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Michelle Singletary
Washington Post Columnist
Thursday, May 27, 2010; 12:00 PM

Personal finance columnist Michelle Singletary will host a live discussion on Thursday, May 27 at 12 p.m. ET to answer your questions about money. She will be joined by Ellen Gordon Reeves, author of "Can I Wear My Nose Ring to the Interview? The Crash Course: Finding, Landing, and Keeping Your First Real Job," the Color of Money Book Club selection for the month of May.

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In her column from May 2, Michelle writes, "Reeves has put together a guide that reads fresh and is as easy to navigate as the technology you can't pry from the hands of young adults, the target market for her book."

Read Singletary's column about the book.

Read Michelle's latest columns, check out her Color of Money Book Club selection archive or sign up for her weekly e-mail newsletter.

Submit a question now or during the discussion.

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Michelle Singletary: Good afternoon. I hope this is going to be a great chat because I love topic.

Anyway, let's get started.

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Washington, D.C.: My son just graduated from college with a degree in Business & Economics. I know job search techniques have changed tremendously from my day. Can you offer any advice on how he should proceed and any other job search tips?

Ellen Gordon Reeves: Of course my advice is to read the 200 plus pages of advice in CAN I WEAR MY NOSE RING TO THE INTERVIEW? But my mantra is STOP LOOKING FOR A JOB AND START LOOKING FOR A PERSON; THE RIGHT PERSON WILL LEAD YOU TO THE RIGHT JOB.

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Baltimore, Md.: I am a 56-year-old woman who is facing a layoff at the end of the year, so I'm planning a career change. Is there good advice in this book for people like me?

Ellen Gordon Reeves: Absolutely. The book is basically about how to present yourself professionally and has been used by job hunters of all ages. While there is much advice for recent grads, it's a great refresher course at all stages. And since you have such advance notice, please read the last chapters about making the most of your workplace and moving on, whether your choice or theirs. It looks like my next book will be for people in exactly your boat since there seems to be great need. Good luck!

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Washington, D.C.: Michelle -

Long time reader who just wanted to say thanks. I paid off the last of my student loans this week and am debt free. Already set up an auto transfer to move the money I was sending to loans into savings...and am starting to daydream about what comes next!

Thanks for the articles and chats. It was a long slog, and really helped to see others marching ahead on the same path.

Michelle Singletary: Hallelujah!!!!

Free at last, free at last.

Consider this a BIG shout out from me and the many other regulars who I know are cheering for you right now.

And you are exactly right in automatically saving the money you were using to pay off that debt.

I'm so happy for you.

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eyeful: I teach college journalism and have sent many students to interviews that I arranged, for internships and jobs. Here in Fla., mild to deep cleavage is the norm for many young women. Tank top under blazer or cardigan is their default. I am talking...display, especially for the male interviewers who are typically taller and looking down as they meet and greet. How do I turn off the peep show, bearing in mind student privacy law (which is strict)? Seriously....

Ellen Gordon Reeves: Great question. I believe in erring on the side of dressing conservatively for an interview, which is a formal situation no matter how casual the tone. I think they all need a general blunt reminder that there should be nothing to distract an interviewer in an interview except the exceptional quality of your preparation and answers to interview questions. Revealing too much cleavage is not professional unless you're a swimsuit model.

Michelle Singletary: I totally agree with Ellen. Be honest and blunt BEFORE you set up the interviews.

Tell the ladies and gents what they should wear and not wear. If you do it before you aren't revealing that people are coming back to you. So I mean have a real, heart-to-heart, I'm-not-playing-don't-make-me-hurt-you talk about dress.

I've had to tell women that I like breasts, but only when it comes to my fried chicken.

You are doing them a great service by telling them to pull up their blouses or wear a turtleneck!

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Richmond, Va.: My son, a recent graduate who is applying for work, insists that the cover letter with his resume cannot be longer than a single page because it will not be read if it is too long. I argue it can be longer if there are legitimate accomplishments to write about.

Who do you think is correct? Thanks for answering.

