FTC Responds To Microsoft OutCry Over Google-DoubleClick Deal

Following suit from Microsoft, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), independent consumer rights protection agencyn in the US, has been keeping a close eye on the Google/DoubleClick deal.

The FTC has opened an antitrust investigation into Google Inc.'s proposed $3.1 billion purchase of ad-management technology company DoubleClick Inc.

The review of the deal was widely expected after Mountain View-based Google announced plans last month to acquire DoubleClick, a company that helps its customers place and track online advertising.

New York-based DoubleClick helps its customers place and track online advertising, including search ads, which Google -- more than its nearest search competitors Yahoo Inc. and Microsoft Corp has turned into an extremely lucrative business.

DoubleClick had been the target of a fierce bidding war between Microsoft and Google. Though Google commands the bulk of the online advertising search market, the addition of DoubleClick's technology and client network would further its efforts to branch out beyond its core ad offerings.

Don Harrison, the senior corporate counsel for Google, said in a statement Monday that the acquisition 'poses no risk to competition and should be approved.'
'Numerous independent analysts and academics have determined after looking at this acquisition that the online advertising industry is a dynamic and evolving space -- as evidenced by a number of recently announced acquisitions -- and that rich competition in this industry will bring more relevant ads to consumers and more choices for advertisers and Web site publishers,' Harrison said.

Google turned over basic information about the planned purchase to regulators after announcing the deal. Spokesman Adam Kovacevich said the company would soon turn over additional information sought by the FTC as part of its review.

News of the FTC investigation was first reported by The New York Times.

A phone message left with a spokesman for the FTC late Monday night was not immediately returned.

The Washington-based Electronic Privacy Information Center and other privacy groups had previously asked the FTC to investigate the the privacy implications of the deal.

Earlier this month, Google Chairman Eric Schmidt predicted the company would clear all the necessary regulatory hurdles to complete the acquisition by the end of this year.

Google pointed to four deals made after its bid for DoubleClick on April 13 as evidence that there is plenty of competition in the online advertising market.

On April 30, Yahoo announced its intent to acquire online advertising firm Right Media Inc., for $680 million.

Then in a three-day span in May, AOL LLC said it bought a controlling interest in online advertising company Adtech AG for an undisclosed sum; WPP Group PLC, the world's second-largest advertising and marketing conglomerate, agreed to buy 24/7 Real Media Inc. for $649 million; and Microsoft made a $6 billion bid for online advertising firm aQuantive Inc.

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Getting A Home Equity Loan Tax Deduction

Home equity loan become very popular among people because of its low interest rates and the rising of the values of properties. Home equity loans have lots of advantages over other loan type. One of these advantages is that the interest rates of home equity loans are very competitive. One of the most essential advantages is that home equity loans are tax deductible. On top of all that, the home equity loan tax deductions are also very hard to beat.

The amount of the home equity loan tax deductions apply on some certain circumstances. The interest rate of the home equity loans is a detailed deduction if you paid the interest and secured the home equity loan with your property. There are some conditions set by home equity lenders so that if you can not meet their conditions, you can still be able to deduct the interest that are set on another category.

The Internal Revenue Service has set three basic requirements that a borrower require, in order for the borrower to qualify for a home equity loan tax deductions. The first basic requirement is that the borrower will held legal responsibility of the home equity loan so that the borrower will not qualify additional home equity loan tax deductions even if the borrower is paying for the home equity loan of another person. The second requirement in order to be qualified for home equity loan tax deductions is that the home equity loan will be a secured debt for a qualified property. The property will be either being your main home or second property. It will not be leased or used for business uses. In an event that the borrower is using any part of the property of the house as a business office, then that room or that part of the house will be stated as a business expense. And the last rules in order to qualify for home equity loan tax deductions is that the borrower must file the form 1040 with all the details of the itemized deductions.

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Finding The Fairest Prices For Student Loans

Lynn O'Shaughnessy

Can you imagine someone ripping you off for a Payday candy bar? Something close to that apparently has been happening at the University of Texas, where the financial aid office maintained a list of the freebies showered on the staff by student loan companies. Payday candy bars caught my eye; however, there were other goodies, including barbecue lunches, lasagna, cakes, popcorn and ice cream.

Why would student loan companies want to give these folks sugar highs? Think about it for a second. Student loans are an $85 billion a year business and companies want to get their names on college and university preferred-lender lists.

Many colleges hand these lists to parents who need to borrow money and wonder where to turn. Families aren't obligated to obtain loans from these anointed firms, but the overwhelming majority does. After all, why wouldn't you trust a college to direct you to the best loans?

Maybe the better question, in light of the unfolding student loan scandal is this: Why should you trust your son or daughter's school?

The University of Texas student newspaper uncovered the candy bar shenanigans in May. The lenders on the university's list knew how to pamper college staffers, but some of their loans should never have been recommended to students. The resulting fallout led to the resignation of the university's director of financial aid after it was discovered that he owned stock in the parent company of a student lender he was recommending to students.

Unfortunately, this is not an isolated case. The scandal came to light this year when New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo started examining the relationships between schools and lenders. While the investigation isn't complete, it's clear that many schools have put financial institutions on their preferred-lending lists in exchange for perks and financial kickbacks. Students be damned.

Obviously, this behavior is despicable. And if the people responsible aren't fired, they should at least be required to share face time with the professors who teach ethics on their campuses.

While it's discouraging to discover that financial aid offices are sometimes more interested in aiding themselves, there are steps that parents and students can take to find the lowest-priced loans:

Let students borrow first.

You are going to find the best interest rates on student loans backed by the federal government. These are called Stafford loans, which require students to act as the borrowers. The other federally backed option is the PLUS loan, which is used exclusively by parents.

Even if the parents help, it's better for students to take out a Stafford loan first because it carries a lower interest rate. The maximum interest rate now for a Stafford loan is 6.8 percent versus 8.5 percent for the PLUS loans. These rates are just ceilings, so you'll want to borrow from lenders with much lower rates. If a family needs more money after a Stafford is maxed out, parents are going to have to decide whether to use a PLUS loan or perhaps dip into a home-equity line.

Be careful where you borrow.

Obviously you don't want to limit yourself to the preferred list provided by your child's school. Maybe the lenders who wormed their way onto the list do offer the best deals, but you won't know for sure until you do your homework.Unfortunately, most lenders have made it difficult to compare their loans. To confuse you, loan companies offer all sorts of hocus-pocus discounts that look impressive but often aren't. Here's one of the most common: Students are promised a 2 percent interest rate drop on their Stafford loans if they make timely payments for 48 months.

Sounds great, but hardly anybody qualifies for this. Four years provides plenty of time for kids to mess up. In fact, only 3 percent of students snag this discount, says Mark Kantrowitz, the founder of FinAid, a financial aid Web site. And because a student has to wait four years into the loan to earn the discount, its actual value will drop to 0.63 percent.

To decipher what these discounts really mean, head to FinAid and use its loan-discount calculator.

The superior loans provide significant interest rate discounts that you can immediately earn once you begin making payments. Where can you find these loans? You should check out governmental, quasi-governmental and nonprofit lenders, such as ALL Student Loan in California, www.allstudentloan.org, 877-255-0006.This nonprofit lender, based in Los Angeles, offers a 2.25 percent up front rate reduction on Stafford and PLUS loans for any student attending school in California. The rate discounts from ALL Student Loan are nearly as good for borrowers outside California.

