It’s the night before the interview. Your outfit is all laid out, your resumé is hot off the press and you’ve Google-Mapped your route. You’ve done your company research and you’ve practiced answering the tough questions. You are perfectly prepared—and you still feel like a nervous wreck.
That’s because, although we’re generally pretty good at anticipating and preparing for external challenges, we tend to be somewhat less great at anticipating internal challenges. We spend a lot of time thinking about what we need to communicate to our interviewer, but we don’t take much time to think about what we need to say to ourselves while navigating the interview process.
Even the most straightforward job interview is mentally demanding. You need to be alert and primed to listen. You need to think on your feet and be quick to recall relevant examples and experiences. You need to gauge your interviewer’s reactions and adapt accordingly. And while your brain is attempting to process all of this, you still need to smile and act naturally and somehow maintain a basic level of ease and confidence. It’s a tall order.
Luckily, there are a few observations you can make that will help ease the pre-interview jitters. If you’re looking for some nerve-calming, confidence-boosting thoughts, consider the following approaches to your job interview. Read them, reflect on them, journal about them—whatever it takes to make these concepts accessible to you throughout your interview preparation process. Along with your list of references, extra copies of your resumé and cover letter, and a stash of breath mints, here are three helpful mindsets to take with you on your next job interview:
It’s not uncommon for a friend or family member to say “Hey, don’t be nervous!” before a big presentation, performance or competition. The trouble is that this comment can make you feel even more nervous than you did before. Sometimes, the attempt to discount or ignore feelings of anxiety just ends up heightening them. Instead, it can be helpful to acknowledge the presence of that nervous feeling, to explore it, and then to reframe it as something positive. Instead of interpreting your anxiety as a fear of failure, you can choose to interpret it as genuine excitement. Maybe you’re nervous because, deep down, you know how potentially life-changing this opportunity is. Perhaps beneath the nerves, you can see all the good things that are waiting for you on the other side of a successful interview. In a recent study by Harvard Business School psychologist Alison Wood Brooks, it was found that reframing anxiety as excitement improved study participants’ performance in high-stress situations. So, the next time you feel your heart rate rising and your hands clamming up, see it as a signal that you’re excited for what’s to come!
In the stressful time leading up to a job interview, it’s easy to picture your interviewer as an antagonist. You might imagine them trying to catch you off guard, trying to make you look dumb or deriving some sort of twisted pleasure out of exposing your weaknesses. The truth is that your interviewer wants you to do well—in fact, they’re hoping you’re the perfect candidate for the job. Take a moment and put yourself in your would-be employer’s shoes: hiring someone new can be an expensive, frustrating and time-consuming process. At this point, your interviewer may have already paged through hundreds of resumés and conducted dozens of interviews with no end in sight. Your interviewer wants you to walk in and be the obvious choice. Consider that you are not in some sort of competition with your interviewer—a successful interview for you also counts as a success for your interviewer. Though it may not seem obvious in the room, your interviewer is your biggest (secret) cheerleader, so approach each question as an opportunity to highlight why you are, in fact, just what the company has been looking for.
It’s easy to stress about things you can’t control, which is yet another reason why job interviews can jump-start your anxiety. There are so many unknowns in the process (What will they think of me? What questions will they ask me?) that it’s hard to feel that you have any power in the interview at all. It’s important to remind yourself that, although uncertainty is a natural part of the job hunt, you do have some control. The interview is a chance for you to evaluate your potential employer at the same time your interviewer is evaluating you. Don’t be afraid to flip the script and ask your interviewer some questions. Ask about the biggest opportunities and challenges facing the department you’re interviewing for. Ask about next steps. Ask appropriate questions that will help you assess whether or not the company is a good match for you. Flipping the script gives you a turn at steering the conversation and serves as a little reminder that there’s more to a job interview than simply pleasing others—you’re also looking to create a fulfilling opportunity for yourself.
In preparing for a job interview, it’s easy to focus on how you’re meeting others’ expectations of you, instead of considering what expectations you have for your next job and future employer. The three mindsets outlined above serve as gentle reminders that, despite its unknowns and stresses, the job interview is ultimately an empowering experience that brings you closer to your career goals, and your life goals.
Think back to your most recent savings goal. How long did you have to save in order to reach it? Was it a concert ticket or some new shoes that took a few weeks of budgeting? Was it a big-ticket item like a new computer or a summer vacation that took a year or two of planning in advance? Perhaps you’re currently saving for an even more ambitious goal: a car, a wedding, a down payment on a home? Although savings goals vary from person to person and range in size and scope, it’s likely that your longest-term savings goal will be your retirement.
Saving for retirement poses some unique challenges: How are you supposed to prioritize retirement savings against the long list of more immediate goals? How are you supposed to find the motivation to prepare for something that’s decades away? How can you quantify the amount you will need to save when you have no idea what your future will look like?
The good news is that you can boost your retirement savings by practising the same good money habits that apply to smaller savings goals. Read on to find out which money skills will also level up your retirement savings plan.