Ellen Gordon Reeves: The cover letter and resume should not be longer than a page, especially for recent grads. Resume means "summary" --and a mark of intelligence is the ability to select only key information as relevant to the job at hand. He may have legitimate accomplishments but in this case, less is more. He needs to have done his homework to know which of his skills and talents and experience will position him best for each job he applies for. Most people with long resumes and cover letters haven't edited them well; they repeat information and add unnecessary information. And don't forget, he has references and an interview through which to tout his other accomplishments

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Wheaton, Md.: Just read your newsletter, and I have to say, I am disappointed to read that one of your friends admires Kimora Lee Simmons. I stopped watching her show - it seemed that it perpetuates the idea that working women (and women in general) can be snarky, rude, demanding and dismissive to those around them, and that it's fun and hip. I realize that these shows are scripted and hyped, but the average teenage girl does not, and mimics that behavior. That's how we get videos of mean girls beating others up, posting lies and insults on the internet. Oh, and don't get me started on KLS's basis for her fame and fortune - Russell Simmons produced/produces rap music that debases and degrades women; that's what upsets me the most - she's making money off the men who like using and degrading other women. I don't expect you to print this on the chat, but just wanted to let you know just because someone is famous and rich that they should be a role model.

washingtonpost.com: Today's e-letter: Celebrity Cash

Michelle Singletary: Hey I'm not afraid to post what you wrote. And I think you totally missed her sarcasm. I watch the show every once in awhile only so I can yell at the TV and what she stands for.

Like her or not, Kimora has achieved success on her own but with lots of money and help, that's right. That was what the e-letter poster was saying. In other words, don't use her as an example of the norm.

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Boston: This topic seems very dedicated to new professionals. However, in today's economy, some of us are older and getting back in the interviewing process for the first time in many years. What tips do you have for the older generation that may be in the job hunt process again for the first time in 5 or 10 years?

Ellen Gordon Reeves: I work with people of all ages, but here are some tips for older job seekers:

You're NOT As Young As You Feel: You're As Young As You Look

Get rid of the grey, re-vamp your wardrobe, get a makeover-this can be free in a department store or training salon, and many public libraries and community centers offer free sessions with professional image consultants.

Don't Put Your Age on the Page

Don't highlight dates on your resume; focus on experience. Avoid e-mail addresses with a year marker that could be college graduation or year of birth.

Don't Lead with The Mommy Track Narrative

Stop saying in an interview "I've been home with the kids for ten years and am now looking for full-time work." Don't raise the red flag for the employer: do you need to be socialized into an office environment? Are you technology savvy? Can you really focus on work or are you going to be leaving early and running home to the kids all the time? Instead, try this: "I've been working with non-profits in a variety of capacities for the last decade and have now decided to focus solely on the expertise I've developed in fund raising and communications."

Networking is Not A Dirty Word

You've got to reach out, and you have more connections than you think. Your hairdresser, doctor or dentist's office, the parents in your children's school, the people you volunteer with are all great sources of informational interviews and job leads-if you approach them the right way.

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Cashing in on Credit Card Bonuses: Hi Michelle,

I love your columns and chats. I wanted to get your opinion on applying for a credit card just to get a $250 bonus. I'd have to spend $3,000 in the first 3 months (no problem for me), and I would cancel the card before a year passed to avoid the $85 annual fee (waived for the first year). I currently only have 2 credit cards. Would doing this sort of thing (opening and closing a credit card account) occasionally, maybe 2 or 3 times/year, have a bad effect on my excellent credit score?

Michelle Singletary: Every time you open a new credit card account your credit score takes a ding. How much no one can say for sure, but it will drop.

But really, if you have two cards forget the $250 bonus. Do you really need it? If not, find another way to make $250.

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Old timer looking at these youngsters: I notice your book discusses "keeping" a first job. I notice this because a lot of young people plan on going from job to job. I have spoken to many young people who state they can not imagine working at a place for more than a few years. When I see this attitude, I do suspect it makes less likely to be hired, as I think some companies do value loyalty and seek to build employees with institutional knowledge. Or am I missing something?

Ellen Gordon Reeves: I agree with you and I counsel young people not to be so quick to leave a job but rather to make the most of where they are. Once they've mastered the basics, if they like the company and industry, I advise them to speak with a supervisor or mentor about next steps within the company--to seek more experience by volunteering to take on more work they're interested in, to shadow people in other departments, and so on. Many young people haven't really thought about next steps, so their strategy is just to keep moving instead of being very intentional in their use of their workplace.

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Using Savings -- Downpayment v. Paying Off Student Loans - help!: Hi Michelle,

Quick question for you -- I have saved up quite a bit of money and am having trouble deciding what to do. I have a very large amount of federal student loans ($80K) at 3.0% for 26 more years. Should I be saving up my money (and using the money saved, after reserve funds, of course) to pay off this debt in its entirety, or is it a better use of money to pay the student loans monthly and instead use savings for a downpayment on a house and take out a mortgage?

I want to be responsible with my money and am hesitant to take on more debt, but I have heard that student loans are "good debt" and have gotten advice that now is a good time to buy a home. (I'm currently a renter.)

