Doesn’t Want You to Know

2. “When it comes to getting a job, who you know really does matter. No matter how nice your résumé is or how great your experience may be, it’s all about onnections.” –HR director at a health-care facility

3. “If you’re trying to get a job at a specific company, often the best thing to do is to avoid HR entirely. Find someone at the company you know, or go straight to the hiring manager.” –Shauna Moerke, an HR administrator in Alabama who blogs at hrminion.com

4. “People assume someone’s reading their cover letter. I haven’t read one in 11 years.” –HR director at a financial services firm

5. “We will judge you based on your e-mail address. Especially if it’s something inappropriate like kinkyboots101@hotmail.com or johnnylikestodrink@gmail.com.” –Rich DeMatteo, a recruiting consultant in Philadelphia

6. “If you’re in your 50s or 60s, don’t put the year you graduated on your résumé.” –HR professional at a midsize firm in North Carolina

7. “There’s a myth out there that a résumé has to be one page. So people send their résumé in a two-point font. Nobody is going to read that.” –HR director at a financial services firm

8. “I always read résumés from the bottom up. And I have no problem with a two-page résumé, but three pages is pushing it.” –Sharlyn Lauby, HR consultant in Fort Lauderdale, Florida

9. “Most of us use applicant-tracking systems that scan résumés for key words. The secret to getting your résumé through the system is to pull key words directly from the job description and put them on. The more matches you have, the more likely your résumé will get picked and actually seen by a real person.” –Chris Ferdinandi, HR professional in the Boston area

10. “Résumés don’t need color to stand out. When I see a little color, I smirk. And when I see a ton of color, I cringe. And walking in and dropping off your resume is no longer seen as a good thing. It’s actually a little creepy.” –Rich DeMatteo

Secrets About the Interview

11. “It’s amazing when people come in for an interview and say, ‘Can you tell me about your business?’ Seriously, people. There’s an Internet. Look it up.” –HR professional in NYC.

12. “A lot of managers don’t want to hire people with young kids, and they use all sorts of tricks to find that out, illegally. One woman kept a picture of two really cute children on her desk even though she didn’t have children [hoping job candidates would ask about them]. Another guy used to walk people out to their car to see whether they had car seats.” (Cynthia Shapiro, former human resources executive and author of Corporate Confidential: 50 Secrets Your Company Doesn’t Want You to Know).

13. “Is it harder to get the job if you’re fat? Absolutely. Like George Clooney’s character said in Up in the Air, ‘I stereotype. It’s faster.’” –Suzanne Lucas, a former HR executive and the Evil HR Lady on bnet.com

14. “I once had a hiring manager who refused to hire someone because the job required her to be on call one weekend a month and she had talked in the interview about how much she goes to church. Another candidate didn’t get hired because the manager was worried that the car he drove wasn’t nice enough.” –HR professional at a midsize firm in North Carolina

15. “Don’t just silence your phone for the interview. Turn it all the way off.” –Sharlyn Lauby, HR consultant in Fort Lauderdale, Florida

16. “If you’ve got a weak handshake, I make a note of it.” –HR manager at a medical-equipment sales firm.

17. “If you’re a candidate and the hiring manager spends 45 minutes talking about himself, the company or his Harley, let him. He’s going to come out of the interview saying you’re a great candidate.” –Kris Dunn, chief human resources officer at Atlanta-based Kinetix, who blogs at hrcapitalist.com

Plus: 10 More Secrets About the Interview

Things to Know About Salary Negotiation

18. “There’s one website that drives all HR people crazy: salary.com. It supposedly lists average salaries for different industries, but if you look up any job, the salary it gives you always seems to be $10,000 to $20,000 higher than it actually is. That just makes people mad.” –HR director at a public relations agency

19. “On salary, some companies try to lock you in early. At the first interview, they’ll tell me to say, ‘The budget for this position is 40K to 45K. Is that acceptable to you?’ If the candidate accepts, they’ll know they’ve got him or her stuck in that little area.” –Ben Eubanks, HR professional in Alabama

20. “You think you’re all wonderful and deserve a higher salary, but here in HR, we know the truth. And the truth is, a lot of you aren’t very good at your jobs, and you’re definitely not as good as you think you are.” –HR professional at a midsize firm in North Carolina

21. “Be careful if a headhunter is negotiating for you. You may want extra time off and be willing to sacrifice salary, but he is negotiating hardest for what hits his commission.” –HR professional in NYC

22. “I once hired someone, and her mother didn’t think the salary we were offering was high enough, so she called me to negotiate. There are two problems with that: 1) I can’t negotiate with someone who’s not you. 2) It’s your mother. Seriously, I was like, ‘Did that woman’s mother just call me, or was that my imagination?’ I immediately withdrew the offer.” –HR professional in NYC.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Increase Your Tax Refund With Above-the-Line Deductions

Increase Your Tax Refund With Above-the-Line Deductions
Mark P. Cussen, CFP, CMFC

Every year, millions of Americans keep careful track of their charitable contributions, mortgage interest, property taxes and various other expenses in an effort to clear the dollar threshold that will allow them to claim the larger amount of their aggregated itemized deductions instead of having to settle for the standard deduction. However, some deductions can be taken regardless of whether the taxpayer is able to itemize. Expenses in this category are known as above-the-line deductions, and this article examines those expenses that can be deducted by any taxpayer who pays them.