Another resource is the Missouri Higher Education Loan Authority, www.mohela.com, 888-866-4352.

A private lender worth checking out is MyRichUncle, www.myrichuncle.com, 888-697-4248.

By the way, not all students will need to shop for federally backed loans. A minority of schools, including most of the University of California campuses, offer loans direct from the federal government, so there will be no preferred-lender list. The direct-loan approach is vastly cheaper for taxpayers - since it cuts out private lenders as intermediaries - and it can often be a better deal for students.

Only the direct-loan program, for instance, provides a financial safety valve that allows borrowers who choose lower-paying careers to make monthly payments based on their income, says Barmak Nassirian, associate executive director of the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers. The so-called income-contingent repayment provision, he says, "is worth its weight in gold."

Avoid private loans.

Unless you've maxed out the Stafford and PLUS, stay away from private loans. If you're a graduate student, there is no reason to obtain a private loan because Grad PLUS loans impose no lending limit. Unlike federally backed loans, private loans have no caps and the interest rates are variable. Some of these variable rates can be as bad as the subprime loans that have been burning homeowners.

What's more, private-loan lenders don't treat all borrowers equally, as the federally backed program does. Families with better credit ratings will receive better deals. Beware of private loans masquerading as school loans; they are nothing more than "marketing ploys," advises Robert Shireman, the executive director of the nonprofit Project on Student Debt, which promotes student loan reform.

Students will assume that school-branded loans are more favorable, but, Shireman warns, "most of these loans are just like any other private loans and in some cases they could be worse."

Because this is the third column in a row on college, I promise to move on to other subjects next week. But for those who can't get enough of this subject, I'm working on a book about college strategies.

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Get A Debt-Management Firm Manage Your Debt

Debt-management firms help businesses overwhelmed with debt get back on track.

Using a process known as debt consolidation, these firms negotiate with creditors for better terms on unsecured loans such as credit cards, medical bills, utility bills, and IRS debts.

The new terms may include reduced monthly payments, reduced interest or no interest, or waivers of late and over-the-limit fees. Don't confuse debt consolidation with debt-consolidation loans, which involve taking out new, usually lower-interest loans to pay off several higher-interest loans.

Debt consolidation can save you money and get collection agencies off your back. Plus, you make only one monthly payment to the debt-management firm, which pays your creditors.

Unfortunately, you can't always escape damage to your credit record. Creditors may still report you to a credit bureau for late payments; however, this is not nearly as damaging to your credit report as bankruptcy.

When to Use a Debt-Management Firm
Debt management is typically for small businesses on the verge of bankruptcy, but this isn't always the case. Sometimes it's better to use debt consolidation sooner rather than later. Your debt ratio — the percentage of your after-tax income that goes to paying off debt — is a good indicator of potential problems. Most experts agree that a manageable debt ratio is 40 percent or less. If your debt ratio is 50 to 70 percent, you could probably benefit from debt consolidation.

If you're late on several bills and some of your debts have gone into collections, you should consider contacting a debt-management firm. In addition to debt consolidation, debt-management companies can also help clients manage money through services like credit counseling, budgeting workshops, and crisis relief.

There are many debt-management firms, both for-profit and not-for-profit. Some even operate over the Internet. To find a reputable firm, it pays to do a little homework.

* Check the company's standing with the Better Business Bureau office where the company is located.

* Find out how often the agency pays creditors. The more frequently (once a week or more) the better, since this will help keep your interest and late payments to a minimum.

* Ask if the company keeps a reserve fund. This is your insurance in case the debt-management company you've chosen goes out of business after it gets your money.

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Five Facts Not to Take Out a Business Loan

Every business needs extra cash from time to time, and there are plenty of good reasons to take on debt: to launch new products, expand your business, or purchase needed inventory. But there are also plenty of bad reasons to take out a loan. Here are five.

1. To launch a new business idea before you have thoroughly researched it. Fads come and go; the goal is the find one that sticks. Before you decide to buy into the latest fad concept, spend some time doing market research and deciding whether or not the concept is a good match with your experience and interests. Many people think that owning a restaurant is glamorous but find out later that it is very hard work. Do your homework before you take on a serious financial commitment. Should You Personally Guarantee a Loan to Your Business?

2. Your credit cards and lines of credit are maxed out. If you have exhausted all other available credit, maybe taking on more debt is a bad idea. When lenders see that you are overextended, you will likely be required to secure the loan with assets. If you are having difficulty paying your existing financial obligations, you are entering risky territory by gambling with your facilities, inventory, equipment, or even worse, your own house. Read more about Cleaning Up Your Company's Bad Credit Profile.

3. To make an impulse buy you can’t afford. Perhaps there is a new technology or machinery you think would benefit your business, or maybe you want to remodel or upgrade your facilities. While all of these things may prove advantageous to your business, you won’t be able to reap the rewards if you have leveraged all of your assets and the extra profits you make go toward repaying the loan. If the idea doesn’t bring in extra revenue, you are still responsible for paying back the loan. If you used assets to secure the loan, you may end up without a business at all.

4. You saw an advertisement or received an email about unbeatable interest rates. As the old adage goes, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. And on the outside chance that it is true, just because you can get a great interest rate doesn't mean you should.

5. You want to consolidate your debts but haven’t learned how to budget. Maybe your company is going through a tough time, or maybe you have mismanaged your company’s finances and are now looking to consolidate all of your debts. Debt consolidation may ease the pressure temporarily, but you need to address the underlying problem if you want your business to succeed.

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Laid Off: Making The Best Out Of It

Chandra Fox,

The turbulent winds of a stormy job market are here, and if the winds blow in your direction, you should be prepared to handle things. Nobody likes drastic change when it comes to their careers. Americans, on average, spend 70% of their waking hours, Monday through Friday, on work-related activities. That being said, to change your job is a lifestyle change. As Americans, we make our careers a part of our lives. For some a job is a status symbol and distinguishes oneself in society. How quickly in meeting a new person ask do you hear, "What do you do?" Pretty quickly.

For others a job allows a certain lifestyle. They join golf clubs, drive luxury cars, and own expensive homes. For many people, it is a feeling of power and responsibility. Most people wear many hats, and through different reorganizations, mergers, and title changes perform several different job functions. Most people don't even take vacation without calling into the office, giving the phone number where they are, or at least checking e-mail. So be smart, be informed, and go ahead and prepare in the event that you are laid off.

Be aware: There are warning signs to lay offs and ways to protect yourself

* The company you work for has announced hiring freezes either in your department or companywide. Work harder than you have ever worked in order to show your value.
* There are new rules in regard to vacation or internal processes such as expense reports. Recognize that this is often a process to weed out dead weight.
* Your company's stock has been on the "strong sell" list for the last quarter or corporate earnings have been flat or declining.
* A merger has recently taken place resulting in two people for each position, now it is a team effort to complete one job. Show them how much they need you and that the job was made for you!
* There have been changes in your industry or geographic area that lead you to believe that change is on the way. Keep on top of trends and show that you can adapt!

Be prepared: All the signs are there, so what next?

