Learn how to develop soft skills – they can help you get and keep a job

soft skills

Soft skills are particularly important for jobs in which people deal with the public.

Many people think that the hard skills they’ve developed are what will bring them success on the job. Recent studies, however, suggest that it’s the soft – or people – skills, that may be the key to success.

And it all starts with the interview. A survey of 400 HR/hiring professionals conducted for software provider iCMS in mid-2017 found that 75 percent of recruiting professionals have ended an interview early because the candidate didn’t demonstrate the soft skills they were seeking.

Although that may be true, once someone secures a job, soft skills are even more important.

But what exactly are these soft skills, and how do you learn them?

Soft skills are people skills

Soft skills are people skills that allow you to get along with and communicate with others effectively, manage situations and show leadership.

In fact, workplace expert Alison Doyle lists more than 150 of them in an article she wrote for thebalancecareers.com. Doyle divides soft skills into categories and includes all the supporting skills for each category. These categories are:

  • Communication – Communication skills are essential to getting along with a boss and co-workers. They include speaking, listening and writing, among others.
  • Critical thinking – Critical thinking is becoming increasingly important in a rapidly changing world and includes the ability to be creative, flexible, and innovative and to problem solve and troubleshoot.
  • Leadership – Although everyone is not in an official leadership role, leadership qualities are still needed to make decisions, manage conflicts and inspire and motivate the people you work with.
  • Positive attitude – People like to work with others who are friendly, happy and easy to get along with.
  • Teamwork – As more and more companies are dividing their employees into teams, such skills as collaboration, interpersonal skills and learning how to deal with difficult coworkers are skills that will help people do well in their jobs,
  • Work ethic – Companies value workers who are dependable, punctual, organized and can work well under pressure.
Soft skills can be rare among employees

A survey of 291 hiring managers conducted in the U.S. in 2016 by LinkedIn revealed that 59% of them considered soft skills difficult to find.

If soft skills are so hard to find, you can set yourself apart by developing some of the most important ones. Think about the job you are looking for and the industry it’s a part of. What soft skills are important to carry out that type of work?

For example, soft skills are particularly important in customer service jobs, whether it’s being a server at a restaurant, working in retail or providing tech support for a product.

While some of the skills are innate personality traits, many of them can be learned and practiced. But how do you that?

Ways to learn soft skills

There are many ways to learn soft skills. These range from community college courses to online tutorials. You can also improve your soft skills by reading books or joining organizations.

Community college courses. Check out the course offerings of your local community college. Many community colleges offer entire course curriculums on soft skills and job readiness.

Toastmasters International. To learn to be a better communicator, you may want to join your local chapter of Toastmasters International. This is an international organization that promotes communication and public speaking skills and has chapters in 141 countries.

Udemy. Online educational company Udemy offers a series of courses on developing soft skills. They’re not free, but the prices are affordable for most people.

Soft Skills Training: A Workbook to Develop Skills for Employment. Frederick A. Wentz wrote this book, which alternates articles and stories about people’s successes with exercises that make students think about the importance of soft skills.

YouTube. YouTube offers many videos on developing soft skills.

Your local public library.  Check with the librarian at your local library for suggested books to read and any online complimentary resources they offer.


From inmate to Leavenworth mayor: An inspiring story of a man who made a unique journey

Leavenworth mayor

Leavenworth Mayor Jermaine Wilson.

While politicians on occasion end up in prison for wrongdoing of one sort or another, Jermaine Wilson took the opposite path. He made it from prison to politics, now serving as the recently appointed mayor of Leavenworth, Kansas

And it’s an inspirational story that shows how someone can turn their life around and use their prison experience to create a better community.

Trouble started early for Wilson. Although raised in a church-going family, he was rebellious, ran away from home and committed his first crime at age 11. After spending six years in juvenile facilities, he returned to his old neighborhood and his so-called friends and started hustling drugs. One night about 18 months later in 2007 he was stopped by a police officer who found drugs in his car, was arrested for possession and ended up spending three years at the Lansing Correctional Facility on a felony conviction.

Dramatic life change in prison

But it was there that Wilson decided to make a drastic change in his life. “I called out to God and accepted the Lord in prison. And for the first time in my life I felt free,” he says. “I started to read the Bible. I started a business plan and came up with the idea of a nonprofit.”

After he was released in 2010, Wilson returned to the prison where he spent time and became a mentor to inmates. He visited churches and the juvenile facility to tell his story.

In 2015, his record was expunged, and he created Unity in the Community, a nonprofit similar to the one that he dreamed up while in prison.

