Being an introvert means so much more than being than shy, quiet, and self-reflective; it also means finding energy by being alone instead of by interacting with others. Sometimes, however, introverts face unique obstacles, especially when it comes to the workplace.

In today's market, “it's not what you know, but who you know” may ring truer than ever, and one smart and effective way to make connections and slip a foot in that increasingly harder to open door is networking.

Young professional groups and networking meetings are great resources when looking for job prospects or promoting your current position, but as an introvert this task can be intimidating and daunting. The following five networking tips may ease the comfort level for introverts and make the process more tolerable and maybe even fun.

Set a goal. Easing into the process can prove more beneficial than diving in head first trying to meet as many people as possible. Find an event that you feel comfortable attending and set simple goals in the beginning. The first goal may be just actually showing up and listening to the speakers or presentations. The second goal may be meeting one new person and giving them your business card. Be patient and realistic. As each goal is achieved you will be motivated to reach the next and eventually it may become second nature.

Have a purpose. Keep in mind why you are there. Be clear as to whether you are simply there to meet people in your industry or whether you are looking to recruit an investor or client. If you are wishy-washy in your objectives, people will not take you seriously. Outlining your purpose beforehand can help you keep focused.

Project confidence. Fake it until you make it. People want to feel that you know what you are talking about, even if you don't, and employers want to hire confident employees. Even if you are still feeling out what direction you want to go, portray to your prospects that you know that you are the best person for the job.

Show interest and listen to others. Many introverts don't like to talk incessantly about themselves and hate to have to “sell” themselves or their products. Luckily, another way to make a lasting impression is to connect with your prospect on their level. Even though you may not like talking about yourself, many other people love to, and they also love people who will listen to them. They will appreciate your interest and remember you for your curiosity. Ask questions and really listen to their answers.

Follow up. After a networking event, research the contacts you made. Send them an email the next day expressing how nice it was to meet them, and add a personal touch. Maybe even send a handwritten note on your letterhead. Even if you may not ever work with this person, you never know who they know and who they will pass your information to, oftentimes when it is least expected.

The truth is interacting with people can exhaust introverts, but future-proofing your career by building connections with headhunters and people who can open doors for you is worth the effort.

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Though the jobs outlook has improved in recent years, many college grads are still having trouble securing employment in their fields of choice. According to recent data, as of 2010, only 62% of employed grads had jobs that required a college degree, while a mere 27% had managed to find jobs in fields related to their areas of study. As a result, some job seekers have resorted to accepting volunteer opportunities or internships in the hopes of opening the door to long-term employment. While working for free has its advantages, it also has several drawbacks.

The pros

  • You’ll get hands-on experience in your industry of choice, which will increase your chances of getting hired for paid positions. The trend of hiring interns is especially strong in banking and finance, in which employers later offered 69% of summer interns full-time positions, according to recent data from the Graduate Management Admission Council. This figure is consistent with internship.com’s survey findings, which found that large companies with more than100 employees offered full-time job to more than two-thirds of interns in 2012.
  • You’ll get to build relationships within your company and gain networking opportunities within your industry.
  • You’ll have something substantial to add to your resume, especially if you participate in a successful endeavor or project.

The cons

  • You won’t be making money, which could impact more than just your ability to cover your bills or pay off your student loans; that lack of a salary could result in low self-esteem and job dissatisfaction. Even if you’re treated well and are given interesting projects to work on, your absent paycheck could cast a negative shadow on the whole experience.
  • You may wind up doing more grunt work than anticipated. According to data from the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE), unpaid interns spend a mere 30% of their time doing non-administrative tasks.
  • Your unpaid stint may not actually result in employment. According to NACE, in 2012, only 37% of unpaid interns actually received paying job offers when their arrangements came to a close.