More from Investopedia:

• 10 Most Overlooked Tax Deductions

• 4 Frivolous Tax Arguments That Won't Work

• How to Owe Nothing on Your Federal Tax Return

Breaking Down Your Taxable Income

The basic tax computation formula used in the U.S. has four main sets of parts that are broken down on the 1040. The formula is shown as follows:

All Sources of Taxable Income
= Gross Income
- Above-the-Line Deductions
= Adjusted Gross Income
- Standard or Itemized Deductions
= Taxable Income
- Tax Credits and Taxes Paid or Withheld
= Balance Due or Refund

What Are Above-the-Line Deductions?

Above-the-line deductions constitute those expenses that are deducted for AGI, while itemized deductions are deducted from this number. The "line" is the taxpayer's AGI, which is the bottom number on the front of the 1040. Above-the-line deductions are listed on the bottom half of the front of the 1040 and can be broken down as follows. Please note that all figures are as of 2010.

• Domestic Production Activities
Up to 6% of activities related to the domestic production of certain goods or services (such as engineering or architectural) may be deducted under certain conditions.

• Moving Expenses
The costs of transporting household goods from one residence to another are usually fully deductible, provided that they are not reimbursed by the taxpayer's employer. The move must be made for work or business reasons, and the taxpayer's new place of employment must be at least 50 miles further away from the taxpayer's previous residence than the previous workplace was from there.

• Retirement Plan Contributions
All contributions made to traditional IRAs and qualified plans such as 401(k), 403(b) and 457 plans are deductible. Taxpayers with incomes above a certain level who contribute to both a traditional IRA and a qualified plan are subject to a graduated phaseout reduction on the deductibility of their IRA contributions. This deduction is not available for contributions to Roth IRAs or retirement plans of any kind.

• HSA, MSA Contributions
All contributions to Health Savings Accounts and Archer Medical Savings Accounts are fully deductible. However, the taxpayer cannot have access to any kind of group policy coverage, including that offered by fraternal or professional organizations. The purchase of a qualified high-deductible health insurance policy is also required.

• Health Insurance Premiums
The cost of premiums paid for individual health insurance policies (including high-deductible policies) are fully deductible for self-employed taxpayers. As with HSAs and MSAs, the taxpayer cannot have access to group health coverage of any kind.

• Self-Employed Business Expenses, SE Tax
Virtually any expense incurred in the operation of a sole proprietorship is deductible on Schedule C, such as rent, utilities, the cost of equipment and supplies, insurance, legal fees, employee salaries and contract labor. This also includes one-half of the self-employment tax that must be paid on this income. Although these expenses are not listed directly on the 1040 but are carried to the income section via the Schedule C, they are still considered to be above-the-line deductions because they are subtracted in order to determine adjusted gross income.

• Alimony
Payments made to a spouse pursuant to a divorce decree that are not classified as child support are usually counted as alimony. All payments of this type are deductible from gross income.

• Educator Expenses
These include unreimbursed qualified expenses of up to $250 ($500 for joint filers if both are in this category). Qualified expenses include teaching equipment, supplies, books and other ordinary expenses that are commonly associated with education. This deduction is available for education professionals who teach grades K-12 and work at least 900 hours during the year.

• Early Withdrawal Penalties
Any penalties paid for the early withdrawal of money from a CD or savings bond that is reported on Form 1099-INT or 1099-DIV can be deducted.

• Student Loan Interest
All interest paid on federally-subsidized student loans up to a certain amount is deductible, provided the taxpayer's income does not exceed $75,000 for single, head-of-household or qualifying widower filers or $150,000 for joint filers.

• Tuition and Fees
In some cases, it is more advantageous for taxpayers to deduct the costs of tuition, fees and other educational expenses paid to qualified educational institutions rather than claim one of the educational tax credits for them. Those who are unable to qualify for these credits for any reason can take this deduction instead as well.


Any or all of these deductions can be taken in addition to the itemized deductions for eligible taxpayers. Of course, there are also several incidental rules and limitations on most of these deductions that are not covered here. For more information on above-the-line deductions, read the instructions for the 1040 Form on the IRS website or consult your tax advisor.

Mark P. Cussen has more than 15 years of experience in the financial industry, which includes working with investments, insurance, mortgages, taxes and financial planning. He has two years of experience in writing and editing insurance and securities test training manuals, as well as other financial topics. He has also worked in retail, discount and bank brokerage systems and been involved in a venture capital enterprise in the oil and gas sector. Cussen has a Bachelor of Science in English from the University of Kansas and completed his CFP coursework at the Bloch School of Business at the University of Missouri-Kansas City in August of 2001.

How to speed up your computer

Is your desktop or laptop computer starting to feel a little poky? Even after just a few months of use, your PC or Mac may start to lose steam thanks to a fragmented hard drive, too many programs running in the background, or even a rogue piece of malware.

This week on Upgrade Your Life, Yahoo! News' Becky Worley serves up some quick and easy tricks for speeding up your PC or Mac, starting with …

1. Clean out your startup items
How long do you have to wait after hitting your PC's power button before you can actually get to work? Thirty seconds? A minute? Two minutes? More?

If you find yourself routinely twiddling your thumbs while your PC or Mac painstakingly boots itself up, maybe it's because your system is trying to fire up a slew of programs at the same time (and indeed, some programs will set themselves to launch at startup by default). Here's how to ease the frantic rush of competing startup programs:

For Windows: Click the Start menu, then select Programs (or All Programs in Windows 7), open the Startup folder, and then—as Becky suggest—delete mercilessly. (Don't worry; you're not deleting the programs themselves.) Note: if you see a program sitting in the Startup folder and you don't know what it's for, search on the Web to see what it does before hitting the "delete" button.