I love these chats -- thank you for your advice!

Michelle Singletary: Hey. Thanks for your kind words.

And since you asked me, I would get rid of that $80,000 in student loans before I took on a mortgage.

Save like a mad woman or man and just get rid of that debt. Because to get a house these days you will have to come up with some hefty money PLUS still have some emergency cash. Best to be as debt-free as possible so you go into your home with one less worry.

And for the record, I don't believe there is ever such as thing as "good debt." There is only debt.

Don't believe me?

Ask all the folks who are out of work right now and over the years could have aggressively paid off their student loans and not have them right now to worry about when they have no or little money.

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Car loan vs. Student loan: Hi, Michelle. We need to buy a car next year. We currently have about $5,000 saved. I think we'll need around $12 or $15K to buy a car that will last us 8-10 years.

We have $36K in student loans. We pay $500.00 above the minimum every month plus my husband gets 2 'extra' paychecks a year of 2K a piece - and we throw it at the loan.

We have to buy a car. Do we divert the 'extra' we are paying on the student loan and send it to the car fund for now so that we can pay for a car in cash next year, and then resume paying more money on our student loans?

Thanks.

Michelle Singletary: I think you could add a few more thousand to the $5,000 you have for the car with the extra payments and savings and pay cash for a really good used car that will last for years -- maybe not 8 to 10, but long enough to get rid of the $36,000 in student loans. Then when you pay off the student loans, save that money for the next car you will need.

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East Providence, R.I. : Hi:

I have been out of work for almost 8 months. I tried a different approach that I haven't done before. I went to a couple of places where there were positions available. I took the chance and asked if I could see the HR rep and/or schedule a date and time. Basically I tried to make a good impression. However, I was told on both occasions the human resource rep was either busy, or just leave to leave my resume. Is this something new, that the HR rep will see any potential canidates? Sorry to ramble but I am not an aggressive person. However I wanted to built a good rapport and setup an interview. Thank you.

Ellen Gordon Reeves: I advise trying to expand and use your network to find ANYONE within those companies who could get you an informational interview so you can get your foot in the door. There's no reason someone should see you without an appointment.

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New Jersey: I am not a natural networker. I find people very challenging. The constant advice that I need to keep in touch with almost every single person I encounter is a killer for people like me, who enjoy quiet and concentration. How can a quiet, unassuming, yet independent, competent, and focused person make her way? I'm aware that my personality will never make the big bucks, and I'm ok with that. It's so frustrating to be told you MUST do what you are not good at.

Ellen Gordon Reeves: I prefer to talk about CONNECTING instead of networking, which has gotten something of a negative connotation for some people. We often need help and advice from others to accomplish our goals, and there's nothing wrong with that. I don't feel you suddenly have to be the life of the party--just goal-oriented and genuine. The key is to describe yourself as focused and independent and competent. You know yourself. I imagine that if you needed to reach out to someone for help or information you'd do it---respectfully and in your own unassuming way. I rail against what I call "artificial dissemination"--people coming up to you and shoving a business card in your hand because they've been told to do that and to "network." That is not useful or polite behavior. Be yourself. Like-minded people will recognize your worth.

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Washington, D.C.: Michelle, after paying student loans (no other debt), I just took on a ton of debt buying a condo. What should I be thinking about going forward? I know money will be tight for awhile and I need to save for house emergencies now. How much do you think is reasonable to have as a goal in that account? Anything else?

Michelle Singletary: Congrats on the home. In the short-term, do this:

-- At the very least save about three months worth of living expenses and by that I don't mean just your mortgage payment. Save up enough to cover what it cost to run your house for three months. Really six, but let's start with three.

-- Get a life happens fund. In this you will put in money for the things in life that happen: car repair, home stuff that needs to be done, even money for a vacation. Typically for this account I tell people to aim for a few thousand dollars.

That, my friend, should keep you busy saving for awhile.

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Olney, Md.: Michelle, the student loan post reminded me; thanks for the idea of setting up a separate account like that. Since we paid off our car, we have been making automated transfers every month into a separate savings account, and we hardly notice it. We now have a little over $6K set aside, and two cars in good shape that are paid off.

Michelle Singletary: That's what I'm talking about. I mean, you were already used to making that payment so why not capture that chance to save?

Now when you actually "need" another car you can pay cash for it and never have another car loan. Or take that money and buy something else you want or need with cash.

It's something I learned from my grandmother, Big Mama.

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20036: "Stop saying in an interview 'I've been home with the kids for ten years and am now looking for full-time work.'"