Copy all of your phone numbers and addresses of all buddies at work as well as any contacts that you think could come in handy. This is your network. You will need it later to see where friends have gone, what positions are out there, etc. If you take the time to do this thoroughly, you will have a great base of contacts.

If you have your resume on your computer, copy it on to a disk and take it home. You must get anything off of your computer that you need now or in the future. Once the axe falls, there won't be any time for housekeeping.

The axe falls — be smart!

You are called into your boss's office and given the news that you are being "let go", "downsized", "transitioned", or "reorganized." Basically, you are fired. No matter how politically correct they word it, you are out of a job. Whether you were one of the first to be let go or you are part of the growing majority, be sure to leave gracefully. Prepare yourself: They are going to walk you out of the office like you are a madman or criminal. You may think, "I have done great things for the company. Why must I leave now with an escort?" Unfortunately, this is how companies treat everyone these days. Your coworkers may also act differently. There will be many things that will surprise you the day you get the axe. Do not react!!

Think of it as psychological warfare. The quiet one is generally respected more than the one that pitches a temper tantrum. Don't be mad. Don't sign anything that you are given. Don't negotiate severance yet. Do nothing except be pleasant. Even when they walk you out of the building keep it together. Although it's hard to bear, staying calm and collected will serve you well in the long run.

Gather intelligence. Now is the time.

They have already knocked the wind out of you, and now they want to talk about severance. Do not make any quick decisions; do not let them bully you into deciding immediately. Don't let it happen too easily. You must negotiate. By now you have spoken with others who have been laid off. You should try to get some idea from friends in the company of what offers have been made to others. Now you know how to negotiate a strong package for yourself.

Negotiate your Severance.

Now is the time to take the gloves off. This is the start of your new unemployed life. Whether or not you negotiate a strong severance will be the difference between a low stress job search and a frantic race to take the first job offered. Let's say they offer 3 months salary and benefits. You come back with "At my level and in this declining industry, it is taking professionals one month for every $10,000 that they would like to make. Since I was making X with your current company, you expect it to take X months to find a new position. I think 10 months is fair."
You say, "With unemployment at 5.7% and with the market so competitive I just want to have time to find a good career match rather than jump at the first position. With my tenure/contributions with/to the company I am sure that you agree. I think 10 months sounds fair."
Play the sympathy card a little. Not too much, but a little. Say something like this, "Well Bob, I can say with all of my years with the company and the strong signals that the company sent to everyone about the stability of the company, I am a bit surprised. I am now 61 years old and I can't help but wonder why I would be laid off after so many years of service. It is going to be difficult to get back into the job market and I really want to be treated fairly."

These suggestions and similar responses are positive, because they place responsibility back on the company and open the door for negotiation. Of course, you will probably meet in the middle somewhere; however, the more you can get the better you will feel. However, if the company has a written severance policy that clearly spells out severance benefits, negotiations may not be allowed. Normally this is the case for very large companies or for organizations that are undergoing major layoffs.

Unemployment: Why not? It is on the company anyway.

You went out to lunch with the boss many times and the company paid. Did you feel bad then? Of course not. You shouldn't feel badly about taking unemployment either. Think of it positively. They have been "nice" enough to set an account up for you the whole time that you have been with the company in the event of this disaster; they have saved it for you all of this time. Now is your time to get some payback. File for unemployment!

Some people find it embarrassing; others think it is some kind of loan or feel as if they are asking for help. It is not. It is quick, it is easy, and you can do it with very little pain. Some states even allow you to file by phone. Following is where you go to find the office in your state. The U.S. Department of Labor can help you out.

Now remember, state laws vary, but in general when you receive unemployment depends on when you got your last payment from the company; this includes severance. If you received severance in a lump sum, divide it into monthly increments of your typical salary to see when you will be able to receive unemployment. If you receive severance monthly, when it stops your unemployment can begin.

Job search: It could be tax deductible!

The IRS will allow you to write off a lot of your job search, meaning it could be tax deductible. You can deduct certain expenses incurred in looking for a new job in you present occupation, even if you do not get a new job. According to IRS tax regulations, you can deduct amounts you spend for typing, printing, and mailing your job applications.

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When Your Boss Is a Benchwarmer?

Liz RyanMon

My friend Ray called me recently. He travels like a maniac, so I hear from him when he's sitting in the airport or standing in a taxi line. Often he calls just to kill time. But this most recent phone call was different. "I need your help. I'm really at my wits' end." Here's the story he told me:

Ray works as a product manager for a consumer-products company, where he's responsible for one of the company's product lines. He manages the product strategy, market research, and the products' branding, packaging, and marketing efforts. But he also spends a lot of time supporting the sales team--so much time that Ray spends 80% of his time on the road, which is about 50% more than he's happy with.

The good news is that Ray's boss loves him. The boss never misses an opportunity to say, "Ray, you do a tremendous job." And Ray's boss's boss is just as complimentary. Ray's manager even told him that the big boss mentioned Ray's great work at a C-suite meeting. That's all the good stuff Ray had to report.

An Offer Could Change Things

The bad news is that Ray is about to keel over. He's always in customer offices, supporting the sales team and talking about the products, or sitting on a panel somewhere or creating a new PowerPoint deck or fighting some fire or other. He's doing three or four jobs. And he can't take it anymore.

"So what are you going to do about it," I asked. He said he had talked to his boss. "You seem to like my work," Ray pointed out to his manager. "Your boss does, too. I like it here, but I can't maintain this pace and this workload. I want to do a terrific job in the assignment I was hired for. I'm trying to do that, but it's really hard to do when I'm essentially performing a sales role at the same time--or maybe two or three of them. I have to give up one of these roles, or I'm going to crash and burn."

Ray said his boss was very sympathetic. "I hear what you're saying," the boss told him. "Here's what you should do. Call this headhunter friend of mine. You're a sharp guy. You go to an interview or two, you'll get a job offer. Bring the written job offer back here, and I'll see if I can leverage that to get your workload reduced."

The Possibility of Backfire

"You're serious?" Ray asks. "You want me to go an interview and get an offer from another company just to have a negotiating tool with your boss? What if that strategy backfires? What if the big boss is turned off by the fact that I've been job-hunting or calls my bluff? And what if one of these offers is really appealing and I end up taking it?"

"Oh Ray," laughs his boss. "You wouldn't leave me, would you? Listen, this is the way to play this. I can't get you what you want unless we have a lever, and a great job offer from another company will do the trick."

Ray called me just after this conversation with his boss. "Can you believe it?" he asked me. I told him that yes, sadly, I can believe it. "Your boss has no juice with his manager, so he needs you to go obtain the one thing that he thinks will get his boss's attention --an offer for you to leave the firm and go somewhere else," I told Ray.

Someone to Be Pitied

Ray thought it was really weird that his boss was pleading with him to go start interviewing. I told Ray he should start interviewing, but not for the reasons his boss said. "Your boss is a sad guy, someone to be pitied rather than scorned. He's so juiceless that he doesn't even know how pathetic it sounds: 'Go get a job offer so I can get my boss's attention.'"

I also told Ray that once he got an appealing offer, he should tell his boss he was taking it--not bring it to him as a negotiating tactic. "He'll be disappointed but not surprised. Most juiceless managers like your boss have lost plenty of team members over their careers, because they can't or won't do the leaderly thing and stand up for their employees."

