Thursday, July 31, 2014

Do employers care what college you graduated from?

We recently wrote a blog about a controversial study that concluded where you go to college may not be nearly as important to career success as once thought.  It begs the question – if employers don’t put high regard into which institution of higher learning you graduated from, then what do they look for?  We hit the books once again to find the answer.

Our syllabus in this class comes from a recent Gallup poll that ranked how much weight business leaders put into certain factors when looking at potential employees.

It found that 84% of business leaders polled said the amount of knowledge the candidate has in a field was very important.  Another 14% said it was somewhat important, leaving only 2% of business leaders who though it was not very important or not important at all.  That’s an overwhelming revelation.  Furthermore, 79% of potential employers ranked a candidate’s applied skills in the field as very important, and 16% somewhat important.

And what of their major and where they went to college?  The majority of business leaders said it was not very important or not at all important where the candidate went to college.  Only 9% said their alma mater was very important!  Of those same business leaders, only 28% thought a candidate’s college major was very important!  22% said it was not very important and 8% said it wasn’t important at all!

What they’re telling us comes through loud and clear – when judging potential new employees, businesses don’t give much credence at all into where someone went to school, or even what they majored in.  Instead, the amount of expertise and the skills necessary to perform the job at hand dominated their hiring decisions by a wide margin.  Yet, we see millions of young people every year still focused on getting into the “best” college possible, stressing over what academic major to declare, and amassing student loans at an alarming rate just to pay for it all.  Yet that has very little bearing on what job they get and future career success (though they’ll be paying off their student loans forever.)

Something interesting emerges when we poll the American public, not business leaders, the same questions.  47% of those polled thought that a college major was very important and 43% somewhat important.  An alarming 80% thought where a candidate went to school was very or somewhat important!  Compare that to only 46% of business leaders, and we can see the public’s perception what employers are looking for is incredibly skewed.

What can we learn from these polls?  Employers are less focused on what school is written on a candidates degree and much more concerned with what skills, experience, and knowledge that candidate that will help them succeed at the job.  Internships, real world job experience, attitude, and networking are far more important than what major a candidate has.  Since their major or the school you attend won’t make a significant difference when it’s interview time, they probably shouldn’t overemphasize going to the biggest name school, and definitely avoid taking on student loans just for the sake of false prestige.

A study by the NOVA Workforce Investment Board in Silicon Valley confirms these findings.  They discovered that mastery of current technologies is the most critical factor in hiring decisions for many employers, while few even mentioned college degrees. ”Especially in the tech industry, employers want to see skills applications rather than traditional resumes. Show, don’t tell,” says Kris Stadelman, director of NOVA. “Employers are interested in what skills you bring and how these skills can be used in their business.”  It seems that if you know programming languages like C++ is more important than if you got C+’s in school.

However, there is one caveat to this – Ivy League schools.  Specifically, you have a chance to go to Harvard, Yale, Princeton, or MIT, you should take it because those graduates do markedly better in their careers.  However, we might similarly attribute this to networking among smart (and wealthy) students - the future business leaders who own the companies that do the hiring.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Battle of the cell phone carriers - who's the best?

According to the Pew Research Center, 91% of adults in the United States own cell phones, up from only 65% in 2004.  And among 12-17 year olds, 78% have their own cell phone – and 1 out of 3 is a smart phone.  Of course we don’t just use them for calls anymore.  In fact, 63% of cell phone users go online with their phone, and between texting, web surfing, and talking, Americans spend an average of 58 minutes every day on their phones!

Our affinity for these devices is astounding; people actually sleep out to line up for the newest iPhone release or vehemently debate the merits of the latest Android phone.  And it seems more than ever were defined (and restricted) by what cell phone plan we patronize.  They aren’t cheap – the average person now spends nearly a $1,000 a year on their cell phone plan, more than $80 a month.  That’s up from $63 a month in 2010 and only $19 a month in 2001.  With these exorbitant prices, its no wonder the cell phone providers try their hardest to lock you into a long term contract, for a year or even two. 