Sorry to state the obvious here, but what if you have been home solely raising kids for ten years? Minimal PTA involvement, mostly doing the day-to-day of household management. I can't honestly spin that into "involvement with non-profits for the last ten years"? I had a career in admin work before staying home, for what it's worth.

Ellen Gordon Reeves: That's a specific example so please don't take it literally. It is about spin. If you've been managing a household, you are a multi-tasker, you know how to set priorities and deadlines, to juggle multiple projects, to interact with many constituencies and so on. You see? It's about how you talk about what you've been doing in terms of transferable skills--those that are relevant and useful for the position you're applying for. And even minimal PTA experience shows initiative, leadership and interest--no one HAS to be involved in the PTA. This shows that you care enough about anything you do to get involved --in this case because you want the best environment for your children and presumably other people's children.

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Rockville, Md.: Tip for those going to interview:

Put the cell phone away. Turn it off. No chatting while you wait for interviewer.

Michelle Singletary: Amen to that.

Man, I'm getting so fed up with rude cell phone behavior, and not just in interviews. I've had business meetings where people are constantly chatting or checking the darn thing. Been on the train to a speaking event and people talking so loud I've tempted to join in on the conversation.

Seriously, I'm this close to cussing somebody out -- and this includes my own friends and relatives.

Most of the time my phone is either off or on vibrate and I try to check it or talk on it when it's just me ALONE.

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Appropriate dress: Can we also add that men going on interviews should not wear ridiculously tight slacks? I've seen too much of seeing too much.

Ellen Gordon Reeves: Absolutely. This is the result of our TV and video culture, I assume. You need to dress professionally --this can still be fashionable and exhibit personality. A scarf or jewelry for women; an interesting tie (nothing cute or flashy) for men, for example--something to be a conversation starter without being ridiculous.

Michelle Singletary: Tight pants or ripped jeans or shirts where I can see man nipples!

People need a Big Mama to check them before they go out the door. That's what my grandmother used to do to me in my younger days when I first started working.

She would check me as I was coming down the stairs and send me right back up if I had on something she thought too short or revealing.

Once you made me put on a slip!

A slip.

Who the heck has or wears them anymore :)

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Princeton, N.J.: I just had my first phone interview with a government bureaucracy and found it difficult for getting a good back-and-forth going. What are some good strategies for when the interviewer is clearly just going down a list of questions and then pausing after your answer to write down notes?

Ellen Gordon Reeves: I hope you prepare for a phone interview by having your own prepared list of information you want to convey about yourself and questions you have about the job. That way, it's ok if the interviewer refuses to engage for any reason (having a bad day or just isn't a good interviewer or people person), you can still convey why you're the right candidate for the job and you can still get your questions answered.

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Gaithersburg, Md.: Does it matter if you come from a culture in which women of all ages and economic statuses wear nose rings?

Ellen Gordon Reeves: The nose rings I'm talking about are not the ones you're talking about; you may need to explain the tradition to some interviewers and employers who may not be familiar with your culture.

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Washington, D.C.: My "horror story" in interviewing happened during my third year of law school. I was interviewing for jobs and had an interview with a large D.C. law firm. I had done well in law school (top 5%) and from that perspective, at least, I was a desirable candidate. I happened to be 8 months pregnant at the time of the interview. When I arrived, the interviewer's eyes went straight to my abdomen and got very, very big. I didn't get a second interview with that firm, and while I can't say it was (only) because I was pregnant, I am quite sure that it was a factor. This was 10 years ago. Don't know if times have changed.

Michelle Singletary: Interesting. Thoughts from others?

If you got the job right away, wouldn't they think you would want time off for a few weeks or months? So what if they needed you during that initial time?

Just saying.

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Columbus, Ohio: Michelle,

No question, just a comment on a job interview that comes to mind. Years ago I interviewed at a well known college and remember sitting there while 8 professors grilled me with questions they had prepared in advance. There I sat (think Sharon Stone in Fatal Attraction)in an uncomfortable dress fielding these questions and trying not to pass out from the heat. I prefer the one-on-one variety of interviews. Note: years later I graduated from this college and because of the college actually got my foot in the door of a hospital doing autopsy transcription, which I had never actually done before. My boss said that she had great success with people from this college and that's why they hired me. So you might say I paid my dues and got paid back.

Michelle Singletary: I hate this type of interviewing. So stressful.

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Dayton, N.J.: Love your show and books Michelle...I'm a 37 yo woman back in school full time due to losing a job. I want to look for work in the field I'm in school for, which is HR, but don't have much experience in that department. I've supported HR as an administrative asst and done payroll, but want to compile my resume to play those rolls up. Also, what might be the best resume style for me, who doesn't have a degree yet but lots of work experience? Thanks.