“There was so much racial tension in our society, so we created an organization where whites, blacks and law enforcement could work together so that things would be good,” Wilson says. “We started feeding the homeless and mentoring the youth. A basketball event with the youth versus the local law enforcement got lots of people involved. We wanted everyone to know that it doesn’t matter what your race or occupation might be, but we’re in this together.”

As a result of the work he was doing, people told Wilson that he would be a good leader in the community and asked if he’d ever considered running for public office. No. He hadn’t but decided to try. In 2017 he received the most votes in the election for a spot on the Leavenworth City Commission.

Wilson was appointed mayor pro tem last year and the city’s mayor in January. And he didn’t waste any time putting together an agenda to help those who suffered similar experiences to his own. On his second day in office, Wilson launched a county-wide expungement for all those who were eligible.

“I partnered with the prosecutor. Lawyers provided services pro bono so they could get it done for free. The only charge will be the $190 court fee, which will be waived if applicants can’t afford it,” he says

Fifty people went through the process. The prosecutor processed the applications in mid-March, and court dates are being set.

Prison experience makes him a different sort of politician

There’s no doubt that Wilson is a unique mayor, and he feels his prison experience makes him so. “I know what it’s like to struggle. I know what’s it like to be at rock bottom,” he says. “It helps me to be a voice of the voiceless. With that experience I won’t forget people. I’ll be a representative for all of the people not just one particular group.”

Although his term as mayor only lasts one year, Wilson has other projects he’d like to accomplish. He’d love to get a transitional home for those in reentry and is currently looking for funding. He’d also like to increase the number of entertainment businesses in town, so residents don’t head for Kansas City malls. And, by the way, the north side of Leavenworth needs a grocery store.

Advice for others

What advice does Wilson have for other formerly incarcerated individuals who might want to consider getting involved in politics?

“A lot of us become a product of our environment. If you want be successful don’t be influenced by the things that are around you but be inspired by what’s inside you,” he says. “If you truly want to make a difference serve at every level and every opportunity that’s given to you. The reason that I say that is that I never had any aspirations, but the opportunity was given to me, and I served. And that has opened doors.”

Skills gap among job seekers means those who have the skills will be the ones hired

Skills gap

Human resource managers report that trade skills, like welding, are among the top three skills that are lacking among jobseekers.

Those leaving prison and exploring potential work opportunities may be pleased to know that there are many jobs going unfilled these days. And the job seekers who have developed the skills for certain kinds of work will be the ones who will succeed.

For the first time in more than two decades last year, the number of jobs available outpaced the number of people who were looking for work. According to the Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM), while there were 7 million job openings in the U.S. in December 2018, for example, only 6.3 million unemployed people were searching for employment.

While it appears to be a job seekers market, the opportunities will come to those who have the proper skills.

The Society for Human Resource Management represents 300,000 members in more than 165 countries, making it the world’s largest human resources professional society. Its “2019 State of the Workplace: Exploring the Impact of the Skills Gap and Employment-Based Immigration”  survey found that 83% of respondents had difficulty recruiting suitable candidates in the previous 12 months.

Why U.S.-based human resource managers can’t find suitable candidates

Among the reasons for the difficulty are the facts that:

  • The candidates do not have the right technical skills. (Reported by 35% of respondents.)
  • There was a low number of applicants or a lack of interest in the organization. (Reported by 33% of respondents.)
  • The candidates do not have the right workplace. (soft) skills. (Reported by 30% of respondents.)

While 75% of those with recruiting difficulties feel that applicants lack skills, certain skills – both technical and soft skills – are more in demand than others.

The top three missing technical skills:

  1. Trade skills, including carpentry, machining, welding and plumbing. (Reported by 31% of respondents.)
  2. Data analysis and data science. (Reported by 20% of respondents.)
  3. Science, engineering and medical. (Reported by 18% of respondents.)

The top three missing soft skills:

  1. Problem solving, creativity, innovation and critical thinking. (Reported by 37% of respondents.)
  2. Ability to deal with ambiguity and complexity. (Reported by 32% of respondents.)
  3. Communication. (Reported by 30% of respondents.)

As far as the skills gap, things are getting worse. More than half of the respondents to the SHRM survey reported that the shortage of skills has either worsened or dramatically worsened during the previous two years. Less than 10% found any improvement.

The Society for Human Resource Management’s skills gap survey was completed by 1,028 U.S.-based SHRM members between September 12 and 26, 2018.