What Ray needed to understand was that in an organization so goofed-up that managers are telling their employees to bring in offer letters for leverage, trying to tell the guy off would do no good. "Your powerless boss stays in his job at the pleasure of his boss. These kinds of people need one another," I reminded Ray. "You don't need either of them. You are too smart and capable to stay in an organization that works that way."

Doing the Boss a Favor

"Thanks," said Ray. "I thought I was going crazy there for a minute. I thought maybe it was only me that thought an assignment like that from a boss to a subordinate--to start job-hunting without really wanting a new job--was insane and unethical."

I pointed out to Ray that his boss has been in that environment for so long he can't see the craziness. It feels normal to him. "You'll move on, wish him well, and perhaps do him a favor or two for him down the road, when you're running a division somewhere," I said. "There are juiceless Harrys in lots of organizations. Deep down, they know they're letting their employees and their shareholders down. You don't have to talk about it with him. Why rub it in the poor guy's face?"

It took Ray about six weeks to land his new position. His boss said, "I figured one way or the other you would be happier--if you brought me an offer letter I could use it to get your workload reduced, and if you got a better job that would be good for you, too." Well--thanks for the good wishes. No thanks for the managerial support, but then again, we learn from our poor leaders as much as from our great ones.

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Six Ways To Scale Through Mid-Career Crisis

A funny thing happened on the way to your job -- you found yourself mired in a mid-career crisis. But the good news is you're not alone. Like its reliable first cousin, the midlife crisis, a major career dilemma is common and practically expected. Indeed, it's probably something you can count on.

Instead of trying to avoid a mid-career crisis, consider the benefits of being prepared for one. Many experts agree that a mid-career crisis can even be helpful. Follow these proven tips for getting through yours:

  • Ignore your age. Some people experience a crisis in their early thirties while others don't encounter this career quandary until their fifties. Rather than become mired in how old you are when it strikes, focus instead on the experience that you've gained along the way.
  • Write it down. You might have heard this advice a hundred times before, but until you try this exercise you can't know its benefits. Here is one constructive exercise: Write down what you've enjoyed about your career in one column and what you could've done without in another column. This will allow you to see very clearly what's made you happy and what's been less than satisfying. Seeing your words in print also gives them more credence and validity. Write down your short- and long-term goals. Moreover, it can be extremely advantageous to create a description of your ideal job. You may not land the perfect one, but you could come pretty close.
  • Go back to school. If you're like a lot of people, finishing up school might have been the highlight of your life. Yet stepping back into the classroom could be the perfect antidote to the mid-career crisis. Continuing your education doesn't necessarily involve cramming for finals and writing research papers into the night. Going back to school -- whether it's a one-time computer workshop or a semester-long course in accounting -- will expand your knowledge, tap into your interests, and foster new relationships. No one is ever finished with learning, and by opening yourself up to new concepts you're more likely to have the information you need to get through your career dilemma.
  • Research. Online career sites provide extensive information on career education, planning, and testing. Books and audiotapes abound as well. The challenge, of course, is to make time to conduct the research. Commit yourself to a few hours a week. Schedule the time on your calendar as you would for any appointment; that way, you'll be less likely to put it off. Be open minded, too. You may stumble upon some information that at first glance doesn't seem right for you. With a little more digging, however, you might find that you've discovered your next career or, at the very least, found an interim solution.
  • Know when it's time to go. Deciding that it's time to leave your employer is never easy. Those first inklings and those that flash periodically -- "Am I in the right place? Do I need to leave?" -- are tough to contend with. Still, these questions are important starting points and shouldn't be ignored. Follow this inquisitive streak and ask yourself some difficult questions: "Am I feeling unhappy about my job? Am I daydreaming more than ever about something else I'd rather be doing? Do I hate Mondays more than usual? How would I feel if I just hurled this computer out the window?" Answering these questions honestly might very well lead you to the conclusion that you are, indeed, in the midst of a mid-career crisis and must therefore do something about it.
  • Make necessary adjustments. You may determine that it's not a new job you need but rather a few adjustments to the one you already have. Reinvigorating your work life may seem more daunting than just starting from scratch, but if you make some concrete changes it could mean the difference between enjoying your job and dreading it. Do you feel stuck? If so, consider the available options in other parts of your organization. Broach the subject with your supervisor, but temper your dissatisfaction. Your boss will be more receptive to your requests and needs if you focus on your desire to stretch and grow and downplay any complaints. Ask about other opportunities, find out if you can swap assignments with a colleague, think of ways you might expand the roles and responsibilities of your current job, and remain open to suggestions that your boss might raise.

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How to Fight for the Spotlight

Everyone has dealt with a credit-stealing coworker. And while wrestling recognition for your hard work and bright ideas from a glory-grabbing colleague can be tricky, you can usually resolve the situation by tactfully confronting the individual or, if that fails, bringing the issue to the attention of your manager.

But what do you do when your boss -- the person who has significant control over your career -- is the one taking credit for your ideas? After all, being too direct or going over his or her head can get you into trouble. Following are a few strategies that might help.

* Think carefully before complaining. Let's say you spent weeks devising a cost-efficiency campaign that becomes a smashing success, but, at a meeting with higher-ups, your boss takes credit. You might feel slighted, but hold off on raising a fuss. First, make sure you're the one who truly deserves the credit. Even if you proposed the idea, consider the role your boss played in implementing the initiative -- he or she may have done the heavy lifting.

In addition, think about whether your manager's scene-stealing antics are rare or standard operating procedure. If the behavior is infrequent, it might be best to let it go and accept that all employees, at times, are expected to make the boss look good in front of the company's top brass.

* Put it on paper. If your supervisor often takes your best ideas from private conversations and passes them off as his or her own, consider changing the way you share your suggestions. For instance, you could present them in written memos or email messages. This establishes a paper or electronic trail you can reference later during your performance review -- or if your value to the organization is ever questioned.

* Get a witness. One way to ensure that others know a solution originated with you is to unveil it publicly. But whether you copy colleagues on an e-mail or make your pitch at a meeting, be aware that you're taking a risk. While it will be harder for anyone else to take full credit if your plan works, you're on the hook if it falls flat.

* Confront with kindness. If your manager's actions are hindering your advancement or limiting your visibility within the company, it might be time to speak up. But be tactful. Your boss will be more receptive to the conversation if, instead of taking an accusatory tone, you simply ask for guidance on how to receive recognition for your efforts. This enables you to get your point across without pointing fingers or putting your boss on the defensive.

Finally, in some situations, you might determine that it's wisest to say or do nothing about your supervisor's "credit problem." While it can be frustrating to watch your boss receive praise for your hard work or brilliant concept, there is a bright side: Your contributions and ideas are valuable and helping the company succeed.

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Going Down: The Elevator Pitch

Of all the networking advice that bugs me, nothing is worse than the insistence that every networker hit the street prepped with a 30-second, well-rehearsed "elevator speech" about your skills and professional value.

The idea is that for every new interaction, your elevator speech rolls off your tongue within the first two minutes, and now your new contact is well equipped to hire you, recommend you, or otherwise help you along your way.

Reality Check

Maybe the elevator pitch makes you uncomfortable. Maybe it feels awkward and phony and presumptuous to spit your business credentials in someone's face within a few moments of meeting them. If the elevator speech thing doesn't feel like you, there's a good reason why: Your mother raised you with better manners than that.