Ellen Gordon Reeves: You should look at job descriptions for the jobs you want and revise according to the language they use. The header for the main category should be Human Resources Experience and list everything possible under that. You should also be volunteering and interning if possible in areas in which you'd like to work. Don't be a slave to chronology and templates you see. Create the resume for the job you want, to highlight the skills and talents you do have. Don't worry about what you don't have!

Michelle Singletary: I think Ellen gave you some great advice.

So basically play to your strengths whatever they may be in the field you are trying to break into.

Also, talk to some HR folks and find out based on what you have done how you might sell yourself.

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Baton Rouge, La.: Ms. Reeves, I think you are missing the point. Interviewers ask for specifics. "Tell me about some of the projects you worked on." What does Mom say, "I organized the carpool?"

Ellen Gordon Reeves: First, she has to know what jobs are realistic for her to apply for. The way I recommend people look is through people, not randomly applying --so she would be able to do enough informational interviewing to know how to spin what she's done; and she may need to go back to school, start interning or volunteering to get some concrete experience. But if the right person recommends her as a stellar candidate to the right person, the employer wouldn't be asking her this question.

Michelle Singletary: Can I be blunt, since we've been talking about being blunt?

Yes, she can say, "I organized carpool." Have you ever done that? Takes a great amount of skills, as does helping out with 4th grade picnic (which I'm dong this week) or just about anything a "mom" will do.

Some of the most reliable, hardest working people I know are moms. We know how to get things done and quickly and in an organized way. So moms, don't underestimate your skills.

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Grand Rapids, Mich.: I received my master's degree and taught college for a semester. After that semester, I applied for about 30 jobs online, posting pdf's of my resume, CV, cover letter, and more with each company. Is it normal to never hear from these online firms -- universities included? I feel like the move online has detached us, making it hard to even try to reach a person and make a contact. What advice would you give to someone like me trying to do some freelance work or someone wanting to at least get an interview or talk with a real person? Most of the job postings have you email your information and cover letter to hr@anycompany, so you never even get the name of a person to contact. Any tips you have would be helpful. I ended up getting a part-time teaching appointment for the fall, but I will be on the hunt again in the winter. I'd love some help. What am I doing wrong? My resume and CV are excellent; my cover letters are rewritten each time, depending on the company to which I am applying. P.S. they never even would know if I had a nose ring, or tattoos (I don't have any of them!) because they have never seen me!

Ellen Gordon Reeves: I really don't recommend sending resumes hurtling into the black void of cyberspace. 80% of all jobs are filled by personal referral and 80% of all jobs exist in the "hidden" job market--they are never advertised. You've got to use any networks you have to find live people to connect with: your religious communities, and people you know who interact with a broad swathe of your community. Since you are teaching part time, use the career and alumni resources of the new school to reach out.

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For Princeton, N.J.: Government interviewers are -required- to aske the same questions of each interviewee. So yes, they are going down a list of questions. They don't have a choice in the matter.

Michelle Singletary: Thanks for the info.

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A slip. Who wears them any more?: I pulled my old slips out to wear in the summer when the air conditioning in our office gets so cold! That extra thin layer is enough to make me feel comfortable but still wear summer clothes. (I used to look so dumb wearing a winter sweater in August.) Why, oh why, can't cost cutting include turning up the thermostat a little? lol

Michelle Singletary: Okay, I still have some slips too :)

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Kimora: I think you missed what the poster was saying. Kimora Lee Simmons isn't a success on her own terms. She was a model who married an older, successful man and created Baby Phat as a vanity project. She wouldn't have gotten where she is without his money, fame and influence.

Michelle Singletary: Exactly.

Thanks.

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Bowie, Md.: Re the "pregnancy horror story": It seems stunningly naive to me to expect that a high-powered law firm would NOT look unkindly on a visibly pregnant associate-to-be. Most corporate law firms expect you to be in the office 60-90 hours a week (and bill 150 hours a week), which you can't do if you are tending to the needs of an infant. Of course they can't come out and say so, but they do indeed act that way.

Michelle Singletary: That's what I thought, too.

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SmallTown USAs: Hi. About a year ago I moved to a small city (less than 25,000). Employment opportunities are limited. There are just a couple large employers (staffs of 250-300) who offer benefits. I have interviewed for two different positions at one of the large employers and did not receive a job offer either time. If another position comes up with this particular employer, should I bother submitting my resume? Both interviews consisted of 5-person team interviews. There is a chance I could run into one of these interviewers in the future.Thank you.

