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3 questions to ask during your next job interview

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Let’s face it, job interviews are stressful. Not only do you have to do a lot of research on the company before hand, but you also have to somehow figure out a way to make yourself stand out from the other candidates. Then once you’ve got all that sorted, you have to remember the little things – like how long it’s going to take to get to the office, what you’re going to wear, what the names are of the people interviewing you, and the questions you plan on asking them.

If I’ve ever met you in person, you might have noticed that I can come across as shy, and maybe even a bit awkward. I’m not great at small talk, and I get nervous easily. This definitely makes things like networking (or even first dates) kind of a problem, and it should also make interviews a nightmare. But for some reason, I’m good at them. Still haven’t figured out why that is!

My boss told me that I won my current job over another candidate with more directly related experience (I don’t know anything about nuclear science!) because I showed that I was confident, passionate, and believed in what I do. When I was less than a year into the workforce, I was offered two different fairly high profile jobs (which both required 5-7 years of experience), and once during the final round of interviewing, a city manager told me that I had a quality about me that he couldn’t pinpoint, but found very appealing.

Related: Truth – if you don’t ask, you won’t get

Now, I’m not saying all of this to boast. It’s to illustrate my point that your resume and experience might get you the interview, but it’s how you come across in person that will win you the job. At least that’s been my experience in my industry. With a 2-year technical diploma, I’m likely never going to be the most qualified person – but I make up for it by showing enthusiasm throughout the entire interview. And I think one of the best ways to do this is near the end, when they ask “do you have any questions about the job?”

I feel like it’s common knowledge to have a few standard questions to ask, but I’ve been surprised over the years when conducting interviews, many people just say no. Then the interview is over, and it’s been completely one-sided – with one person asking, and one person answering. You wouldn’t go on a date and not ask any questions, would you? So it shouldn’t be any different with an interview. Sure, they’re interviewing you for the job, but you’re also interviewing them to see if they’re the right employer for you.

These might be pretty generic, but here are my favourite questions to ask employers:

1. Is this a new position to the company?

This is by far my favourite question to ask, if I haven’t already been able to find the answer online. It can give you a lot of seriously good insight into what the position is all about.

If it’s a new position, the follow-up questions become pretty important: why the position was created in the first place (was it to go in a new corporate direction, take the burden off of another employee, or because they’re expanding so rapidly?), or where they see the position moving to in the future. Is there room for growth?

Sometimes with completely new positions, they don’t really know what they’re looking for – just that they know they want somebody. In my current position, I was hired to write. But in the 9 months I’ve been there, I haven’t done any writing, and I knew that based on the interview. I was the first and only hire in the newly created marketing position, so I knew I would take on everything else that marketing encompasses, like trade shows, graphic design, event coordination, website maintenance, etc.

If the position you’re interviewing for is to take over for somebody else, asking why that person is leaving is also a good question to ask. Usually LinkedIn will provide clues as to whether the company has a high turnover rate, or if their employees stay long-term.

2. What is the corporate/company culture like?

For me, this is an important one because I want to know what it’s going to be like working there on a day-to-day basis. What are my co-workers like? Is everyone social, or do they keep to themselves? It’s also important because it shows the employer that you’re likely interested in staying long-term, and that you’re looking for more than just a pay cheque.

Usually you’ll learn things about the corporate environment (open space vs. offices), and sometimes they might even bring a few employees in to talk about what it’s like there. I really appreciate it when they do that. Getting to talk to potential colleagues makes it real, and you will likely get a much better feel for the company that way. Not that I want to make best friends out of my co-workers, but it’s important that you like the people you work with.

3. What direction do you see the company headed in the next 5 to 10 years?

I like this question because you will be able to see how your position can affect the company’s short-term and long(er)-term goals. If they’re looking to expand, perhaps that means there will be opportunities for advancement or movement/travel to different offices. If they’re looking to chase competition, that might mean exciting opportunities. If they’re looking to go a different direction, you will get a glimpse into whether you want to go that direction as well.

Related: Are you a job hopper?

As a side note, I think there’s a fine line between presenting the best version of yourself that you can be, and being fake. Once, I crossed that line. I got caught up in the personalities of the two people interviewing me, and I started to act and answer questions in a way that I knew they would like, but wasn’t me at all. In the end, I got the job… but once I actually started working, we all quickly realized that my day to day personality was a lot different (and that came across in my writing, which is what I was hired for). I was let go within my probation period. It was a hard lesson to learn, but a good one nonetheless.

What are your favourite questions do you ask during job interviews?

2013 Canadian Personal Finance Conference!

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I haven’t mentioned it much on this blog, but this September will mark the 3rd Annual Canadian Personal Finance Conference – a conference I co-founded and organize with Preet Banerjee. This year’s speaker line-up includes some of the best writers in Canada – including Rob Carrick (Globe and Mail), Ellen Roseman (Toronto Star), and Dan Bortolotti (Canadian Couch Potato)… and over the weekend the conference sold out! Click here to put your name on the wait list. :)

Anyway the reason why I’m mentioning this is because this past week, I realized there’s only two months left until the conference. I didn’t have my flight booked, and had no idea where I was going to stay.

Last year, I stayed close to Kensington Market, and really liked the area. I snagged a great deal: an entire apartment for $70/night. The owner was new to AirBnB, so I think he was just trying to figure out how much he should be charging… because when I went to look at his listing again over the weekend, I realized his rates had risen to $125/night! Yikes. I liked him and his apartment, but not for that amount of money.