This elevator-speech business is atrocious. For at least 100,000 years, human beings have been carving out a system of social interaction that says, "Tell me something, ask me something, let's get to know one another, and see what develops." There's a reason why audio business cards delivered 10 inches from your face have never taken off as a marketing tool before. They're rude!

Stick to Conversation Skills

Think about the conversation you would have if you weren't networking, if you merely sat on a commuter train next to someone and she said, "I love your watch." You'd say, "Thanks, my sister gave it to me after a trip to Milan." Your seatmate might say, "I've never been to Milan but I'd love to go, I've heard the architecture there is amazing," and off the two of you would go. You'd give and take and inquire politely, and learn interesting things about one another.

And here's what else: You might reach the station without having shared your business backgrounds, because that information is often not very interesting.

Focus on What's Interesting

Unless you're Lance Armstrong, your job description is very likely the dullest part of your story. There's a lot more to know about you, including what kinds of music you like, where you grew up, or how you hiked the Appalachian Trail. You are more fascinating than your job, and there's nothing about the business-networking-event paradigm that changes that.

Inflicting your well-rehearsed elevator speech on a new acquaintance is exactly the same as saying, "I'm not sure how long I'll be talking to you. And it's vitally important that, above all, you leave this event knowing what I do for a living and how you can help me. So I'm putting it out there now, before we discuss one other thing." What kind of statement is that? It says, "All you are to me is a source for contacts." Yuck.

So if you've felt squeamish about the elevator-pitch dogma in the past, relax. It's not you, it's the elevator-speech protocol that's broken.

The Goal Is Trust

People, left to their own devices, will make conversation that works for them, and if the conversation results in enough mutual good feeling to warrant more conversation, there's plenty of time to get your business message across.

No one makes recommendations based on business-card data; they make recommendations based on trust. And how do you establish trust? It doesn't come from a well-rehearsed, 30-second pitch.

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Dressing for Work: Do's and Don'ts for Spring and Summer

With summer just around the corner, you might be tempted to dress down at the office and reveal more skin than you should. But Clinton Kelly, co-host of TLC's "What Not to Wear" reality series, says, "Resist the temptation!"

"When it comes to your career, the image you're projecting at work makes a difference in how far you're going to get in the company," he says. "Don't use excuses like, 'It's hot outside,' to not dress appropriately."

Kelly, who regularly advises major corporations on workplace attire, offered the following sartorial do's and don'ts for the warm weather months.

One caveat: Individual offices may skew more casually (ad agencies and other creative outlets) or more formally (law and accounting firms). But one rule fits all professions: "If you don't look like management material, you'll never get into a management position," Kelly says.

Shoulder the Burden

Women: DO wear sleeveless shirts, if your office has a relaxed dress code.

Men: DON'T try putting on a shirt without sleeves unless you work at the beach. Suffice it to say, it's a "hairy" issue for most guys, according to Kelly.

One Button or Two?

Women: DO feel comfortable in an open-necked blouse or top that shows some of your decolletage. "If you start to see a lot of soft tissue, that's not good," Kelly says.

Men: DO unbutton your top button or two and consider a layering T-shirt, which helps wick away perspiration. DON'T display a lot of chest hair.

The Long and Short of It

Women: DO wear tailored walking shorts that reach the top of your knee. "You shouldn't wear the same kind of shorts you'd wear to your kids' soccer practice," he says. DON'T put on skirts that leave your mid-thigh uncovered.

Men: DON'T convince yourself shorts are acceptable. They're not, according to Kelly, who again cites the "hair issue" as the reason.

How Low Can You Go?

Women: DON'T think about showing off your toned abs with a crop top, nor should you risk anyone making a crack about your -- well, you know -- if you prefer low-rider jeans. "It's just tacky to show your thong out of the back of your jeans," Kelly says.

Nice (Leg) Work If You Can Get It

Women: DO leave your legs bare, if you have on a skirt or shorts. "Society has gotten to the point where it's a woman's right not to wear pantyhose," Kelly says.

Show of Feet

Women/Men: DON'T slip into your flip-flops, unless you have such a relaxed office that your boss' boss wears them, too. "Flip-flops are not appropriate for 95 percent of offices out there," Kelly says.

Women: DO wear a strappy sandal, if you work in a less traditional environment. "They're not going to tell you, you can't wear your Manolos," he says. DON'T bring your Birkenstocks anywhere near work. "On the food chain of shoes, they're at the absolute bottom," he says.

Men: DON'T make the mistake of wearing "mandals" to work. Neither you, nor your feet, will be taken seriously, Kelly says.

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Four Steps for Effective Follow Through on Your Interview Follow up

Sometimes it's not what you do but what you don't do that can result in a missed opportunity. Just because you aced the interview doesn't mean you can sit back and wait to get the job. Here's how to take action at what can be a critical time in your job search: after the interview.

1. Establish next steps. You can ask your interviewer when they will be contacting you or you can reverse it and ask if you can contact her in a few days to see where you stand. Either way, make sure you have a course of action set before you leave the interview.

2. Always send a follow-up. Whether it's a handwritten note or carefully worded email, you should always send a follow-up to both the person with whom you interviewed and the person who set up the interview. This is your chance to reinforce your interest in the position and the reasons why you are the right one for the job.

What to include:

* Your name, the position for which you interviewed, and the date the interview took place.
* A restatement of your interest and your strengths. You can also add anything that you didn't have a chance to mention in the interview or elaborate on something that was discussed. You might want to include a related article that you feel might be of interest to the recipient or one that touches on a topic you covered in your meeting.
* A request to be contacted regardless of whether you are chosen for the position.
* A thank you for the reader's time.
* Specific action statement. Once again you need to state that you will call and also let those you met with know that you are available to come in for a second interview.

3. Make that call. It's not always easy, but it is essential that you follow through on your follow-up. Make sure you call on the day you established in your interview. If the answer is the dreaded "no decision yet," then you need to find out when you should check in and continue to do so on a weekly basis or whatever timeline you deem appropriate.

4. Be patient, not passive. While you want to make sure you are staying top of mind with your prospective employer, it is also important to understand that decision-makers do not move according to your ideal time frame.

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Earn Real Money On The House You Live

Can you earn some money on the house you live? Will the reverse mortgages announced by Finance Minister P.Chidambaram for senior citizens allow this to happen? What is the nitty-gritty involved in availing reverse mortgages that are so popular in advanced West European and US financial markets? Read on to understand and avail the benefits of the scheme that will be implemented by banks and housing finance companies across the country shortly under the norms put together by the nodal agency, National Housing Bank (NHB).

What is a reverse mortgage?
In simple terms, reverse mortgage is a loan against your home that you do not have to re-pay as long as you live in that place. Sounds interesting!
In para No 89 of the Union Budget Speech 2007-08, Finance Minister proposed that 'National Housing Bank' (NHB) will shortly introduce a novel financial product for senior citizens: a 'reverse mortgage' under which a senior citizen who is the owner of a house can avail of a monthly stream of income against the mortgage of his/her house, while remaining the owner and occupying the house throughout his/ her lifetime, without repayment or servicing of loan. The NHB has come up with draft operational guidelines for the same to banks in March 2007. www.economictimes.com has put together the salient features of the reverse mortgage loan (RML) that can be availed by senior citizens.