Ellen Gordon Reeves: I think you've got to use your network to find anyone in any position at that company to get your foot in the door and start having informational interviews since you've already identified a few employers to focus on (of necessity). Can you go back to the HR people or even the interviewers and say, "I would love to work here, I'm really interested in your company, and I see that the jobs I applied for weren't the right fit. Who else might I talk to in the company about eventual openings, given my skill set?"

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McLean, Va.: Hi Michelle,

Your recent piece on the two women finding their way in the world after being released from jail hit particularly close to home. My brother was recently convicted of a couple of felonies related to burglaries. He will be released at the end of July and I would like to be able to provide him with some resources to help him get back on his feet.

Are you aware of any programs or local non-profit organizations that help convicted felons find work? The other issue is housing, which wasn't touched on in your article. How do you find an apartment when all of leasing offices require applications and do criminal background checks? All of the offices I've spoken to have said they won't accept applicants that have been recently convicted of a felony. I'm seeing firsthand that it is very difficult to turn your life around. The problem is institutionalized in our society.

Any other guidance you could provide me would be appreciated. I have a one year old and I can't provide my brother with a place to live or money but I want to help him in any other way I can.

As a side note, I gave him my old car after reading one of your chats (or maybe it was an article) about a year ago.

washingtonpost.com: Color of Money Challenge: Earning a clean sweep on life

Michelle Singletary: Thank you so much for your note. And before I forget, for helping your brother with everything, including the car. I believe you did hear it from me. When we are ready to get rid of a car, we have it fixed up and we "give" it to a relative in need of a car. I don't believe I've ever traded in a car.

Anyway, given the time I can't look up the resources for you, but please call or talk to the folks in the pre-release program at the prison. They will have a lot of information for your brother. And it will be hard for him, but with your support prayfully he will turn his life around.

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Northeast D.C.: Hi Michelle -

I have a 5-month-old daughter, and we're already thinking about college. We have a small amount of cash put aside in our general savings for this purpose, but I know we need to move it into something which will get a better return. I've taken a look at DC's 529 plan: it strikes me as more or less a 401k for the college-bound. Meaning that though there are the chances of higher returns with the investments, there are also the chances of the funds going down and losing money. That doesn't seem like a very sound way to save money you can't really afford to lose like college tuition, but I think I am missing something, as everyone seems to recommend them. Did I misread in my newly-postpartum haze? What's the advantage of the 529 over perhaps some CDs or other types of low-risk investments? Thanks for your sound advice, as always.

Michelle Singletary: It's great that you are thinking about this now.

And you are right, with investing you are putting your money at risk. However one of the biggest risks is inflation. If you put the money in a low-yielding CD or savings account, you risk losing its buying power to inflation.

So with time on your hands you should aim to invest wisely so you can hopefully see some significant growth in your money.

Go to www.savingforcollege.com to learn more about 529 plans.

But just so you know I invest in Maryland's 529 plans for my three kids and we have another mutual fund we stash money into. We have not lost any of our principal thus far.

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Useful advice: I never thought I would have to say this until I actually saw this, but here is some advice I need to give: If you are getting a large facial tattoo, you are basically announcing to the world you never want to be hired by us, and probably hired by most employers.

Ellen Gordon Reeves: You haven't said who "US" is (unless you mean the world in general). While many places wouldn't hire someone with a large facial tattoo, some would--for example, a call center or a tattoo parlor! It all depends on the environment and the job, and also on the tattoo!

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For New Jersey: I can identify with New Jersey. I hated the idea of "networking", too...I saw it as shoving business cards into peoples' hands to promote one's self. But it turns out I have been connecting all along. People like us can usually like to focus on a few areas and study them deeply, and can talk someone's ear off when it comes to our specific area of expertise, or another area of interest. So to network externally, try attending workshops or lectures on those topics, or ask around your company to see if you can help anyone with your skill set if you want to network internally (which can lead to external networking). I have gotten to the point where I don't even consider it a bad word any more!

Michelle Singletary: Good advice. Thank you.

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Accomplishments: I'm not an expert in any way size shape or form, but I have informally helped people with their resumes, getting them to one page, light editing, proofing, etc.

When they want to list EVERY accomplishment or part- time job, I ask them to hold one interesting one back, that it can be used as a conversation starter in the actual interview.

For example, I worked part-time for years at a local cultural organization (20+ years). Long after I had dropped it from my resume, I continued to bring it up in interviews where appropriate. It just helped to fill an awkward pause, give a sense of who I am and what I like. I don't know, it just seemed to help to have a set interesting thing to talk about in my back pocket.