Before signing up to work for free:

  • Do your research. Get stats on post-internship hiring rates in your field, and talk to people who got their start working without pay.
  • Don’t overcommit. Negotiate a short-term arrangement, especially if you’re skeptical about the chances of it turning into a paid job.
  • Discuss your goals and expectations openly with your employer. Explain that your ultimate objective is to get hired for pay, and clarify your on-the-job tasks up-front so that you don’t wind up spending your days filing reports and making photocopies.
  • Understand your rights. The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) has certain criteria that must be fulfilled for an internship to be established—namely, that the intern is not guaranteed a job at the conclusion of the internship, nor should the intern expect compensation. But some of the laws are designed to protect you as an intern. For example, an internship must be designed to benefit the intern, and it must offer training similar to what might be found in an educational environment. The FLSA has also established rules to protect volunteers. Individuals, for example, cannot work without pay for a for-profit, private sector employer. On the other hand, volunteering for a public sector employer such as a government agency is permissible, as is volunteering for a religious or humanitarian organization.

While clearly there are no guarantees, the right unpaid opportunity could wind up advancing your career much faster than months of fruitless job searching.

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Trade shows are where industry experts and professionals gather to network, show off their wares, and close business deals. Whether you have a great idea you're looking to introduce to the public or just want to break into the industry, trade shows are where to do it. However, trade shows can get expensive--preparation is the key to a productive event in which you maximize your return on investment.

Application and attendance
Trade show administrators sell tickets up to six months in advance, so start checking early. If you don't know what trade shows applies to your industry, check the U.S. Domestic Trade Show website. Tickets start around $100 per day for an attendee ticket, while booth spaces can cost between $5,000 and $50,000, depending on the size of the show and your exhibit size.

If you don't have a ticket, show up anyway. You can purchase tickets at the door, or, if you're really bootstrapping, you can simply network outside near the entrances and exits. You can also attempt to get a free admission by applying for a media analyst or press pass.

Promotional materials and product samples
To maximize the value of your trade show appearance, you'll need promotional materials. Large corporations often spend millions of dollars on giant statues, models, booklets, and product samples, which means you'll probably need your own bag creative and competitive swag, too. Everyone has a pitch, so you'll need to show and prove in order to backup any claims you make.

At a bare minimum, you'll need business cards, which you can purchase from companies like VistaPrint at $10–$20 per 500, depending on how many extras you add. We may live in a digital world, but nothing makes you look more unprofessional than lacking a business card. Without it, you risk not being remembered the next day.

Travel expenses
Once you have confirmation you can attend, don’t forget to budget for travel, food, and hotel expenses. Luckily the trade show hosts will have a hotel block with special pricing negotiated during the show. These discounted tickets must be booked through the trade show website.

If you miss the special booking, prices can skyrocket, even when booked through booking agent websites. It's not uncommon for attendees to simply camp outside of town or sleep in their car in the parking lot.

Attire
Another unexpected cost of attending trade shows is your trade show outfit. Determine the appropriate attire for a trade show by considering the show and industry you're interested in--business professional is a good place to start. The event may be a fun business trip, but it is still business, after all. You'll often only get one shot at making an impression, so you'll want to look your best and dress to impress.

After-parties and special events
Trade shows are known as much for the after-parties and private events as they are for the actual exhibitions and conferences. Consider after-hours events you're budgeting for your trip to avoid missing out on those opportunities. Maximize those events by accessing attendee lists early and preparing to make the right connections. Research who will be there and contact the PR reps for information about events they are hosting at the trade show.

While attending can be costly, the investment can be worth it. If you're interested in an industry, there's no better way to keep your ear to the streets than attending trade shows. Trade shows feature new products, industry information, business deals, and great networking opportunities. If you're looking to make a name for yourself in an industry, invest in your career and enjoy networking in the trade show circuit.

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If you’re new to the stock market, you may have been told on more than one occasion not to obsess over your portfolio on a daily basis, and for good reason. Depending on the nature and amount of your investments, it’s very possible to see your balance take a dive to the tune of several hundred or several thousand dollars in a mere 24-hour span. Of course, watching your portfolio rapidly lose value can be stressful and even shocking at first, but when that happens, it’s important to put things in perspective.