Related: My review of AirBnB (via FrugalWanderer.com)

I finally found a listing near Kensington Market that was going for $79/night. It was free for the days I looking for, so I e-mailed her right away. She was friendly, and pre-approved me to book the room. The only problem was when I went to go book online, she had increased the daily rate to $88/night. I was annoyed, because while it’s still a good price (and still the cheapest in the area), I felt like it was pretty sneaky. So I e-mailed her back and told her that I noticed that her rates had increased, and if she wouldn’t mind giving me the lower price – since that’s what made me want to book her room in the first place. She was very apologetic, and agreed to the lower rate. Great!

Related: Truth – If you don’t ask, you won’t get

So I ended up paying $304 for 4 nights in Toronto. Much cheaper than a hotel, and cheaper than any private room in a hostel as well. Sure, I could have stayed in a hostel dorm room (and I would have, if this was a vacation trip), but because it’s a business trip, I like having the extra space and privacy to get work done when needed.

As for my flight? Thanks to my new Capital One Aspire World Travel Mastercard, my flight was free. :) I’m pleased that a card I’ve only been using since February has already earned me enough points to get me a $600 flight.

Now all I have to do is worry about my spending money. Because I’ll be pretty busy with the conference (and can only take a few days off from my full-time job), there’s not much time for socializing. I think I’ll budget $250 or $300, and that’s being pretty generous.

Toronto is a great city, and I’m so excited to be back. There are plenty of people I can’t wait to meet, and old friends I’m excited to see again. :) Two months to go!

Budgeting for freelancers

I was thinking the other day about a recent post I wrote about how I became a freelancer. I talked about the anxiety I felt not having a steady stream of income, but I didn’t talk about what I did to remedy the situation.

Last year I created monthly budgets like I normally do, but with irregular payments coming in (and no full-time salary to anchor my income), it ended up being a somewhat frustrating experience. I didn’t have enough cash flow to bridge the gap between payments, so sometimes I was caught a little short on cash. :| It would have been relatively easy to dip into my (non-EF) savings account, but with PC Financial, taking money out of a savings account takes one business day. Besides, I had to figure out a better way.

Related: When does a freelancing career take over?

After the first few months, I realized I needed a better system that accounted for income fluctuation. The first step was to project my monthly income, and there are generally two methods to doing that:

  1. Average monthly income. Add up your monthly income from the past year, divide by 12.
  2. Minimum monthly income. Take the lowest earning month you have had in the past year.

When I was working a full-time job and freelancing, I based my budget on my minimum monthly income – which usually ignored any freelance income I earned. That way, I was sure I was satisfying my budget, without having to look at fluctuating secondary streams of income to compensate my spending.

However, as a freelancer, I didn’t have anchor income (or even many anchor clients) that would provide me a steady stream of money I could rely on. So I decided to change my approach and work my budget around my average monthly income instead. Then, I would pay myself a bi-weekly salary, as if I was still working for someone else – instead of just randomly spending/saving the money as it came in. So I went back and added up my freelance income from the past 12 months, and divided by 12 to get my average monthly salary.

That made me feel really good. I knew approximately how much I would bring in each month, and I felt secure that I could meet all of my financial obligations, and still have enough left over for the fun stuff – like travel. :) But my only problem was, if I was already starting short on cash flow, how would I build up a salary base so that I could start giving myself a bi-weekly salary?

It was then I realized why I’m always so overly cautious when it comes to my money – for exact reasons like this. I had about $5,000 set aside in a savings account (my $10,000 Emergency Fund is separate from this). I took out enough to pay me a bi-weekly salary to start, and started to used that savings account as my business account.

Related: Time management for the freelancer

This was a good short-term solution, but if I were going to make freelancing a full-time career, I would have done a lot of things differently:

  • Set up a separate business chequing/savings account. I should have done it before I left, but it just wasn’t a priority (even though it should have been).
  • Stay more on top of admin work. I’m still guilty of this. I have a really hard time replying to e-mails (especially advertisers/sponsors) in a timely manner – because all I want to do is write, write, write! But when I’m my own business, no e-mail can go unanswered.
  • I would have cared more about making money from my blog. Monetization has never been a big thing for me. A lot of bloggers make a killing with sponsors and banner ads and affiliate marketing. Sure, the money would be nice. But it’s just not something I care enough about. I’d rather cultivate personal relationships with companies. That’s why I focused on my partnership with HostelBookers, and a few other smaller companies last year.
  • I would have worked harder. Okay, well maybe. Last year I worked about 25 hours/week and earned about $57k. That’s a pretty decent salary, but if I were going to make freelancing my career, I would have gone at it harder. Pursued more opportunities. Said yes to all media interviews (I said no. Often.) Worked a full 40-50 hour/week. Of course, that was impossible to do while I was traveling so much… and that’s a choice I made.
  • Saved up for a business emergency fund. The only thing that was keeping me calm was my $10,000 personal Emergency Fund. I should have had a savings account set up for my business – so that if I lost a big client (I did while I was away), I could supplement my bi-weekly income until I found a replacement income stream. Thankfully I had additional savings outside of my EF that I could use if needed.

Anyway, that’s how I dealt with money during my year as a freelancer. Like I mentioned in last month’s post, freelancing gave me so much anxiety. But, I think that if I had created a better game plan (aside from: yep, I make enough money to quit my full-time job!), I would have been more successful at being less stressed out about finances last year. :)

Freelancers – do you have any budgeting tips to share?

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