For Mac: Open System Preferences under the Apple menu, click the Accounts icon, and then click the Login Items tab. You may find a variety of arcane programs and helper apps lurking inside (such as the mysterious iTunesHelper), but again—search before you zap an unknown program. (Disabling the iTunesHelper app, for example, will prevent iTunes from opening automatically when you connect an iPhone or iPod.)

2. Check for running apps in the Windows task bar
Got a Windows-based PC? See that little row of tiny icons in the bottom-right corner of the screen? Over the course of weeks, months, or years, the number of icons sitting in the Windows task bar has probably grown larger and larger—and many of those icons represent programs that are running in the background and consuming your PC's limited resources.

Expand the task bar by clicking the little arrow on the side, then right-click each icon in succession. If you find, for example, that programs like Skype and iTunes are whirring away even when you're not using them, right-click and select "Close"—or, better yet, open the program and uncheck any "launch at startup" settings in the Preferences or Options menu.

3. Turn off P2P applications
Programs like BitTorrent and Skype work their magic with "peer-to-peer" technology, meaning they leverage the combined computing power and bandwidth of every PC or Mac running their software for such uses as massive file transfers (in the case of BitTorrent) or high-quality, Net-based voice and video chat (for Skype).

But while sharing the P2P burden qualifies you a good Netizen, it can also put a significant dent in your system's performance. If you've got programs like BitTorrent and Skype running all day, every day in the background, Becky suggests shutting them down until you really need them.

4. Root out viruses and malware
Nothing will slow your system down like a virus, a Trojan horse, or other types of malware. Plenty of commercial antivirus applications are available for Windows PCs, but Becky recommends trying Microsoft's free Security Essentials suite, which will sweep your system for any unwanted, nefarious software and provide ongoing protection via regular updates. Just visit Microsoft's Security Essentials website, download and install the software, and follow the instructions.

Anti-virus packages from the likes of Norton and McAfee are also available for Mac users, but there's an ongoing debate about whether virus protection on the Mac is more trouble than it's worth, given that malicious hackers are far more focused on Windows than they are on Mac OS X systems.

5. Clean up your hard drive
The more junk you have cluttering up your hard drive, the longer it takes for your system to access the data it needs—and that's a great reason to regularly scan your folders and toss out files and programs you don't need, or move them somewhere else to make more room.

One easy (and relatively cheap) solution, says Becky, is to buy an external hard drive for your music, photos, and videos, which can hog a surprisingly large amount of disk space (particularly when it comes to HD-quality TV shows and movies). You can find 500GB external hard drives online for as little as $50, while plenty of 1TB drives (or 1,000 gigabytes) sell for south of $100. Most USB 2.0 external drives are plug-and-play, meaning you just plug them into your PC's USB 2.0 port and you're ready to start dragging and dropping.

Another options: online storage sites, such as Dropbox and Carbonite.

Becky also recommends dumping any old programs that you no longer use. For Windows, click the Start menu, open the Control Panel, and select Add/Remove Programs (or "Uninstall a program" in Windows 7). Mac users can look in the Applications folder, which you can open in the Mac OS X Finder by clicking the Window menu and clicking Applications. See a program you simply never use anymore? Consider tossing it in the trash—although again, never throw away an application without knowing what it does first.

6. Turn off Mac Dashboard widgets
One of the more recent features in Mac OS X is the Dashboard—a layer of handy widgets that you can call up by clicking the Dashboard icon in the Dock. But while Dashboard widgets might be great for a quick check on the weather or to track the Dow, they also eat up a decent chunk of system resources.

Do yourself a favor and deactivate the widgets you don't use all that often, Becky advises. Activate the Dashboard, then click the "plus" sign in the bottom-left corner of the screen; next, click the "X" in the upper-left corner of any widgets that you won't miss.

7. Try a new browser—or update your old one
Has your browser been slowing to a crawl lately? Maybe it's time for a new one. Both Firefox and Google's Chrome Web browsers are popular—and powerful—alternatives to Internet Explorer, and don't forget that there's a Windows version of Apple's speedy Safari browser.

Want to stick with the browser you have? Make sure you're using the latest version. For Internet Explorer, fire up the Windows Update app under the Start Menu. For Firefox, select "Check for update" under the Help menu. Got Chrome? Select "About Google Chrome" under the wrench icon in the Windows version, or under the Chrome menu in Mac OS X. For Safari, launch "Apple Software Update" under the Start menu in Windows, or select Software Update under the Apple menu on the Mac.

One more thing: make sure you have the latest version of Adobe's Flash Player installed. Visit Adobe's Flash site to download the latest and greatest version (10.2, as of this writing).

8. Defragment your hard drive
Your computer's hard drive is a lot like a closet: the more cluttered it is, the longer it takes to find stuff. One of the easiest (and most effective) ways of tidying up your hard drive is to defragment it, a process that involves consolidating scattered blocks of data into a larger chunk, resulting in bigger swaths of free disk space.

Luckily, defragmenting your hard drive in Windows is a snap. Select Computers from the Start menu, right-click on the icon that represents your hard drive, select Properties, click the Tools tab, and click the Defragment Now button.