Market volatility is nothing new
The stock market has always been volatile and is likely to stay that way. Remember Black Tuesday? Many consider that fateful day to be the worst in U.S. economic history for spawning the Great Depression. And in recent years, the market has been downright brutal at times (think Black Monday, the largest one-day crash in history, or even the summer of 2011, when a downgraded US credit rating courtesy of Standard & Poor's caused the market to tank). Political unrest, whether domestic or abroad, can shake the market to its core; the same holds true for natural disasters, like tsunamis and hurricanes, and health crises, such as the very recent Ebola outbreak.

But there’s good news, and it’s that the market also has a strong history of rebounding. In fact, it took only two years to recover from Black Monday. Another thing to keep in mind is when the market takes a hit and your portfolio loses value in the process, it’s only a loss on paper—meaning, you don’t actually lose any money unless you sell off your stocks at a price lower than what you paid for them.

Protecting yourself in the face of volatility
While the market may be unpredictable, you can protect your financial interests and rest assured by taking a few smart steps. For starters, don’t rely on your stock portfolio to fund a major short-term purchase (like a house or car), supplement your emergency fund, or help pay the bills. Though the market is more likely to recover than not, be willing to be in it for the long haul—meaning, 10 years or more. Otherwise, you do run the risk of losing money by being forced to sell off assets at a time when market conditions may not be favorable.

Diversifying your portfolio is another strategy for limiting your risk and resting easy. While the term may sound fancy, “diversifying” simply means putting your money in different places. If, for example, you choose to invest only in healthcare, and several pharmaceutical companies unexpectedly go bankrupt or are forced to pull their drugs off the market, your portfolio could wind up taking a significant hit. On the other hand, if you invest in a number of different industries, your portfolio value is less likely to plummet if a single sector is plagued with negative news or publicity.

Finally, make sure your stock portfolio represents just a single component of your overall investment strategy. Bonds, money markets, and mutual funds are generally considered to be safer options. You can even branch out to areas such as real estate to limit your exposure to stocks. But even if your portfolio is fairly stock-heavy, you’re still likely to come out ahead in the long run if you invest wisely.

The next time the market takes a hit, stay calm, and take comfort in its history of ultimately serving long-term and smart investors well.
 
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You graduate and now it's time to get a job (that's next, right?). After all, it's why you spent all those years in school. However, months and several promising job interviews later, you're still looking for work.

Yes, the job market is getting better and unemployment is dropping. But there are still still 9.3 million people in this country fighting for an estimated 4.8 million available jobs. In short, it's still tough out there. You still need an aggressive approach to separate from the millions of others and find you the job you seek.

How? Infuse your search with the best power you have: you. In a world of apps for everything, the winning approach may still come down to the human touch.

Be connected. Go beyond the job boards to network with those who can connect you to jobs. Get away from the computer and reach out to human networks; try recruiters and hiring agencies. Don't just email them your résumé--call and get to know those who know where the jobs are. Build your industry networks by using LinkedIn or Meetup to make personal connections with others in your field.

Be creative. Remember that car commercial where the guy waits outside with a cup of coffee for the CEO and gets himself a job? That's a creative way to snag a job; sending an email and hoping for the best is not. Can't be there in person? Create a brief slide deck or an industry blog (use sites like Ghost) and share on your LinkedIn profile or digital résumé. Create a digital cloud full of ideas that any employer can view and learn about your creative abilities.

Be personal. Infuse your job search with personal touches beyond the email. After you've sent your résumé, follow up with phone call. Remember thank you notes after interviews are essential. The human touch will build your network of people who know you, not your screen name.

Be positive. If you do snag an interview, that means your potential employer will eventually meet you—burned out from the job search or not. They will shake your hand and observe your mannerisms. They may even ask you to role play or ask about your hobbies. If you are personable and positive, you'll outflank the competition. How you do stay positive when your job hunt drags on and you've have many fruitless interviews? Positive self-talk has many benefits that can sustain your job search. Flip the mental script. You don't have to be the best of 9 million. You don't need to win every job.

Just one.

 Photo by Eric Sonstroem via cc.