What is the difference between RML and a bank home equity loan?
With a traditional second mortgage or home equity line of credit, you must have sufficient income versus debt ratio to qualify for the loan. And, you are required to make monthly mortgage payments. The reverse mortgage is different in that it pays you, and is available regardless of your current income.
The amount you can borrow depends on your age, the current interest rate and the appraised value of your home. General principle: more valuable your home is, the older you are; the lower would be the interest rate and you can borrow more. You don't make payments, because the loan is not due as long as the house is your principal residence. Like all homeowners, you still are required to pay your real estate taxes and other conventional payments like utilities including water, electricity etc.

Why does one need this loan?
There are many senior citizens in India who do not have any liquid funds but own a good residential property. Here, one's property becomes a source of income for senior citizens. The person can invest for retirement and also enjoy benefit of capital appreciation of the secured investment i.e. housing property. They are not under pressure to repay the loan in their lifetime. On the person's death or his/her leaving the house permanently, the loan is repaid along with accumulated interest, through sale of the house.
It can also be an investment tool for youngsters who plan for a retirement solution. They can start investing in a housing property and take benefit of the same during their retired life. They have a secured investment which has benefit of capital appreciation.

What is the difference in the Indian and Western models of reverse mortgage loans?
The concept is same in both Indian and Western RMLs. However, the RML is a relatively mature product in developed markets like USA, UK, Australia, Canada etc. Reverse mortgages in these countries have more variants like insurance coverage for the lender and the borrower. In the US, RML is a federally-insured private loan that is safe and provides financial security to the older Americans. Those availing the MRL in US are counseled before the loan is actually disbursed. US Department of Housing and Urban Development provides all the information relating to RML.
"We have no doubt that our product would also evolve into a mature instrument addressing the needs of the senior citizens in India who cannot avail the home loans," says V K Badami, Deputy General Manager, National Housing Bank.

What is the eligibility criterion for availing this loan?
There are few requirements for this loan. A borrower should be a Senior Citizen of India above 60 years of age. He or she should be the owner of a residential property (house or flat) located in India, with clear title indicating the prospective borrower's ownership of the property and they should be using that residential property as permanent primary residence. A married couple will be eligible as joint borrowers for financial assistance provided both are above age of 60 years.

How much money can one get from the RML?
The amount of loan will depend on market value of residential property, as assessed by the Primary Lending Institutions (PLIs) namely scheduled banks and Housing Finance Companies (HFCs); age of borrower and prevalent interest rates.

What will be the nature of the payment? Can one get lump-sum during an emergency?
The mode of payment will be decided mutually by the PLIs and the person borrowing the money prior to dispersal of funds. The loan may be extended as regular monthly, quarterly, half-yearly or annual periodic cash advances. Alternatively, a line of credit would be available to be drawn from when required or in lump-sum payments in one or more tranches, depending on the agreement.

What are the guiding norms for PLIs to assess the value of property, fixing loan rates? Is there transparency in this process? Who keeps a check on the lender (banks/ housing finance companies)?
"PLIs will have to clearly explain to the prospective borrowers the terms and conditions of RML including the fixation & calculation of interest, the methodology of the valuation / revaluation process and the frequency/schedule of such revaluations upfront," adds Badami.
The PLI will have to re-value the property mortgaged to them at least once every five years, the quantum of loan may undergo revisions based on such re-valuation of property at the discretion of the lender.

During re-valuation, if one is not satisfied with the interest rate what can he/she do? Will one have to return the money and interest they have received till then?
The borrower will have the option to accept such revised terms and conditions for furtherance of the loan. If the borrower does not accept the revised terms, no further payments will be effected by the lender. Interest at the rate agreed before the review will continue to accrue on the outstanding amount of the loan. The loan shall become due and payable only when the last surviving borrower dies or would like to sell the home, or permanently moves out of the home for aged-care to an institution or to relatives.

What will happen if the liability (principal plus interest) exceeds the value of property during the term of the plan?
The PLIs will have to ensure that all reverse mortgage loan products carry a clear and transparent 'no negative equity' or 'non-recourse' guarantee, that is, the borrower will never owe more than the net realizable value of their property, provided the terms and conditions of the loan have been met.

Can the lender take away one's home if he or she outlives the loan?
No! One need not repay the loan as long as one of the borrowers continues to live in the house and keeps the taxes and insurance payments update. Presently, the maximum loan disbursement tenure has been limited to 15 years.

Will the legal heir have any right to the house?
The borrower and their heir can repay or prepay the loan with accumulated interest and have the mortgage released without resorting to sale of the property.

Private housing finance company, Dewan Housing Finance Corporation Limited(DHFL) launched the RML scheme, 'Saksham' in India in Sept 2006. It has not met with much success. Punjab National Bank has one such scheme, 'PNB Baghban'.
Badami says, "We have been informed by DHFL that they have not actually extended RML in 2006. At that time, NHB's draft operational guidelines were not issued. It is expected that after NHB's guidelines are finalized taking into account feedback received people, the Scheme will be implemented by many other banks and HFCs."

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Why You Must Not Buy A Home

Liz Pulliam Weston

Fear stampeded a lot of people into buying a home during the recent real estate boom. Now we're seeing the even more fearsome fallout.

People who were terrified about being priced out of the real estate market are now horrified by their ever-rising mortgage payments. People who were afraid of missing out on the "easy money" of home-price appreciation are now anxiously realizing that what goes up can also come down.

Foreclosures are spiking. Sales and prices are stalling. Lenders are finally tightening up ridiculously loose lending standards, just at the point where many people are realizing they can't afford the mortgage they have and desperately need a new one.

Despite all of this, I still hear from people who are pressuring themselves into buying a house even when it's not something they necessarily want or need.

It's a fact that homeownership is a great way for most people to build wealth over time. But that doesn't mean everyone should be a homeowner. It's a bigger commitment and more expensive than most first-time buyers ever realize. You should have a clear idea of what you're getting into before you commit to 30 years of payments -- and you shouldn't let any of the following popular legends guide your decision.
'It's a good investment'
Sometimes yes, sometimes no.

Nationally, home prices rose 50% between 2000 and 2005, and in more than 30 cities -- including San Diego, Los Angeles, Miami and Washington, D.C. -- prices doubled.

But that's not the norm. In the 30 prior years, from 1969 to 1999, the average appreciation for homes exceeded the inflation rate by a little more than 1 percentage point. Compare that to stocks, which bested inflation by 7 percentage points in the same period.

And appreciation isn't a given, as homeowners in Detroit, Santa Barbara, Calif., and Kokomo, Ind., are learning.

So far, the price declines have been pretty mild. Let's hope we don't see a repeat of the real estate recessions that gripped Boston, Dallas, Houston, Anchorage and Southern California in the 1980s and 1990s.

After dropping more than 20% in the 1990s, for example, Los Angeles home prices took almost 10 years to regain their peak, says real estate expert John Karevoll, an analyst with DataQuick Information Systems. Anyone who lived here during that time knows people who were upside down -- owing a bigger mortgage than the home could be sold for. Thousands of people simply walked away from houses they couldn't sell, trashing their credit ratings in the process. Lenders slashed the prices on foreclosed homes to get rid of their burgeoning inventories, which further drove down property values. It was an ugly cycle that, once started, was hard to stop.