Got a Mac? Thanks to the disk optimization features built into Mac OS X, there's "little benefit" to manually fragmenting your hard drive, Apple says. But if you're feeling the need to try it anyway, there are several third-party defragmenting utilities for the Mac, including iDefrag and Drive Genius; just make sure to back up your data before giving them a go.

— Ben Patterson is a technology blogger for Yahoo! News.

Worst Cities for Finding a Job in 2011

Worst Cities for Finding a Job in 2011
By Jacquelyn Smith, Forbes.com

If you've exhausted all other options, relocating can be a smart move for improving your job prospects--but be sure to check where people are hiring, and in what industries before you pack your bags and go.

The scrumptious Cajun cuisine and sweet jazz of New Orleans may make that city seem the perfect place for a fresh start--but the Big Easy is right now the toughest city in the U.S. for finding employment, according to the online job aggregator Indeed.com.

In Pictures: The Hardest Cities for Finding a Job
"New Orleans never fully recovered from the Katrina disaster, and tourism hasn't bounced back," says Paul Forster, Indeed.com's chief executive officer and cofounder. "But I think we'll see some improvement over the next year."

Indeed.com compiled a list of America's easiest and hardest cities for finding a job using data collected from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The ranking was determined by calculating the number of job postings per thousand people in each major U.S. metropolitan area. The data covers job listings in the fourth quarter of 2010 with salary estimates of $50,000 or more.

The picture this offers does not reflect a precise number of available jobs. An opening can be listed in more than one place and can remain online for a time after it's filled. Nevertheless, the numbers do present a strong, broad gauge of which cities are the easiest and hardest for finding a job.

Historically, the easiest cities for finding a job thrive on industries that benefit from shifts in the economy or trends, says Forster. And the hardest cities rely on industries that suffer most during economic downturns. The rankings of the easiest and hardest cities for finding jobs confirm his view.

The results show that life is not a beach for job seekers in Miami. The cruise capital may have good air quality, clean drinking water and vast green spaces, but it doesn't have many openings. According to Indeed.com, Miami had 14 listings for high-paying jobs, per 1,000 residents, over the whole fourth quarter of 2010.

Your chances of finding a job in a colder place like Buffalo or Rochester, N.Y., are just as dim. There were merely 11 job postings for every 1,000 people in those metro areas, which tied for the second hardest place for finding a job.

Don't lose all hope, though. There are plenty of cities with thousands of high-paying jobs. San Jose, San Francisco and Seattle are three of the top five easiest cities for finding a job.

Located in the heart of Silicon Valley, San Jose ranks No. 1--but tech geeks are the ones most likely to find employment there with ease.

The area around the city that has dubbed itself "the capital of Silicon Valley" is home to the headquarters of major corporations such as Adobe Systems, Cisco Systems and eBay, as well as esteemed universities like Stanford and the University of California, Berkeley, which are notorious for pumping thousands of computer science and engineering graduates into the local job market each year.

"The established tech companies and emerging tech companies are both aggressively searching for talent," Forster says. "They look for experienced professionals as well as recent college graduates."

There were approximately 126 listings for high-paying jobs per 1,000 residents in the San Jose metro area for the three months that ended Dec. 31, 2010--but don't give up if your job search has been fruitless even in the easiest city for finding a job. In the No. 2 and No. 3 spots on the list, Washington and Baltimore also saw heavy recruiting throughout the last quarter of 2010. The federal government remains a top hiring source in D.C., where there were 116 high-paying job postings per 1,000 people last quarter. Baltimore, which is home to major research institutions and defense-related contractors, has particularly many job opportunities for health care and information technology professionals.

Forster says that after a significant decline in online job postings in 2009, and a sizable increase last year, he expects to see growth again in 2011.

America's Five Hardest Cities to Find Jobs

No. 5 (tie): Riverside, Ca.
16 job postings per 1,000 population between October and December 2010.

No. 5 (tie): Riverside, Ca.

No. 5 (tie): Louisville, Ky.
16 job postings per 1,000 population between October and December 2010.

No. 5 Louisville, Ky.

No. 4: Miami, Fla.
14 job postings per 1,000 population between October and December 2010.

No. 4 Miami, Fla.

No. 2 (tie): Rochester, N.Y.
11 job postings per 1,000 population between October and December 2010.

No. 2 (tie) Rochester, N.Y.

No. 2 (tie): Buffalo, N.Y.
11 job postings per 1,000 population between October and December 2010.

No. 2 (tie) Buffalo, N.Y.

No. 1: New Orleans, La.
10 job postings per 1,000 population between October and December 2010.

Healing a Wounded Credit Score

Healing a Wounded Credit Score
by Tara Siegel Bernard

Millions of consumers have fallen out of favor with the credit scoring gods.

Some lost their jobs or were just overwhelmed by mounting debt. Others got caught up in the real estate bubble or had major medical bills. Whatever the reason, the rising number of foreclosures, short sales, late credit card payments and the ultimate credit sin -- bankruptcies -- have left black marks on credit reports most everywhere.

More from NYTimes.com:

• A Guide to Complaints That Get Results

• Retain Your Records No Longer Than You Must

• Take a Few Hours and Unlock Some Cash

So what can these people do to repair their credit?

The simple answer is to focus on the information that is used to generate the all-powerful FICO score -- the measure used most frequently by traditional lenders to determine creditworthiness. Its scale runs from 300 points to 850 points; the higher the score, the better your credit standing. "FICO is still the 500-pound gorilla," said John Ulzheimer, president of consumer education at SmartCredit.com. "In 2011, the best way to get credit from the mainstream lenders is to have a good FICO score."