So which cell phone provider is the best?  In a complex and ever-changing telecommunications landscape, that’s almost an impossible question to answer – but those are the kinds of questions we love to tackle for our readers!  So we combed the web – reading dozens of articles, price comparisons, and quality reports.  We summarized the most relevant information here, including tips how to choose the right cell phone plan, the results of comprehensive surveys in 2014, and a little-known cell phone provider through a mega-popular store that might soon overtake them all. 

The cell phone industry is usually segregated into three types of plans: the Big Four, Discount Plans, and Innovators.

10 Tips to choosing the best cell phone plan for you.

1. Ask yourself, “What will I be using it for?”  Will I be calling people a lot?  During the day for business, or mostly nights and weekends to my friends?  Will I be surfing the web outside of my home, or using it for text?  Focus the cell phone plan you get on that.

2. Remember that it’s always easy to upgrade – but virtually impossible to downgrade.  So if you need to, start with a smaller plan and go from there.

3. Unless you opt for an unlimited plan, track your minute/text/data usage as you go through your first month, or any month.  Actually schedule a few days throughout the month to check or sign up for automatic overage alerts.  The big cell phone carriers make a significant portion of their revenue on fees and you want to avoid those whenever you can.

4. How much data is sufficient for surfing the web?  For most casual smart phone users who browse the web and read eBooks, and send a handful of emails, 500MB to 1Gb is enough.   

If you’re occasionally streaming videos on YouTube, watching movies on Netflix, and listening to music on web sites, then you’ll probably want 2GB to 3GB per month.

Of course if you use those frequently – more than once a day and outside the regular Wi-Fi spots (like if you’re a business traveler) then an unlimited plan is right for you.

5. Don’t forget to input your Wi-Fi password at home, the office, and at every cafĂ© and restaurant you regularly frequent.  By doing this the first week you have the phone, you usually won’t have to do it again and the phone will automatically pick up the Wi-Fi signal – saving you a ton of data usage. 

6. If you have children (especially teenagers) with phones, set them up with a plan that gives an alert and then suspends usage once they go over their calling, text, or web usage.  You’d rather have a teenager complaining to you mid-month than a bill with $1,000 of over-limit fees! 

7. Consider a family plan – there are HUGE economies of scale when you get 2, 3, or more cell phones users on the same plan. 

8. If you’re going to be calling overseas, there are some plans that specifically offer great blocks of discounted calling minutes to certain countries. 

9. Get it in writing.  Don’t just go off what the salesperson says, but make sure you get any details in writing so you can prove them later on.

10. Be careful with the long-term contract.  Cell phone carriers hook you with a big discount on a shiny, new smartphone so they can lock you into an expensive and inescapable long-term contract.  Instead, consider getting the last generation of smartphone (which still works great) on eBay or through another reputable reseller and just shop for the best cell phone plan – with a month-to-month contract. 


Cell phone service can now be divided into 3 types: The Big Four, discounters, and innovators.  The Big Four include T-Mobile, Sprint, Verizon, and AT&T. 

Discounted carriers like Metro PCS and Boost Mobile compete on price and offer great no-frills service and often use the same cell phone towers as the Big Four, so there’s no loss of coverage.

Innovators like Cricket, Ting, and Virgin Mobile try to carve out market share in the crowded telecommunications space by doing something new, different, or better than the Big Four, or often serve smaller regional markets. Another great resource to shop around for the best cell phone plan (without driving to every store) is the site,

Here are the cell phone plan ratings for 2014:

Plans and Pricing
T-Mobile  10.0  
Sprint  9.0
Cricket Wireless  7.75
Metro PCS  7.75
AT&T  6.75
Boost Mobile  6.50
Verizon Wireless   6.25
U.S. Cellular  5.50
Virgin Mobile  4.25
Ting  4.25

Coverage and Quality
Verizon Wireless  10.0
AT&T   9.25
Cricket Wireless   9.0
T-Mobile   6.75
Metro PCS   6.75
Sprint   5.5
Boost Mobile   5.5
Virgin Mobile   5.5
Ting   5.5
U.S. Cellular   3.75