Startup companies continue to pop up everywhere, offering countless employment opportunities for job searchers. Whether you're a recent grad in need of a paycheck or are tired of working in a rigid corporate atmosphere, taking a job at a startup could end up being a career choice with benefits and drawbacks.

The pros

  • Stock options. Many startups offer stock options or profit-sharing arrangements to attract employees and motivate them to work hard. While stock options don't always spell profit, if your company goes public at a premium (think Facebook), the payoff could be tremendous. Even a modest initial public offering could put a decent amount of cash in your pocket.
  • A casual environment. Unlike their more established corporate counterparts, startups tend to promote casual, laid-back environments that appeal to those who prefer less structure and restriction. It's not unheard of for startup employees to work in jeans or sweats, and many startup offices feature perks like lounge areas and game rooms to encourage creativity and free thinking. Many startups also offer relaxed policies, from flexible work arrangements to generous paid time off packages.
  • Opportunity for growth. Startups are often conducive to rapid career development, as those who get in early have the opportunity to advance as the company grows. Startups, especially in their early stages, also tend to treat employees as investments and promote internally rather than seek outside talent.

The cons

  • Less stability. Startups are generally less stable than established companies, and even with the most seemingly promising business plan and dedicated management team, a startup can still unexpectedly fold. In fact, recent data suggests that up to 75% of venture-backed startups ultimately fail.
  • Lower salaries. Startups tend to have fewer financial resources than established companies, and many take years to actually become profitable. As such, they aren't always able to offer the most competitive salaries.
  • Limited benefits. Dreaming of a great health insurance plan? You may not get it at a startup. Because of the aforementioned financial constraints, many startups are unable to offer employees perks like 401k matching programs, tuition reimbursement, and top-tier medical coverage.

When it comes to your career, money isn't the only factor to consider, and while you may earn less initially by working at a startup, the experience you gain can more than make up for that lower paycheck. Either way, one of the most important things to do before accepting an offer from a startup is research. Ask questions about the company's operating expenses and funding, study the industry to gain a better sense of the company's likelihood to succeed, and pay attention to how similar companies have recently fared--because while you may be willing to compromise on salary, the last thing you'll want is to find yourself filing for unemployment not long after taking that startup role.

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It’s a scenario many of us have faced: A friend comes to you and admits to being short on money, and before you know it, what started out as a venting sessions quickly turns into a plea for a loan. While it’s noble to want to help a friend in need, answer these questions.

What's your friend’s history with money?
Has your friend always been notoriously bad with money? Is this the first time he’s come to you in need of a bailout? Think long and hard about your friend’s spending habits and history before deciding whether you’re comfortable helping out. You may also want to ask mutual friends for their input.

What does your friend needs the money for?
It’s one thing if your friend needs a loan to cover an unexpected bill or make ends meet while job searching. But if you’re being asked to help fund a friend’s month-long vacation or fancy electronics purchase, you may want to politely turn him down. Also consider the reason why your friend needs it. Did he lose a job unexpectedly or encounter an onslaught of medical bills following an injury or illness? Or is his predicament the result of unfiltered spending and sloppy money management?

How will the loan affect on your own financial situation?
Even if you have some money to lend, doing so may put you in an uncomfortable financial position. Make sure you have enough money on hand to address your own needs before parting with any of your hard-earned cash. If, for example, you’ll need to dip into your emergency fund to lend your friend, that could create a stressful situation for you if your circumstances change. Think about your current, upcoming, and potential expenses and keep in mind you may not get repaid for quite some time.

What are the terms of the loan?
Your motivation in lending money to a friend is to help him out or do him a favor; but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t protect yourself in the process. If you do decide to move forward with a loan, make sure to spell out its terms in writing. There are numerous free online sources that can show you how to create a loan document that is legally binding. If you clearly identify the loan amount, repayment schedule, and interest terms (if applicable), both you and your friend will have a solid understanding of what to expect, and you’ll have a degree of protection in the event that your relationship goes sour or your friend fails to pay back the loan as promised.