Consumers can hope that the banks will eventually consider alternatives to the traditional FICO score, which was developed by Fair Isaac Corporation and has been in wide use for about two decades. After all, as banks regain their appetite for lending, they will be looking for ways to differentiate between borrowers with the same scores, some of whom are temporarily struggling and others who chronically have trouble with money.

[Click here to check current credit card offers, including rates and terms.]

For now, though, the FICO score reigns. The best antidote to a poor score is time. Still, there are a half dozen ways to speed the process, or, at the least, avoid even more credit trouble.

What to Do

Assess Your Situation

Before you even start to think about rehabilitating your credit, make sure that you can pay your bills on time and not do any more harm. If keeping up with your credit card bills is still an issue, then call the issuer, explain your situation and try to negotiate payments you can afford. Ask the issuer how that will be reported to the major three credit bureaus: Not paid as agreed, which can hurt your score? Or will the new terms say that you are now paying as agreed?

"You have to get in writing that this is what they agreed to do," said Mechel Glass, director of education at CredAbility, a nonprofit consumer credit counseling agency. Ditto for other providers, like utility companies.

Then, assess all the damage by getting a free copy of your credit report from each of the three major credit reporting bureaus through annualcreditreport.com. Each of the major credit bureaus -- Equifax, Experian and TransUnion -- generate their own FICO scores based on the data they collect. Two versions of your FICO score are also available for $19.95 each, through myFico.com.

How far your credit score has fallen will depend on where it started, as well as the frequency and severity of your credit mistakes. If you had almost perfect credit, but because of the loss of a job your credit card bills ended up at a collection agency, you can expect to lose anywhere from 80 to 150 points from your FICO score. A short sale or foreclosure? Both, Mr. Ulzheimer said, "would turn a FICO 790 into a FICO 590 overnight."

Clean Up Your Score

Start with the low-hanging fruit. Let's say you were late paying a bill from a company that no longer exists, or a bank that has since merged with a larger institution. If the credit reporting bureaus cannot verify the accuracy of that black mark, they are required to remove it. "Not only does it have to be correct, but it has to be verifiable," Mr. Ulzheimer said.

Next, focus on paying off the loans -- namely, credit cards -- that will help give your score the most lift. Paying off a mortgage, a student loan or other installment debts, like car loans, feels good but that won't necessarily do much for your credit score.

[Secrets of People With Great Credit Scores]

You also want to get your so-called debt utilization rate into good shape. FICO considers how the total amount of debt on each of your credit cards compares with your total available credit. The credit score "elite" -- that is, people with FICO scores above 760 -- typically don't have debts that exceed 7 percent of their available credit. But if you are at 50 percent and can get the rate down to 30 percent, that will help.

Leave a Note

Because prospective employers may pull a copy of your credit report, consider adding the equivalent of a doctor's note to each of your reports explaining your hardship, like a job loss. All three major credit bureaus allow you to add a brief statement through their Web sites. FICO doesn't consider these statements when formulating scores, however, so don't expect it to sway lenders.

Get Secured Cards

It will obviously be hard to get a traditional credit card when you have a poor credit history. Secured cards, if used strategically, can help nurse your credit back to health more quickly. These cards require you to put a set amount of money in a bank account, say $250 or $500, which is used as collateral. And the amount of available credit should be equivalent to the amount on deposit.

"What is the most predictive and powerful in your score are the things you've done most recently," Mr. Ulzheimer said. "That cuts both ways. If you add a secured card and you pay it religiously and the balance is low, it will help your score a lot more quickly than if you do nothing."

But read the fine print before signing up. Consumer advocates said some unscrupulous card issuers have charged the security deposit to the card. And be sure the issuer reports your payment information to the big three credit bureaus, since not all do.

Curtis Arnold, the founder of CardRatings.com, recommended two cards, both of which report payments to the big three: the Orchard Bank Secured MasterCard, which has an attractive interest rate of 7.9 percent, waives the annual fee in the first year and charges a moderate $35 annually thereafter. He also likes the Citi Secured MasterCard, largely because it offers an interest rate on the security deposit equivalent to an 18-month certificate of deposit, which he says is an industry first.

Talk to a Credit Union

These institutions may be more willing to work with members who have checkered histories. Their offerings vary, but they may be more likely to consider alternative credit scores, offer free credit counseling or have products tailored for people with poor credit histories. "Certainly, many credit unions have credit builder or rebuilder loans, often structured as a loan with a built-in savings component so that a person gradually builds up funds that can act as partial collateral," said Clifford Rosenthal, the president of the National Federation of Community Development Credit Unions, a trade association representing credit unions in low- and moderate-income areas.

Alternative Verification

There are other credit reporting agencies and services that -- for a monthly fee, and sometimes a hefty one -- will collect your payment history from sources that aren't included in your traditional credit report or FICO score. At this point, however, most mainstream lenders base their decisions on the big three bureaus' reports and FICO scores. So you're better off saving your money. "All of those companies say they will report your accounts to a credit bureau, and they may be doing that," Mr. Ulzheimer said. "But if it is not the big three, then who cares?"

This could change, of course, as banks become more willing to lend and potentially open to using other means to identify promising borrowers. Lenders may begin to consider rental payment histories, for instance. Or they may be willing to look at alternative credit scores that incorporate payment information that doesn't show up on traditional credit reports.