Even when prices are perking along normally, though, your home may benefit your bottom line less than you think. Home-price appreciation figures don't take into account the considerable amounts homeowners shell out along the way. The Wall Street Journal once estimated a typical homeowner over 30 years would pay nearly four times the house's purchase price in maintenance, repairs and improvements.

A home is primarily a place to live. Its value as an investment is secondary and certainly is no replacement for a well-diversified portfolio of stocks and bonds.
'I'm tired of throwing away money on rent'
Normally, renting is cheaper than owning. But in some cities, soaring real estate prices have made renting so much cheaper that it's getting really tough to make the case for becoming a homeowner.

For many people, the choice is between renting an affordable place in a good neighborhood and straining to buy either a less desirable place or one that requires a tortuous commute.

And as we're seeing, many people stretched themselves way too far to buy houses. They opted for adjustable mortgages or loans with exotic terms; what initially seemed like reasonable payments suddenly spiked, throwing financial lives into chaos and contributing to the current high delinquency rate.

You're not really throwing money away when you send a check to your landlord, anyway. You're exchanging it for a place to live. You're also getting flexibility and freedom -- things you sacrifice when you buy a home.

When you're a renter, it's the landlord, not you, who is generally responsible for maintenance, repairs and the toilet that blows up in the middle of the night. If the neighborhood should start to slide, or you get or lose a job, you can up and move, often with just a few weeks' notice.

It's true that you may have to deal with rising rents and recalcitrant landlords. Homeowners, however, are often stuck with rising taxes and maintenance costs, as well as recalcitrant neighbors.

Moving is never fun, but moving when you own a home is an expensive, time-consuming process. Finding a buyer can take months in all but the hottest markets, and you should figure selling costs will eat up about 10% of your home's value, once you add agent commissions and moving expenses. On a $250,000 home sale, that's like piling up $25,000 in cash and setting fire to it -- that much of your equity is gone for good.

In other words, homeownership is more like marriage; renting is more like living together. Make sure you're ready to be wedded to a house before you propose to leave behind life as a renter.
'I need the tax deduction'
Buying a house just for the mortgage break would be like giving somebody a buck just to get 35 cents or less in return.

That's because your write-off is limited to your tax bracket. If you're in the top federal tax bracket, every dollar you pay in mortgage interest only saves you 35 cents in taxes. Most people get even less, since they're in the 25% or lower tax brackets.

Don't misunderstand -- the tax break is nice, and you need somewhere to live. But you should make sure you can really afford to own a home before you take the plunge.

Remember that many of the real costs of owning a home aren't deductible. Uncle Sam won't give you a break for insurance, repairs or maintenance, for example -- and those costs can really add up.

Most homeowners should plan to spend at least 1% of their home's purchase price each year on maintenance and repairs, says finance expert Eric Tyson -- and more if they plan to hire someone else to do all the work. Tyson, a co-author of "Home Buying for Dummies," recommends setting aside some money each month in an emergency fund. You may not spend the whole amount every year, but sooner or later a big expense will come along -- a new furnace or roof, for instance -- that will consume several years' worth of savings.

If you fail to maintain your home properly, you'll pay even more when it comes time to sell. Many buyers won't even bid on a property that shows significant neglect. Even in hot markets, buyers are likely to ask for expensive concessions to pay for the repairs you should have been doing all along.
The key tests
The best advice on the issue of whether to buy remains the time-tested version: Do it when it's right for you. That means being able to agree to all the following statements:

I plan to stay put for at least three years. If the real estate market in your area is weak, you may need even longer for price appreciation to offset the costs of selling and moving.

I can swing all the costs involved. That requires, most importantly, having enough cash for a decent down payment (which in today's lending environment may mean at least 5% of the purchase price). I'm also a fan of using good, old-fashioned fixed-rate mortgages -- either the 30-year variety or hybrid loans that are fixed for as long as you plan to remain in the house.

If you can't swing the payments with one of those loans, you probably can't afford the place. (If you are contemplating a less traditional loan, make sure you find out how high the payments can go and determine whether you could afford to pay them.) Then make sure you can afford all the incidental costs, including taxes, insurance, homeownership association dues and assessments, repairs and maintenance. It's not a bad idea to limit your total housing outlay to 25% or 30% of your gross income, especially if you want to have money left over to save for retirement, fund your children's college educations and take the occasional vacation.

I want to be a homeowner. Houses are expensive and complicated to buy, finance and maintain. Appreciation is far from a given. If you don't have a strong desire to own your own walls, and do what it takes to keep them in good shape, you're probably better off remaining a renter -- at least for now.

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Watch Your Weight Or Lose Your Job

Overweight workers cost their bosses more in injury claims than their lean colleagues, suggests a study that found the heaviest employees had twice the rate of workers' compensation claims as their fit co-workers.

Obesity experts said they hope the study will convince employers to invest in programs to help fight obesity. One employment attorney warned companies that treating fat workers differently could lead to discrimination complaints.

Duke University researchers also found that the fattest workers had 13 times more lost workdays due to work-related injuries, and their medical claims for those injuries were seven times higher than their fit co-workers.

Overweight workers were more likely to have claims involving injuries to the back, wrist, arm, neck, shoulder, hip, knee and foot than other employees.

The findings were based on eight years of data from 11,728 people employed by Duke and its health system. Researchers found that workers with higher body mass indexes, or BMIs, had higher rates of workers' compensation claims.

The most obese workers -- those with BMIs of 40 or higher -- had the highest rates of claims and lost workdays. BMI is a measure of height and weight. A 6-foot, 300-pound person, for example, has a BMI of just over 40.

Study co-author Dr. Truls Ostbye said the findings should encourage employers to sponsor fitness programs.

"There are many promising programs," Ostbye said. "We'd like to see more research about what is truly effective."

James Hill, who heads the Center for Human Nutrition at the University of Colorado, said managers will pay attention to the findings because injuries mean more immediate financial losses than the future health-care costs of diabetes and heart disease.

"When you see that claims rates double, I think that's going to get people's attention," Hill said.

But there isn't enough good information about employer-sponsored programs that work, said John Cawley, an expert in the economics of obesity at Cornell University. Employers don't know whether paying for nutrition counseling, obesity surgery or anti-obesity drugs through health insurance makes economic sense, he said.

"It's now apparent to everybody that obesity is a big problem," Cawley said. "But the research isn't there to know where to get biggest bang for the buck."

Cawley noted that BMI does not distinguish muscle from fat and can equate a buff body builder to a couch potato. Although BMI, a measure of height and weight, is used in most obesity research, Cawley's research has found that blacks are particularly likely to be misclassified as obese by BMI.

New York employment attorney Richard Corenthal cautioned employers not to overreact with discriminatory policies.

"Employers need to be careful not to view this study as a green light to treat obese or overweight workers differently," Corenthal said.

The study, appearing in Monday's Archives of Internal Medicine, got funding from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.

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Workplace Etiquette you Can Live Without

Caroline Levchuck,

For virtually every industry, there's an annual convention or two that really count. How you behave at these events will impact whether or not you're asked to represent your company in the future. Your actions can also establish whether or not you have a future with your current employer at all.

Follow these do's and don'ts to make sure you don't kill your career at the next convention.