Michelle Singletary: Another good piece of advice.

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Baton Rouge, La.: Believe me, I'm not knocking Moms. Like your Big Mama, mine raised 6 kids on her own back in the 50's. i just felt like Ms. Reeves was stretching things too far. I did not mean to offend.

Michelle Singletary: No problem. And I understand where you are coming from now.

I think what Ellen is saying is use what you got and just know who you are talking to.

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Cincinnati, Ohio: I would love to know how to switch career fields. I work for the federal government, and I do not want to leave, but I would like to explore other fields--for instance, go from accountant specializing in ABC accounts to accountant specializing in JKL accounts. I have plenty of education and time in the previous position, but no experience in JKL, and it appears that hiring managers DO NOT WANT TO TRAIN people. When they have openings, they fully expect to just plug in the new employee into the slot WITH NO TRAINING. The odd thing is, every single position I have ever had - the first thing they do is send you off for training. I am confused. I am frustrated. I really want to branch out and try new things. Please advise! Thanks!!!! BTW - skip the nose ring and the one in your eyebrow too. I'd appreciate it.

Ellen Gordon Reeves: You should be taking classes, volunteering and interning while you work and sometimes even where you work to position yourself for the next job you want.

You need to learn, through informational interviewing, how to talk about the experience you do have in the language and jargon of the fields in which you're interested in. I'm hoping you can do some of the exploring on nights and weekends (if you have a traditional 9-5, M-F job) or whenever you can around your other job.

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DC, Attorney, Re. Pregnancy: If she was in law school at the time, then at the latest (let's say it was March), she would be giving birth in April. The way law firm jobs generally work is that you spend the summer after law school studying for the bar and take it late summer, start in September. That would make her baby 5 months old when she started, with no maternity leave. The problem is that your hands are tied by law and you're not allowed to ask questions about pregnancy in interviews, so she would have to volunteer such a plan to her potential employer or they had no choice but to think she would be spending the summer breastfeeding in the middle of the night instead of going to bar classes. So she'd start a year later, potentially.

Michelle Singletary: Always a way around things. Thanks.

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Washington, D.C.: I am getting my financial act together (drank the Dave Ramsey koolaid), but my brother is not. He has two kids, 9 and 12, and has not planned for college or is planning for me to help them through. I am dissuading him from this latter financial plan, but when the time comes, how do I not punish the children?

Michelle Singletary: You do what you can now and let the kids know you will "help" as much as you can but that you are not their piggy bank.

I was in the same boat. So this is what we did with one niece. We offered and went thru with paying for ALL her books every year she was in undergrad. And we are doing the same thing with grad school. This is not a small chunk of change. We didn't agree she should have taken on so many large loans to go to school but we still wanted to support her.

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I finally disagree: Ciao Michelle,

I usually love your advice, which means we are on the same page. However your advice on the car loan vs. student loan isn't something we agree on... finally. A little discord is good, right?

I had always purchased used cars until I got married and started having kids. We've bought 2 new cars (a minivan and a wagon, and also a used minivan. We paid cash for all of them (I think we would agree on that).

We bought the used van first, and got a pretty good price on it. However we have also paid a lot of money to maintain it. The cost of the van plus the maintenance for the past 4 years is almost... almost, the cost of the new van.

I'm not sure I would ever buy a used car again, and this from a 51 year old man who bought his first new car about 5 years ago.I'm no longer convinced that used cars make economic sense. Perhaps in some cases, but as a rule, no.

Thoughts?

Michelle Singletary: Hey I don't mind people disagreeing. I'm mean I'm right, but I'll listen (smile).

Really it depends on the used car. Look, millions of people have purchased used cars that haven't turned into lemons. We bought a great used car that served us for 10 years and gave it to my niece and she's been using it for another four years past that.

Bought a used car that turned out to be horrible. But that didn't turn us off of used cars.

Like people, some are good, some are not.

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Dallas, Tex.: Michelle- Just wanted to let you know I am a caregiver of my father-in-law too. I just read your column on that subject and it's what my husband and I are going through. My MIL will be in the same boat soon and guess who is the only responsible family member? My husband! Also, my mother has dementia and has been paying for long term care insurance for 15 yrs. We have been turned down THREE times by the insurance co. But we keep fighting as she is getting worse. Thanks for the column. I am 36 and never thought we would be dealing with this so soon.

washingtonpost.com: Plan now for the care of your aging parents

Michelle Singletary: You are so welcome. I'll be writing more about this in the coming weeks and months. It's a tough, tough issue for a lot of people.