[Best Credit Cards For 2011]

Or perhaps one lender will permit so-called shoe box credit: Did you know that if you walk into a lender with a box stuffed with receipts proving that you paid your cable bill, for instance, that they are required to consider it? They aren't obliged to give you a loan, but the regulation says they must consider the information.

What to Avoid

Credit Repair Offers

You may have seen the advertisements for credit repair companies on the Web. "We really tell our clients to stay away," said Ms. Glass, of CredAbility. One re-emerging scam, she says, involves companies that claim they can clean up your credit. Some companies manage to do this for a limited time by disputing all of your accounts, sending letters to the bureaus claiming the accounts aren't valid. But after the credit bureaus validate the accounts and debts, they reappear on your report and your score will plummet again.

Legitimate credit repair companies exist, and they can assist in disputes. But there's nothing they can do that you can't do yourself at little cost. Besides, these companies often besiege the bureaus with letters, and the bureaus are allowed to ignore what they believe are frivolous disputes. Be wary of companies that do not disclose in writing that you can do these tasks free on your own, that guarantee results or that try to charge you before they perform any services.

Certain Cards

Despite the tighter credit environment, Chi Chi Wu, a staff lawyer at the National Consumer Law Center, said the center was still receiving complaints about credit cards aimed at people with poor credit histories.

"These cards are pitched as a way to build credit, but with these kind of steep fees and high interest rates, there is a good chance they will hurt," she said.

Jobs For Smart People

Jobs For Smart People

See how you can train for a great-paying career that will fully utilize your brain power.
By Chris Kyle

Smart people come in all shapes and sizes.

So do smart career choices.

A bright NFL quarterback, for example, can read a defense and understand its strengths and weaknesses, all in the blink of an eye.

It's called spatial intelligence, and it's the same skill that graphic designers use to imagine smart visual solutions that their clients want but can't articulate.

[Search for Graphic Design schools near you now]

The bottom line: intelligent people - you know who you are! - are well-suited to certain careers.

These six careers, for example, can be smart options for smart people.

2.Medical Manager
3.FBI Agent
4.Registered Nurse
5.Computer Systems Administrator
Keep reading to learn about how you can get into one of these jobs. You'll be smarter for it…

#1 - Accountant
Accountants need to have more than just a knack for numbers. They should also have sound reasoning skills, since the simplest answer is often the right one when dealing with even the most complex calculations.

Education: A quick mind isn't enough to become an accountant. Formal training matters too. Fortunately, there are plenty of accounting and finance programs that can prepare you for a career as an accountant. A bachelor's degree is the most common entry-point into the profession.

Average Pay: $67,430

[Find Accounting and Finance schools now]

#2 - Medical Manager
Health care isn't just big business; it's also incredibly complex. As a result, medical managers need a sharp mind and keen business sense to keep up in this ever-evolving industry.

Education: Some medical managers have technical backgrounds, while others are experts in areas like finance or team-building. To qualify for most management roles, you'll need to earn a bachelor's degree in an area like health care administration, followed by an MBA.

Average Pay: $90,970

[Search for Health Care and Business schools now]

#3 - FBI Agent
While it probably comes as no surprise that the FBI is looking for smart recruits, it may startle you to learn that it's not only bright law enforcement types who are in demand. Computer specialists, language experts, accountants, and lawyers are just a few who regularly become FBI agents.

Education: While work experience is highly valued, a bachelor's degree is required. Common majors include information technology and accounting. Majoring in a foreign language is also a plus.

Average Pay: $73,170

[Search for Bachelor's degree programs now]

#4 - Registered Nurse
Registered nurses are among the most educated in the health care industry. Knowing what to do and when to do it is crucial, as is the ability to communicate effectively with patients and their families, not to mention the doctors you are assisting.

Education: Most registered nurses have a bachelor's of science in nursing. Accelerated programs are available to those who already have a degree. Additional training options include an associate's degree in nursing and a nursing diploma.

Average Pay: $66,530

[Find Nursing degree programs near you]

#5 - Computer Systems Administrator
Getting called a geek in the computer industry isn't an insult; it's a compliment. The good news: figuring out the most efficient way to share and store information may not be as complicated as rocket science, but it's still highly prized in today's digital world.

Education: An associate's or bachelor's degree can help you get your computer skills up to speed. Employers look for brainy applicants well-versed in areas like computer science, network administration, and IT & information systems.

Average Pay: $70,930

[Find IT degree programs now]

#6 - Teacher
The best teachers are gifted communicators and motivators who enjoy healthy discussions and debate. If you want to be a teacher, you'll need to be able to take complex subjects and present them in a straightforward way.

Education: While the temperament of a teacher may be a natural gift, formal training can provide you with the necessary academic background and teaching certification. It's best to begin with a bachelor's degree. From there public school teachers need to get certified. And keep in mind that a master's degree can help increase your pay and employment opportunities.

Average Pay: $55,150

[Search for Teaching programs].

*Average salary comes from the U.S. Department of Labor, using 2009 median salary information. For salary purposes, data for "Federal government criminal investigators" was used for FBI agents; data for "Secondary school teachers" was used for Teachers.

2011 Top (Car) Picks from Consumer Reports

2011 Top Picks from Consumer Reports
Best cars in 10 categories proving goodness doesn’t require paying top dollar.

Six new models made our Top Picks list this year, representing a diverse selection from Japan, South Korea, and the U.S. No automaker dominates; the 10 picks come from six manufacturers and eight brands, which reflects the increasing competitiveness within today's auto market. Toyota is the only brand with more than one model.