How will the loan affect your relationship?
As the recipient of the loan, your friend may begin to feel awkward or uncomfortable around you despite the fact that he approached you asking for help in the first place. On the flip side, you may end up feeling resentful or regretting your decision if you observe your friend making luxury purchases before he’s had a chance to repay you in full.

Erica Moore, for example, loaned a close friend $5,000 several years ago to avoid foreclosure on her condo during a period of joblessness. While the two friends signed a loan agreement that included explicit repayment terms, Moore was irked when she saw her friend buying cosmetics and ordering in dinner. Though she recognized that the occasional $10-$20 purchase wasn’t going to make a huge dent given the total principal of the loan, she thought if her friend was desperate enough to ask for money, she should be stocking away every penny rather than treating herself. While Moore's friend eventually repaid the loan, Moore acknowledges there’s still some tension as a result of having loaned that money.

 
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Anyone brave enough to invest in stocks should be prepared to endure the rollercoaster ride that is the market. Stocks have always been volatile, particularly in recent years, and even when the market calms down on a whole, it's possible to see individual stocks lose value month over month.

If you're new to the stock market, you may be inclined to panic every time you see your portfolio take a dive, but remember: Even if it dips for a day, or a week, or a month, you don't actually lose money until you sell. That's because the market on a whole has the ability to rebound, and the same holds true for individual stocks.

On the other hand, there are scenarios in which a specific stock may appear to simply be doomed. Poor earnings, weak projections, and news scandals can all spell trouble for an individual company's stock, and if a loss is inevitable, it often pays to get out and sell while you can. The good news, however, is that you can make a loss work to your advantage.

Offset capital gains and reduce your taxes
When you sell a stock at a price that’s higher than what you paid for it, your profit is known as a capital gain. And when you make money on a stock sale, not surprisingly, the government wants a piece of it. Short-term gains, which are gains on stocks held for less than a year plus one day, are taxed as ordinary income (meaning what your regular paycheck is at taxed at). Long-term gains, which are gains on stocks held for longer than one year plus one day, are taxed at 15% if you fall into an average tax bracket. (Your individual rate could be higher or lower depending on your status.) If you sell a stock at a loss, you can offset it against a gain, thereby lowering your overall tax burden. In fact, if the amount you lose in a given year ends up outweighing the amount you’ve gained, you can claim an actual loss on your taxes and deduct up to $3,000 for it.

Pursue more favorable investments
Once you’ve sold at a loss, you can use the proceeds to invest in a more promising option, be it a different stock, bond, or fund. Let’s say you sell a stock and lose $1,000. If you’re able to take the money you previously had in that stock, invest it elsewhere, and make $1,500, you’ll wind up ahead of the game. The only caveat is that you’ll need to avoid buying the same stock at a lower price, or a similar stock, during the 30-day period after you sell. This is called a wash sale, and unfortunately, the IRS won’t allow you to deduct your loss if you don’t wait till day 31.

Even when you lose money on a stock, there’s a silver lining. All it takes is a bit of strategic thinking and planning.

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With most savings account interest rates barely grazing the 1% mark and short-term CDs not faring much better, those hesitant to embrace the volatility of the stock market have, in recent years, been forced to either step outside their comfort zones or resign themselves to slow financial growth. If you’re tired of measly interest rates but aren’t ready to abandon your risk-averse tendencies, there’s another option to consider: municipal bonds.

Also known as muni bonds, municipal bonds are debt obligations issued by government entities such as states, cities, and counties. They’re often used to fund public projects like roadway construction and utility infrastructure. Similar to corporate bonds, municipal bonds essentially promise to pay the lender—in this case, you—a specified amount of interest over a period of time, and return the principal investment once the bond matures, or comes due. While municipal bonds are a good choice for some investors, they aren’t for everybody. Let’s review.