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Cell phone in interview: We once passed on the absolute best candidate for a position because she answered her cell phone in the middle of the interview with one of our leaders.

My co-worker asked her to turn it off. And she didn't! it rang again and candidate said, "Oh, it's no one I need to talk to anyway."

Resume to recycle bin. Very easy choice.

Michelle Singletary: Right you are. I would have done the same thing.

I hope somebody told her how she lost the job!

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WDC - networking question: Good afternoon. How to network when I don't want anyone in my field to know that I'm looking around? I have lots of contacts, but my field is small and once the word gets out, I'm afraid it will make it back to my boss. Thanks.

Ellen Gordon Reeves: This is really tricky. You have to try to ask your contacts not to say anything since your boss doesn't know--or you have to come clean with your boss. The worst scenario is if your boss finds out from someone other than you.

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Wheaton, Md., again: Re:Kimora - yes, I missed the sarcasm (maybe we need italics, or something). Glad to hear others don't like her over the top lifestyle, in light of teens who want to be famous like Kimora or the Kardashians.

Michelle Singletary: Glad you came into the light.

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Interview Horror Stories: A few years ago, I interviewed for a secretarial job at a very hip, trendy web design firm.

I was coming off a very successful phone interview with the HR rep, who said I could 'anticipate a verbal offer' at the end of the in-person interview.

Boy, was that untrue! All three interviewers were punchy, cranky, and sleepy, interrupted me constantly, asked the same questions over and over, and were incredibly intrusive and rude. (Seriously...the interview for my Top Secret clearance was less probing.) To top it off, one of the interviewers got bored and wandered off halfway through!

I know it wasn't me, because I am very poised and, truthfully, I get offered the job 2/3 of the time that I make it to the interview. Moreover, I was referred by a friend who was a senior employee at that firm, so you would think they'd be polite to me just on that account.

Needless to say, I didn't get the job, and I thank my lucky stars for it.

Michelle Singletary: You make a very good point. It's important to make a good impression for the person looking for work.

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Baton Rouge, La.: This is a serious question. I have been on a few interviews lately, and at every one, the interviewer asked me something about how I was at maintaining confidentiality. How does one answer that? Who would say, "I blab everything I know"? I tried to explain how in previous jobs I was privy to sensitive information because I was known to be trustworthy, but who wouldn't say something like that even if it weren't true? What is a good response? Thank you.

Ellen Gordon Reeves: You have to give that generic response and then follow it up with a concrete example--and be sure to look the person in the eye and appear sincere when you give it! You could give an example of a time SOMEONE ELSE leaked info and what the consequences were for YOU and how you realize how essential confidentiality is.

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Gaithersburg, Md.: Good afternoon and thank you for this very informative chat.

I have been looking for a job in the public health area (I have a BA in Public Health Studies) and have found the ideal company. However, they are currently not looking for someone with my skill set. I am afraid to continue with the job process because this company is where I would really like to work and if I get a job somewhere else, I know I will always wonder, "What if I had waited for a job opening there?" I have contacted an alumna at that ideal company and per her, I am qualified and she has "put in a good word for me." At the risk of sounding desperate, would you advice me to call her/keep waiting or to say farewell and move on?

Thank you for your responses.

Ellen Gordon Reeves: I'd advise both. You can't put all of your eggs in one basket but it's great to have a place in mind where you really want to work. That being said, you might broaden your ideas about the perfect company or job for you through more informational and exploratory interviews. I know I keep saying this but to me, it's the only way to find out more and more about what you really want to do and to be open to new ideas about what that might be! You've done all the right things, so while you continue to pursue that company, I do think you should begin exploring other options. You might take a job somewhere else and love it! Or you might get a job at your "dream" company and it could turn out to be a nightmare! And you might take a job somewhere else, stay long enough to position yourself to get hired by your dream company this time around ...

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Michelle Singletary: Oh my the time goes so quickly it seems.

Really interesting topic today. Thank you so much for your questions and tips.

As always I appreciate you joining me in the chat. Take care.

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Sterling, Va.: I think the main thing to keep in mind when buying a car is to research all your options. "Always buy a used car" or "Never buy a used car" aren't the way to think about it. You always have to take into account your own circumstances. This is why I like Michelle's writing -- even if I disagree with her advice for myself, she reminds me that there's more than one or two ways to do something, and forces me to look at all the options and their consequences.

Michelle Singletary: Okay, I had to send this along.

Great point. Thanks because you so get me!

Bye everyone.

This time for real.

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Editor's Note: washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions. washingtonpost.com is not responsible for any content posted by third parties.


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