ª Consumer Reports’ annual auto issue
ª Complete Ratings for 200 cars and trucks
Consumer Reports has no relationship with any advertisers on Yahoo!.

Our Top Picks are the best all-around models in their categories. Chosen from the more than 270 vehicles we've recently tested, these vehicles scored well in our testing, have average or better predicted reliability, performed well in government or insurance-industry safety tests, if evaluated, and offer stability control—a proven, lifesaving feature.

Small car: Hyundai Elantra
Redesigned for 2011, the Elantra delivers a lot for the money. With its makeover, this well-rounded sedan is now more stylish and engaging to drive. The Elantra provides fairly nimble handling; a decent ride, a smooth, responsive powertrain; a well-finished interior; and a relatively roomy rear seat. It's also miserly on gas, achieving 29 mpg overall in our tests and 39 mpg on the highway. We expect this new model to be as reliable as the previous one. Price: $18,445

Budget car: Honda Fit
Electronic stability control is now a standard feature in the 2011 Fit, which helps solidify this versatile subcompact hatchback as the best in its class and a great value. The Fit provides an amazing amount of interior space for its size, aided by a flexible rear-seat design in which the seatbacks can fold down or the lower cushion can flip up to open an area stretching from floor to ceiling. Agile handling makes the Fit enjoyable to drive. And it pays back with excellent fuel economy: 30 mpg overall with an automatic transmission, 33 mpg with a manual. Price: $16,020 to $16,730

Family sedan: Nissan Altima
The Altima provides an impressive balance of comfort and performance while delivering some of the best fuel economy in its class: 26 mpg overall for four-cylinder models and 24 mpg with a V6. The Hybrid version gets 32 mpg. Its comfortable ride, secure handling, and spirited acceleration make the Altima enjoyable to drive. And it has a roomy, well-finished, and very quiet interior. The four-cylinder models earned an above-average reliability Rating, and the V6 model was average. Price: $23,970 to $30,335

Small SUV: Toyota RAV4
The RAV4 returns to our Top Picks list for the fourth time in the past five years. Its winning formula includes a roomy interior, agile handling, and very good fuel economy for its class. The four-cylinder version provides the best gas mileage of any automatic, nonhybrid SUV we've tested. The spirited V6 version accelerates about as quickly as the Cadillac CTS and Volkswagen GTI and gets only 1 mpg less than the four-cylinder model. A small third-row seat is optional. Price: $25,405 to $31,435

Green car: Toyota Prius
Even as more hybrids have entered the market in recent years, the Prius still gets the best fuel economy—44 mpg overall—of any vehicle we've recently tested. Moreover, the Prius is a pleasant car to drive, with a roomy interior, a comfortable ride, hatchback versatility, and excellent crash-test results. That combination of attributes has helped it earn our pick in this category for the eighth straight year, the longest run of any current model. Software problems in the antilock brake system affected the first-year reliability of this redesigned model, but those problems have been fixed. Price: $26,750

Family SUV: Kia Sorento
The Sorento was redesigned for 2011 and is now a more well-rounded SUV. A roomy, nicely finished interior includes comfortable seats and easy-to-use controls. An optional third-row seat, although tight, allows the Sorento to carry up to seven passengers. The smooth V6 engine provides good performance and fuel economy—20 mpg overall—that's as efficient as the base four-cylinder engine. The Sorento is also stocked with an inviting list of features for its price, making it one of the bargains of this class. Price: $26,590 to $32,390

Sporty car: Ford Mustang
One of the high points of this iconic sports car is the strong, rumbling V8 engine that propels our GT coupe and convertible test cars. It delivers scorching acceleration, a great exhaust sound, and good fuel economy for this class. For 2011, the Mustang received a refined, punchy V6, which provides strong acceleration and a decent 24 mpg overall with a manual transmission. But there's now more to the Mustang than power. Agile handling, a decent ride, comfortable front seats, and very good fit and finish make this thoroughly modern version a reasonable choice for daily driving. A tight rear seat limits passenger versatility, though. Price: $28,880 to $43,880

Sports sedan: Infiniti G37
The G37's inviting combination of agile handling, blistering acceleration, and a luxurious interior makes it one of our highest-scoring sedans and earned it a spot on this list for the fifth straight year. It's fun to drive on a twisty road but is still a fairly comfortable cruiser on the highway. A snug cabin and small trunk are the only notable weaknesses. Rear-wheel drive is standard, all-wheel drive optional. New for 2011 is a less expensive G25 model that gets 24 mpg, 3 better than the G37. Price: $37,225

Family hauler: Toyota Sienna
The previous Sienna set a high standard for minivans, earning it a place in our Top Picks in three of the past five years. Redesigned for 2011, the current model doesn't quite live up to that standard, but it's still a very comfortable, versatile minivan with excellent reliability. The spacious cabin can seat up to eight people. The engine delivers lively performance and decent fuel economy. And the Sienna is still the only minivan available with all-wheel drive. The redesigned Honda Odyssey scored slightly higher in our testing, but we don't have reliability data yet. Price: $35,810 to $38,201

Pickup truck: Chevrolet Avalanche
This versatile crew-cab model is unique among full-sized pickups. Its unified bed and cab helps give it a steady, comfortable, quiet ride. And the innovative partition between the cab and bed can be folded to extend the cargo area into the back of the cab. That allows the truck to carry longer cargo. A three-piece bed cover provides a weather-tight and lockable cargo area. We recommend getting the optional backup camera to reduce the truck's large blind zone. Price: $47,435.