1. Eliminate roadblocks. No matter what combination of financial goals you have in the works, this is the top priority. Think of it as creating the right environment for your savings to grow. Savings thrive when they have long stretches of uninterrupted time in which to accumulate and compound, so it’s in your best interest to eliminate any obstacles that threaten those ideal saving conditions. Focus on paying off any high-interest debt—you know, the kind that sucks up money that could otherwise be going toward your goals (credit card debt is an example). Revisit the terms of any loans you’re paying off and do a little research on potential consolidation or refinancing options—you might find a way to pay down your debt more efficiently and free up some extra funds for your savings goals at the same time. Eliminating roadblocks also means having a healthy emergency fund in place, so that your savings progress doesn’t get wiped out by an unexpected job loss (a good starting point is three months’ worth of expenses).
2. Automate savings. So your emergency fund is set up and your debt-management plan is in place—now is a great time to see if there are ways to automate your savings at work and at home. Can your employer automatically deduct your retirement contributions from your paycheque? Can you set up your online banking system to regularly transfer a certain amount to your savings account? Look for ways to make the act of saving easier, more consistent and less time-consuming.
3. Picture your goals. One of the reasons it’s hard to get motivated about saving for retirement is that it’s an abstract concept—especially when pitted against more self-explanatory savings goals like “new car” or “tropical getaway”. Take 10 minutes to ask yourself a few basic questions and to design your ideal retirement: do you see yourself relaxing at the beach, or enjoying a beautiful home and watching your family grow, or pursuing a passion or hobby you couldn’t make time for in your working years? Does your ideal retirement mean indulging yourself, or would you prefer to downsize and keep things simple? Would you want to continue working (part time or in some capacity) throughout your retirement? Do you picture moving into a new space? A new city? A new country? Fleshing out the details of an otherwise ambiguous savings goal allows you to ground the goal in reality and to get excited about it—and it’s easier to contribute to a savings goal you’re actually excited about.
4. Practice living with less. Increasing contributions to your savings goals (usually) means decreasing your monthly spending. This doesn’t necessarily mean adopting a super-frugal lifestyle; however, if that’s what you want to do to get to your goal sooner, go for it! Create some monthly challenges (like a month of packed lunches, or a month of free things to do) to see the impact of spending a little less. Put the money you would have otherwise spent towards your savings goals. If you live with a partner, challenge yourselves to live off of one income, and put the other toward savings. You will soon discover that spending a little less here and there does not require a complete lifestyle overhaul. Understanding the give-and-take of budgeting is a powerful skill, and it’s easier to cut spending when you can put it in the context of achieving a goal. Cancelling a cable package “just because” is not an enticing idea—but what if you knew that cancelling that cable package and investing the money saved would allow you to retire four years sooner? Having the right motivation can make it easier to save.
5. Increase savings along with income. This tip is an extension of living with less. Try to maintain your current lifestyle and expenses even as your salary rises over time. As your income increases, increase the amount you contribute to your savings goals. It’s very easy to slip into a slightly larger lifestyle after a raise. It’s equally easy to treat unexpected income as “extra money”, whether it’s a bonus at work or $20 in a birthday card from Grandma. There’s nothing wrong with rewarding yourself from time to time, but limiting your living expenses—even in times where you don’t have to—will free up more resources for your long-term savings goals. More importantly, you’ll be better prepared should your income levels take a hit. Allow your savings to scale up with your income, but don’t let your expenses scale up along with them!
The good money habits outlined above will create a routine that motivates you to find a few more dollars to put toward retirement. Even little changes can make a huge impact on a long-term savings goal that has decades to compound and grow. Because time is on your side, there is a lot of value in prioritizing contributions (even small ones) to your savings goals now. Choose a couple of tips to put into practice this month, and notice the impact it has on your budget—and on your financial peace of mind.
Picture this scenario: you’re steering your shopping cart through the sliding doors of the supermarket, shopping list in hand. As you walk the aisles, there’s a strategy you can use to save an average of 33% on your entire purchase. It doesn’t require any coupon cutting or signing up for rewards cards. And the best part? You still get every single item on your list. The secret? Buying private-label products instead of brand-name products.
What are private-label products?
Commonly referred to as “store brand” or “generics,” private-label products are manufactured by a supplier and offered under another retailer’s brand. Some suppliers exclusively offer store-brand products, while others are brand-name manufacturers who use their facility to also create value-brand products in a non-competitive category (a brand-name ketchup producer may also manufacture a store-brand tomato paste, for example). In some cases, a single supplier may provide products (with different recipes and formulas) for a number of different store brands.
Why are they so much cheaper?
Private labels are able to sell their product for less because their marketing and advertising costs are significantly lower than their brand-name counterparts (when’s the last time you saw a Super Bowl commercial for no-name tortilla chips?) and they’re able to pass those savings along to the customer. Interestingly, even though they’re priced more cheaply, store brands usually provide the supermarket with a higher profit margin than brand names do. So, not only are generics a good deal for you—they’re also a pretty good deal for the store’s bottom line!