Help & Support
Verizon Wireless   10.0
U.S. Cellular   9.75
Virgin Mobile   8.75
Ting   8.25
T-Mobile   8.0
Cricket Wireless   8.0
AT&T   7.75
Sprint   7.50
Metro PCS   7.50
Boost Mobile   7.50

Devices and Features
T-Mobile   10.0
Sprint   10.0
Cricket Wireless   6.25
Verizon Wireless   9.25
AT&T  9.25
Metro PCS   6.25
Boost Mobile   6.25
U.S. Cellular   7.50
Virgin Mobile   4.75
Ting   5.0

Metro PCS   10.0
Boost Mobile   10.0
U.S. Cellular   10.0
Virgin Mobile   10.0
Cricket Wireless   9.25
T-Mobile   8.75
Ting   8.25
Verizon Wireless   5.75
AT&T   5.75
Sprint   4.75

Overall Rating
Verizon Wireless  8.68
T-Mobile   8.58
AT&T  8.03
Cricket Wireless  7.98
Sprint  7.53
Metro PCS  7.38
Boost Mobile  6.50
U.S. Cellular  6.45
Virgin Mobile  6.38
Ting  6.10

So after doing all of this research, which carrier earned my cell phone business?  For years I used AT&T, but I finally got wise to their aggressive hidden fees, constant shifty tactics, and bad customer service.  So I asked around and heard about the emerging dark horse in the telecommunications game - Wal-Mart.  Not many people realize it but they now offers cell phone plans.  They’re simple and inexpensive with two other huge advantages: you can use your existing cell phone (as long as it’s unlocked,) and there are no long-term contracts – you just refill your plan with one monthly payment online or at the store. 

They have easy SIM card activation kits and use T-Mobile towers, so the coverage and service are great.  Their price structure is one of the best in the game:

$30/month unlimited nationwide talk and text.

$45/month unlimited talk, text, and web
Up to 2.5 GB of 3G speed.

$55/month unlimited talk, text, and web

Up to 2.5 GB of 4G speed.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

The 30 universal traits of mega successful people.

1.         They go the extra mile.
People who achieve big things in life invest extra effort, thought, and creativity into everything they do, no matter how big or small.

2.         They take risks and are willing to fail.
Failure is not the enemy of successful people – it’s a necessary ally.  In fact, if they don’t go through enough failure in their lives they understand they’re not taking enough risks.’

3.         Luck is created.
Successful people don’t wait around for luck to bless them – they go out and create their own opportunities with hard work, smart planning, and persistence. 

4.         They have a dream.
Mega high achievers have an overall goal or dream that always seems audacious, unrealistic, and out of reach…until they reach it.  They keep this big dream in mind at all times.   

5.         They set small, realistic goals.
Even though they dream big, successful people break the path to that dream into smaller, manageable goals.  They focus 100% on the goal in front of them; cross it off once they reach it, and set the next goal.

6.         They take responsibility.
People who go far in life understand that by assuming accountability for their actions they empower themselves.  They never try to pass the buck or dodge blame – they’re happy to take responsibility, fix the problem, and move on.

7.         Their thinking is flexible. 
Successful people have firm values but flexible thinking, adjusting their sails depending on how they wind blows.  They make constant changes to adjust to their ever-changing environment.

8.         They communicate effectively.
They communicate efficiently with simple, clear, and concise messages.  This also includes active listening skills – a vastly undervalued skill.    

9.         They surround themselves with the right people.
Successful people don’t fill their lives with negative, complaining, or distracting people. 

10.       They network.
Other than working hard, networking might be the most important practice for mega success.  As the saying goes – your network is your net worth.  I still think they should teach classes on networking in high school and college! 

11.       They are self-aware.
People who accomplish great things in life are confident but not cocky, have a good assessment of their own strengths and weaknesses, and have a high-self worth while still remaining humble. 

12.       They create instead of consume.
This is fascinating – instead of just amassing and worshipping material things, successful people always have the impetus to create something themselves, whether it’s a new business, building a house, or forming a non-profit.  Creation is one of the processes held in highest esteem by high achievers.