6 Questions to Ask in a Job Interview

6 Questions to Ask in a Job Interview
Seth Fiegerman
Monday, February 28, 2011

Job interviews usually close with the same five words: "Do you have any questions?" It may sound benign, but for a job applicant, it can feel like the moment of truth.

By this point, the employer has read your cover letter and resume, corresponded with you by e-mail and phone to learn more about you and has probably just finished lecturing you on the company and the position. It's been a long process of showing your worth, and when they ask this final question, it may feel like it's the last real opportunity to prove yourself to a potential employer before they decide if you are, in fact, the one.

But according to several career experts we spoke with, job candidates should never feel pressured to make up questions.

"The biggest problem when asking questions during a job interview is that if the question isn't something you genuinely need to know, it can be way worse than not asking anything at all," said Penelope Trunk, a popular business blogger and CEO of the Brazen Careerist, a career management site. "Once you make it to the job interview, you've already passed the skills test, so it's all about personality. And nobody becomes likeable by asking disingenuous questions."

Trunk urges job applicants to change the way they think about the interview process. Rather than waiting until prompted to ask questions in the final moments of the interview, it's crucial to take the initiative to get your questions out during the course of the conversation.

"Don't wait til the end if you have questions you want answered. It screams, 'I'm not a self-starter,'" she said. "As soon as it's time for you to talk in the interview, start asking questions and engage with the person interviewing you."

As Trunk and other experts point out, when the interviewer asks if you have any questions, it's generally a formality, but a formality that may hurt you if you don't take advantage of it.

"You absolutely must ask at least two questions. Staying silent shows you haven't done enough homework to know what to ask," said Alexandra Levit, a career expert and author of "New Job, New You: A Guide to Reinventing Yourself in a Bright New Career."

Keep in mind that just because you are encouraged to ask questions doesn't necessarily mean you should ask a thousand of them.

"Your job is not to ask questions or to interview the interviewers, so I wouldn't ask too many questions," said John Challenger, CEO of Challenger, Gray & Christmas, an outplacement consulting firm.

We've rounded up the six best questions to ask in your next job interview, as suggested by our panel of experts, which can help you get a better idea of whether the position is right for you and perhaps even impress the interviewer in the process.

What do you really enjoy about working here?

When you step into an interview, it's important to remember that the person conducting the interview isn't just there to intimidate you; he or she is also your window into the company. And with this question, you can tactfully get a better sense of how the interviewer -- and perhaps employees in general -- feel about the company you may one day call home.

"The answer to this question as well as the tone of the answer will provide critical insights as to how happy and supported employees feel at the organization," Levit said.

If you want to take this question one step further, Tory Johnson, founder of WomenForHire.com, suggests rewording it to ask what one thing the interviewer would change about the company if he or she could. "This is a way of asking, 'What's wrong with this place?' without being so direct," she said.

What are your goals for the company in the next year?

Much of the interview itself will likely be devoted to the specifics of your position and your qualifications for it, so it's a good idea to break out of that pattern when possible to get a sense of the big picture.

According to Levit, this particular question can give you a better sense of "how your position fits into the company as a whole, and more broadly, about whether the company is a good place to work."

What skills do I need to have most to help the team?

Trunk emphasizes that the best questions one can ask are the ones that show you care about teamwork, bottom line results and know how to manage yourself in a group. With this particular question, you accomplish all of those points and can get better a sense of what will be expected of you once you start working.

If I were hired, what would you like to see me achieve in my first three to six months on the job?

As with the previous question, this one will help you get a better sense of how you'll be judged in your new career.

"It's important to understand expectations from the get-go," Levit said. "This is especially true if you are being hired for a management position."

Why is this position vacant?

It may sound like an off-putting question at first blush, but according to Johnson, it's essential.

"It's important to know whether the position is vacant because someone was promoted from within, or the job is newly created because of growth or if it's a vacant because of high turnover," she said. "Don't wait until getting hired to discover you're the sixth person in three months to occupy the seat."

Indeed, this question could lead to others and prove to be the most profitable exchange you have in the interview.

"Many times a position is vacant because the previous person wasn't right for the job. You'll want to explore why through follow-up questions like, 'If you could have changed something about that person, what would it have been?' This line of questioning will absolutely make you more memorable to the interviewer," she said.

Do you have any reservations in hiring me?

If all your questions have been answered, Trunk recommends ending the interview with this powerful line.

"Just have some self-confidence and say, 'No, I don't have any questions, but I've learned a lot here and I know this is a great job for me. Do you have any reservations in hiring me?'" she said. "It forces the hiring manager to tell you what reservations they do have, and gives you an opportunity to combat them."

What Not to Ask

For all the questions you should ask during an interview, there are many more that you should generally avoid asking.

"Don't ask them questions about what you want out of the job -- money, advancement opportunities -- it just comes off as selfish," said Challenger, the consulting firm CEO. Likewise, Trunk recommends holding off on asking about vacation days and salaries.

"These are kiss-of-death questions," she says. "Save them for after you actually get the job offer."

6 Questions to Ask in a Job InterviewIt’s crucial to ask questions during an interview. Here are some to help you get started.

9 Ways to Ace a Job Interview

Here are some tips to help you land the interview and come out on top.

The Industries with the Most Job Openings