The pros

  • Municipal bonds are generally tax-free, meaning the interest you earn on them is exempt from federal income taxes and, in some cases, state taxes as well. Interest from a CD or savings account, on the other hand, is not only subject to taxes, but is taxed as ordinary income, which means it’s treated the same way as your regular paycheck.
  • Municipal bonds are a relatively safe investment. Compared to corporate bonds, their default rate (the failure of the issuer to make scheduled payments) is extremely low. Because of this, muni bonds offer a reasonably predictable income stream from interest, with most long-term bonds making semiannual payments.

The cons

  • Compared to other investment options, municipal bonds generally have a lower interest rate. Over the past 10 years, municipal bonds have yielded just over 4% on average, whereas corporate bonds have averaged between 5 and 7%.
  • While municipal bonds are considered low-risk, they aren’t risk-free. Though defaults are rare, they can happen.
  • Municipal bond values are subject to market fluctuation. Let’s say you invest $10,000 in a 10-year muni bond but find that you need to sell it two years after adding it to your portfolio. If the market value at the time is only $9,000, you’ll lose $1,000 of your principal in exchange for immediate cash. You should only count on a full return of your principal if you hold the bond until its maturity date.

Under the right circumstances, municipal bonds are a wise investment. Consider adding muni bonds to your portfolio if you're in a high tax bracket or expect to have a lot of taxable income in a given year, as their interest income won’t increase your tax burden. And if you’re new to investing and want to limit your exposure to risk, municipal bonds are a reasonably safe option. Finally, if you have an emergency fund and aren’t anticipating any imminent purchases requiring a large sum of cash (such as a house), municipal bonds are a great way to diversify your long-term savings plan.

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The day my bank account hit zero, I knew I was in trouble.

I’d been watching its slow decline for weeks, so I knew it was coming. Graduation had caused my savings to take a big hit, and my post-grad move to Florida depleted everything I had left. The worst part was that I couldn’t even claim to be a poor college student--now, I was just poor. After spending the summer counting my pennies, never having more than $100 to my name at any given time, I learned a few things.

There are things of greater value than money. Three of my best friends got married over the summer, and forking out for plane tickets and gifts took up the majority of my weekly paychecks. It was worth it, though. I knew I would rather have the memories than the money.

You don’t need to eat nearly as much as you think you do. I learned to make a box of pasta can last a week and a can of tuna fish can make four sandwiches. We’re used to big portion sizes in the United States, but the truth is your body does just fine with a bit less, and you’ll be surprised how much money you can save by simply cutting your portion sizes.

Nature is the best gym you’ll ever find. I was always the queen of gym memberships, but there was no way I could afford one once I got to Florida. Instead, I started running outside, and I found I really liked it.

There’s an app for everything (and it’s usually free!). Since I missed my gym membership, I found a free app that created personalized workout routines. Whatever you need, chances are there’s a free app for it.

Free resources are everywhere. From public transportation to public events, take advantage of everything available to you. Love to read? Get a library card.

Ultimately you are in control of your finances. The hardest thing I had to do over the summer was learn to say no to evenings out and fast food runs and anything else I didn’t have the money for. You control your spending. If you can’t afford it, learn to accept that and say no.

There are always ways to make money. Always. Do your neighbors want you to dog need their dogs watched? Children babysat? These might not be the most glamourous things in the world, but they’re ways to make quick cash if you’re truly desperate.

Reward points, reward points, reward points. Not only did my workout app have a rewards system that I could redeem for gift cards, the credit card I eventually got did too. Translation: my daily exercise routine was earning me free groceries.

Creativity is king. Especially when it comes to budgeting. Think outside the box with how to do with less, repurpose items, or discover new ways to save.

Sometimes you have to re-evaluate your life plan. All I wanted to do after college was travel. I had these great romantic visions of me wandering the world with nothing but a backpack and a camera- I didn’t think I would ever get a full-time job or use my degree. After three months of making minimum wage and struggling to make ends meet, nothing seemed more appealing than a full-time job and a steady salary. I realized that if I couldn’t even afford groceries, there was no way I was spending the summer in Greece. A month later, I was able to find a full-time, virtual position that paid a great salary and allowed me to work from home. Goodbye, financial stress. Hello, travel.

With a little resourcefulness and determination, you can succeed living on a budget.

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