What about the difference in quality?
One of the biggest obstacles in switching over to a store brand is a psychological one: getting over the idea that a brand name automatically means top quality. We’ve all had the experience of being disappointed after straying from a brand-name product—but by convincing yourself that all off-brand products are low quality, you’re missing out on some great deals, as well as some great products. In a Consumer Reports taste test, more than 60% of store-brand items were judged as good as or better tasting than the national brand-name items.
In recent years, retailers have been doing their part to make store brands more appealing to shoppers by updating their branding and packaging designs, and by including exciting specialty products in their store-brand lineup. Some grocery stores have managed to build extreme brand loyalty to their store-brand products.
Here are a few strategies to start incorporating more private-label products into your shopping list.
Single ingredient? No-brainer.
When something on your list has a single ingredient, it’s hard to justify paying more for a brand name (salt is salt; bleach is bleach). The same applies to simple pantry items such as flour, sugar and spices. For produce, learn to read the signs for freshness before defaulting to the label. Other kitchen cupboard staples such as nuts, dried fruits and canned foods are also interchangeable for the most part (although it’s always a good idea to check the ingredients list to see if there are any differences in preservatives or additives that might affect your decision).
Play with preference
Take a peek inside your fridge and pantry and take note of the products you consistently buy brand name. Is there a reason why you’ve never strayed from them? Do you have a real preference for the taste, or are you buying them simply because that’s what you grew up with? Substituting the occasional brand-name stock, seasoning or sauce with a store brand can be a great way to save money while exploring new flavour profiles.
Be selective about your brand loyalty
Sure, sometimes a brand-name product will outperform its generic version—but before you automatically reach for the national brand, think about whether that performance is really worth the extra expense. You will find that some items in your shopping cart are completely non-negotiable, whereas others have more relaxed requirements. For example, shelling out for brand-name super-soft tissues with lotion might mean the world to someone who suffers through allergy season, but for the occasional nose-blower, a store-brand box of tissues will do the trick. Be critical and selective about which specific products deserve your brand loyalty.
Trial and error
We tend to be creatures of habit; as a result, it can be difficult to introduce change into our routines. Not every generic product you try will be a winner, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t any generic winners out there! Instead of overhauling your entire shopping list all at once, try swapping out one or two products every time you go to the store and see what works for you. Over time, you’ll be able to keep your household running while saving some cash at the same time.
Like local car dealerships and personal injury law firms, short-term and payday lenders tend to have the most annoying commercials on TV. They’re often tacky and annoying, and tend to air during daytime talk shows or very late at night. Their promises of “fast cash!”, “guaranteed approval!” and no “credit check required!” are enough to make you change the channel—and yet, if you ever find yourself in a situation where you need to get your hands on some extra money fast, those commercials might start making sense to you. If your car breaks down or you are short for this month’s rent payment and you have no emergency funds set aside, going to a payday lender or a pawnbroker may seem like your only options. However, the loans that they offer can be outrageously expensive and targeted at people who are clearly in a tight spot to begin with, which makes those businesses prime examples of predatory lending.
Before jumping at that fast-cash offer, take a moment to educate yourself about predatory lending. Then breathe, understand that you have alternatives, and make an action plan.
What is predatory lending?
According to Debt.org, predatory lending is any lending practice that imposes unfair or abusive loan terms on a borrower. It is also any practice that convinces a borrower to accept unfair terms through deceptive, coercive, exploitative or unscrupulous actions for a loan that a borrower doesn’t need, doesn’t want or can’t afford. By definition, predatory lending benefits the lender, and ignores or hinders the borrower’s ability to repay the debt. These lending tactics often try to take advantage of a borrower’s lack of understanding about loans, terms or finances.
Predatory lenders typically target minorities, the poor, the elderly and the less educated. They also prey on people who need immediate cash for emergencies such as paying medical bills, covering a home repair or making a car payment. These lenders also target borrowers with credit problems or people who have recently lost their jobs. While the practices of predatory lenders may not always be illegal, they can leave victims with ruined credit, burdened with unmanageable debt, or homeless.
Predatory lenders go by a number of names
Predatory lending can also take the form of car loans, sub-prime loans, home equity loans, tax refund anticipation loans or any type of consumer debt. Common predatory lending practices include a failure to disclose information, disclosing false information, risk-based pricing, and inflated charges and fees. These practices, either individually or when combined, create a cycle of debt that causes severe financial hardship for families and individuals.
You have alternatives
If you are facing debt problems, you may feel that these types of lenders are your only option. Not true—you have a number of alternatives to taking out a high-cost loan:
Ultimately, you should know that you are in control, even if you find yourself in financial difficulties. There are plenty of alternatives to avoid high-cost borrowing from predatory lenders. Take time to explore your options. If you’re in a tough spot or facing debt, call your local branch to make an appointment with a First Credit Union lender for financial advice on your individual situation!