13.       They work hard.
“Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.” - Thomas A. Edison

14.       They’re curios and eager to learn.
Learning and being inquisitive is a lifelong journey for successful people, and they invest in themselves by reading, going to training workshops, and seeking out mentors.

15.       They stay relaxed.
Successful people stay calm, balanced, and keep a healthy perspective in their lives.  This demeanor - not getting too high or too low - is so important once challenges, adversity, and stress come their way.

16.       They live in the present moment.
They key to success- and happiness – is to always be fully present and immersed in the moment.

17.       They’re persistent.
Successful people suffer the same setbacks and disappointments as the rest of us – if not many more – but they understand that their success is earned by bouncing back.  “Fall seven times, get up eight,” as the old saying goes.

18.       They want to improve on the status quo.
Successful people don’t accept the world as it is – they endeavor to change it for the better.

19.       They have a positive relationship with time.
Time stops for no man or woman, but successful people use time to their advantage instead of squandering it or letting it pass them by.  They schedule, plan, and prioritize their way to a “routine of ascension.”

20.       They’re optimistic.
They’re perpetually optimistic, enthusiastic, and never give up their positive attitudes.

21.       They stay focused on one task.
Psychological studies conclude that multi-tasking is a myth because the human brain can only fully focus on one thing at a time.  Successful people know this and don’t try to juggle – they fully engage with one task and when they complete that, only then do they move on.

22.       They have energy and physical stamina.
This trait is usually forgotten, but successful people work long hours and expend incredible amounts of energy day after day for the long haul.  So they take care of their health by exercising, eating right, and adopting healthy habits that keep their energy up.

23.       They don’t shy from conflict.
Instead of being people pleasers and avoiding conflict, they understand it’s a healthy and necessary function of growth.  They aren’t combative or aggressive, but firm and assertive and willing to hash it out when needed.

24.       They gladly put aside their ego.
Successful people want to be on the best team possible.  They always want to surround themselves with the smartest and best people without seeing this as an affront to their own ego.

25.       They’re sensitive to others.
They say the hallmark of genius is that they can consider two opposing viewpoints at the same time.  Leaders and succeeders can do the same with people, having empathy for others by adopting their viewpoints. 

26.       They’re ambitious.
Of course ambition and drive are common traits of successful people, but more than just amassing wealth, they want to build something bigger than themselves and make lasting changes that help people.

27.       They look for solutions.
The desired outcome or goal is always in mind to keep them focused and guide them as they work.  Instead of getting hung up on the minutiae of the process, they’re constantly focused on the target. 

28.       They have specific training, knowledge, skills, and talents.
Instead of just being generalists, high achievers invest in the education or training to become the best at one single thing.

29.       They stop and smell the roses.
No matter how busy they are, successful people schedule time off to spend time with their families, see friends, exercise, unwind, and have fun. 

30. They have fun!

Through all that hard work, discipline, and achievement, successful people always have fun.  They embrace that it’s all about enjoying the journey, not the destination.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

A college degree pays off, but how much does it matter where you go to school?

We all know that a college degree has a great deal of value once you get to the working world.  Many employers see a bachelor’s degree or four years of college as a fundamental requirement when hiring; a foot in the door, not a guarantee.  In fact, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, the average income for a college grad is $51,206 per year compared to $27,915 for people who end their education upon graduating high school.  According to those numbers, over a 40-year work career the college grad will earn about a million dollars more than the high school grad!  Yes, a college degree pays.

But how much does it matter where you go to college?  Is there a big disparity in success and income levels based on which four-year university you attend?  The answer to this question is of paramount importance not just for alma mater bragging rights, but because the cost of higher education has skyrocketed.  More students are graduating with a student loan debt-load they’ll be paying off for decades.  So does it really matter if you get your degree from a prestigious (and expensive) private school, or does any old degree from any college pay off just as well?  I hit the library (ok, Google) to find the answer.