* Do take care of yourself and trust your colleagues to take care of themselves. If you need to go back to your room and relax each night after meeting your professional obligations, do so. You are not under orders to fraternize with your fellow employees, nor are they.

* Don't drink to excess -- if at all -- with clients, vendors, or colleagues. You are representing your company at all times. Even if you're at a big corporate-sponsored blow-out, it's best to limit your alcohol consumption and have fun without getting out of hand.

* Do take notes during meetings with potential and current clients as well as your take on what your competitors are doing at the event and seminars that you've attended. Type them up when you return so that you have a document at the ready that will help you discuss your experiences at the event and what you got out of them professionally.

* Don't bring a spouse or friend along to the convention without clearing it with your supervisor first. Find out what your obligations are each morning and at night after the convention ends; you may not have much (if any) time to spend with a traveling companion anyway.

* Do make the most of your time at an event. Fill your daily schedule with meetings as best as you can. If there are gaps, walk the convention floor (which is probably formidable) and take in everything you see. Ask colleagues if you can help out with any of their appointments. Attend a lecture or volunteer to lend an extra hand manning your company's booth if there is one.

* Don't dress inappropriately. Anywhere. When you're at a convention, you're acting as an emissary for your employer around the clock. It doesn't matter if a client sees you having an early breakfast or a night cap in the hotel's lounge. You should always wear clothing that won't embarrass you, your client, or your employer. Leave the sweatpants and the slinky attire at home.

* Do return with a clear list of actions you'll need to take to follow up with clients and leads for new business and share this with your supervisor.

* Don't fake expenses or take advantage of your expense account. Companies are auditing employee expense reports more closely than ever and being deceitful on them can lead to your dismissal. Also, if you're entertaining clients, don't go overboard with lavish meals and cocktails unless you're instructed to by your superiors.

* Do keep in touch with your colleagues during the day. Keep your mobile phone or BlackBerry on at all times, and keep your appointments. Check in with people often. You're traveling on your employer's dime, so you're accountable for your time.

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Telephone Interview Survival Tips

Caroline Levchuck

Some people think phone interviews are easier than in-person ones. Often, those people are wrong.

In person, it's easy to tell if an interviewer is tuning you out if you notice them staring off into space or sending messages on their BlackBerry. On the phone, you (and the interviewer) are missing out on important visual cues. You can't read the interviewer's body language.

So, how can a job seeker really dial into an interviewer's demeanor to tell if she's bored, distracted or underwhelmed?

Find a Happy Place

In the absence of sight, hearing becomes sharper. And interviewers can easily hear distraction over the phone.

Once you've scheduled a phone interview, locate a calm, quiet place where you can focus. Make sure you're not near a computer, TV or anything that will draw your attention away from the interview. Tell anyone who has access to the space that you are not to be disturbed unless catastrophe strikes.

Next, have a pen and paper handy to take notes during your interview. You should also have a copy of your resume so that when the interviewer refers to your experience, you can both literally be on the same page.

Finally, consider your attire, particularly if you're interviewing from your home. It's your prerogative to wear sweats, but may we suggest something closer to business attire? You'll feel more professional -- and, thus, you'll sound more professional.

Speak Easy

As soon as you answer the phone, you're on!

You want to start your phone interview off right. And, because the interviewer can't see you, she's listening even more carefully.

Make a conscious effort to sound upbeat and enthusiastic.

Smile. Interviewers can hear you smile -- and smiling can put you in a better state of mind. (Don't believe it? Try smiling when you're in a bad mood.)

If you feel your confidence wane, stand up. Standing can make your voice sound more powerful.

And always remember to breathe. It will help you stay calm and sound more relaxed.

Sounds of Silence

A phone interview isn't just about speaking. It's about listening.

To listen carefully, try closing your eyes when the interviewer is speaking so you can focus on what is being said.

This technique can also help you read the interviewer's mood. Is he interested and enthusiastic, or bored and distracted? Is the interview conversational? Are questions and answers flowing easily?

Listen hard after your responses. Did your response prompt additional questions or make the interviewer hesitate?

If the interviewer seems distracted, use one of the powerful questions you were saving for the "Do you have any questions?" section of the interview. A well-chosen question can re-engage him and put the interview back on track.

Practice Makes Perfect

The best way to prepare for a phone interview: Practice.

Have a friend play the role of interviewer on the phone.

Provide her with some practice questions to ask. Give her a copy of your resume and have her come up with her own questions too.

Test different techniques while you're talking to her. Close your eyes while listening, stand while talking, smile while speaking. With her feedback, decide what works best.

You should also consider taping the conversation and listening to yourself afterward. You may be very surprised by what you hear. Finally, ask yourself, "Would I hire this person?"

If the answer isn't a resounding "yes," get back on the phone and get better prepared.

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When Your Next Step Is The Management Cadre

Caroline Levchuck

You're gearing up to apply for a management position. Or maybe you're about to be tapped for a management job. But you don't have any actual managerial experience, you worry.

Or do you?

Even if you haven't formally acted as a manager, odds are you have plenty of management skills. Managing projects, timelines, budgets and schedules all require the skills that good managers need: Communication, organization, conscientiousness and more.

There's No 'I' in Team

Don't have a ready-made team with which you can hone your management skills? Ask for one!

Step up to the plate and ask to help oversee a team at your office.

Because you don't have overt managerial experience, start small. Chair the planning committee for your company's next event or party. Initiate and manage a fundraiser. Start a company sports team or -- even better yet -- create a league in your industry.

These undertakings require the same skill sets that all great managers possess. Plus, they'll give you a management role to add to your resume.

After Hours

Flex your managerial muscles outside the office. Volunteer in and around your community in a capacity that involves managing people.

If you're uncertain where to start, visit your local library and Chamber of Commerce to help identify suitable organizations. Contact local politicians or charities you're interested in supporting and offer to help organize their next event. If you have a special skill, give a workshop through your local community center or library.

All of these activities can hone your management skills and give you fodder for your resume. Plus, they offer visibility in your industry and community as well as valuable chances to network.

If You Can't Manage People ...
When you feel you're ready to step into a direct management role at work,

talk to your own manager. Share your career goal of being a manager and ask him to help you further develop your skills.

If your supervisor won't -- or can't -- let you directly manager another employee yet, perhaps you can lead a project. You would not be acting as a general supervisor to fellow employees, but you would be managing their time, tasks and performance on a particular project.

Managing a project will also allow you to experience being a manager before committing to a full-time management position. You may learn that it isn't for you after all. Or you may enjoy it so much that you vow to pursue a "management job" with renewed vigor.

Practice Makes Perfect

You likely possess some strong management skills by this point. Now is the time to perfect them.

Spend time and effort finessing your project management skills in your current position. Assess your ability to schedule projects, build timelines, allocate resources, budget funds and more.

Where do you need improvement? Seek out help from coworkers and talk to HR about taking professional development courses.

Take an inventory of your communication skills. What are your strengths? What are your weaknesses?

If you're a great people person but lack written communication skills, take a business communications course. Conversely, if you're a master communicator over email but lackluster face-to-face, consider taking a seminar to improve your in-person impact. Organizations like Toastmasters International and Dale Carnegie Training may be able to help.
Then once you've honed and polished your management skills, it's time to let them shine!

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