The first thing I noticed when researching this question was the surprising lack of definitive studies, especially considering the impact.  The cost of a degree is more than ever – some estimates are that a college degree costs $300,000 on average if you add room and board, books, and opportunity cost of missing 4 years in the working world – which makes college the biggest purchase you’ll make in your life besides your home.  For 7 out of 10 graduates, student loans pick up a good portion of the bill, almost $30,000 each.  Student loan debt load has now topped one trillion dollars in the United States and paying for college is acknowledged as one of the biggest stressers for Millenials.  And yet there are only a few comprehensive studies that analyze the cost of college compared to the payout.  Some of the studies are from as far back as the 1970’s or look at only a small segment of the population.  But I wanted to get to the bottom of this question so by pulling an all-nighter to cram for this exam (just like in college,) I came up with an answer.

Does it matter where you go to college?

The short and sweet answer is: Yes. But not nearly as much as you may think when it comes to getting a job, professional success, or lifetime income levels. 

The research on this is complex and often contradictory:

In 2000, the Department of Education reported that the quality of college a person attends accounts for a 2-3% variance in earnings among men, and 4-6% among women.  That’s a miniscule payoff considering what private or big name colleges cost. 

A more recent study by Texas A&M professor Mark Hoekstra in 2009 compared the income levels of white, male students (so there was a homogenous and large sample size with controlled external variables) who had just barely missed the admissions cut-off for an unnamed public flagship university to those of students who had barely been accepted.  Ostensibly, this compared students of similar academic standards to see if those who got into a good school later out-earned those who were rejected, and therefore had to attend a more pedestrian institution.  Hoekstra found that enrolling at a flagship university increased their wages by 20% over time – which is significant.

A 1999 paper in The Journal of Human Resources backed that up, showing that elite schools did equate to higher paychecks and that effect did increased over time.  From all high school graduates in 1980, those who attended a top private university went on to earn 20% more than their counterparts at bottom tier public universities.  Antiquated as it may be, the data from 1980 shows that going to an elite school pays off. 
But there’s a big caveat to these findings - we don’t know how much of this is causation and how much is correlation.  Is it the degree that helps them earn more, or the fact that they’re smart and motivated enough to attend that college and able to network with other smart people?  A follow-up study in 2011 came to the conclusion that there’s certainly more parity and consistency in educational quality these days, so where a student goes to school doesn’t matter as much as other factors like their major, extracurricular activities, networking, internships, and their grades.  In summary, there may have been a huge income divide 40 years ago, but less so now.

Perhaps the most conclusive study was conducted by professors at the University of Texas at Dallas, University of Tulsa, and Cornell, who examined the wages of students who went to college in Texas between 1996 and 2002.  The professors looked at data from four different schools; Texas, Texas A&M, a group of the rest of the state’s non-flagship colleges, and finally the state’s community colleges.  They found that students who went to the more prestigious U of Texas and A&M did have better post-grad income levels, but the variance most depended on how well they did at their own school.  In fact, the top students at A&M did better than the top at the U Of Texas.  Having a valuable major – like engineering – and how well they ranked academically was a far greater determiner of success in later life.   

Another study with a fascinating conclusion was conducted by Stacy Berg Dale of the Andrew Mellon Foundation and Alan Kreuger of Princeton.  By compiling data from the 1970’s, they matched students in pairs – one whom was rejected and the other accepted by similar universities.  Those who didn’t gain admission usually ended up enrolling at a lesser university (which they could get in to.)  Decades later they revisited those “student siblings” and analyzed the data on income levels.  Their startling conclusion was that it didn’t really matter where you went to school – it mattered most where you applied! If you were the kind of person who could come close to gain admission to a great college – enough that you were willing to apply – then you’d most likely earn and succeed post-graduation almost identically as if you actually attended that same school. 

All of these studies reinforce the notion that there’s a correlation, but not causation, with the quality (and cost) of college and later income levels. Of course you’ve got a huge advantage in potential earnings if you attend Yale, Harvard, Princeton, or MIT.  But once you discard those institutions from the mix, whether you went to USC or Cal State Sacramento isn’t the most important factor when it comes to getting a job and the income you’ll earn. 

So what factors are more important?

Look for part 2 of this blog next week, what employers look for in a college graduate.