The moral of this story

While there are increasing opportunities available for job seekers, those who succeed are the ones who are able to develop both the hard – and soft – skills that will set them apart.

But one must be realistic regarding what can be done and what aspects of one’s personality can be changed. As Marty Nemko a leading thought leader in career counseling, points out in his article, The Malleability Myth, “geneticists are finding: much of who we are is hard-wired.”  And he goes on to say, “I’ve been most successful helping clients find careers and jobs in which their strengths are valued and their weaknesses are of minimal consequence.”

This is good advice for all job hunters. Find the work that fits you. But at the same time do what you can to improve your skills.

If you have a criminal record and are looking for work, don’t ever give up

Caroline Trude-Rede

Caroline Trude-Rede

Looking for work if you have a criminal record can be a Herculean task. One that requires more than a little out-of-the-box thinking. And perseverance that compels you to never give up no matter what it takes.

A woman in Florida named Caroline Trude-Rede is a perfect example of this. She left a comment on our Facebook page, and we knew from what she wrote that her story needed to be told.

Her message: Never take “no” for an answer. If you think you’re the right person for a job, make sure they know it. And don’t let them turn you down just because you have a record.

Here’s her story. The reason for her felony conviction and incarceration is a bit complicated, but it has to do with the fact that she received Veteran’s Administration benefits based on her father’s military service. The payments, which she thought were like a pension that would continue to be given to her, were actually supposed to stop at her mother’s death in 2003. The result was a felony charge of grand theft and a six-month sentence in federal prison – FMC Carswell in Fort Worth, Texas – that began in January 2018. Up until that time she had never been arrested for anything.

But like most others with felony convictions, surviving prison wasn’t her only challenge. After release, she needed to find a job, not only to pay the bills but because her probation required that she work 32 hours per week.

Two-hundred applications, 10 interviews and no job

So Trude-Rede applied for about 200 jobs during the 3-1/2 months between the time of her release and until she became employed. She applied for a variety of types of work, including taking orders at Panera Bread, answering phones in call centers and stocking items at places like Target and Sam’s Club.

“I was willing to take anything to get employed. I have two college degrees and I was applying for jobs at entry level just to try and get a foot in the door,” she says.

Although Trude-Rede had about 10 interviews, no one would hire her, not even Universal Studios, where she had previously worked for five years in a professional position in the creative department.

And then she interviewed for a graphic designer position at an architectural firm. The interview – which was conducted by her direct boss, the president of the firm and a potential coworker – went well, and she knew that she was the perfect candidate for the job. In fact, she thought she would get it.

Trude-Rede brought up her felony conviction in the interview, but the president of the company had already left, after saying, “I see all I need to see. She is perfectly capable of doing the job.”

The human resources department then emailed her a form to complete for a background check. But 10 days after the original interview, she received an email stating that they had gone a different way.

She refused to take “no” for an answer

When she saw that the position was reposted online a few days later, however, she decided to take action. She refused to take “no” for an answer.

Trude-Rede sent an email stating why she’s the person they should hire. In the email, she included a link to an article on her blog explaining her incarceration, said that she’d never had any interaction with law enforcement before that point and mentioned all the things she had accomplished in prison.

In addition she explained the Federal Bonding Program that protects businesses from financial or property loss that might incur from hiring workers in “at risk” groups and mentioned that his company could also qualify for tax breaks and/or credits if they hire her.

And it worked. She sent the email on Friday, and on Monday she had a response and invitation to interview with the firm’s CEO/owner.

“He started off (the interview) by thanking me for my email and said that he was impressed by my tenacity. The fact that I wanted the job so much and was so determined was extremely impressive to him,” Trude-Rede said. “He also appreciated my honesty and candor. He said he wasn’t quite sure that everything went down exactly how I explained the story, but my frankness about everything was refreshing.”

The next day she received an offer letter and is now very happily employed. “I absolutely love the company. Not just because they took a chance on me, but I truly fit in there. I am not treated any differently by anyone who knows my story and was given a Christmas bonus after only being there three weeks,” she says.

The moral of this story

“Job seekers with a felony on their record should never give up on themselves or their dreams,” Trude-Rede says. “If they want to go back to school because they would like to do something they need a degree for and are worried about employment afterwards with the felony, I say go for it.”

“You define who you are, not what you did in the past. Be humble. Be brave. Know that it is going to be hard, but we all start somewhere. Take chances. A few minutes of courage could change your life. A five-minute email changed mine.”

From the editor: In preparation for interviewing, we suggest that you check out our interview tips, including how to create a turnaround talk and turnaround packet. Preparation and having a plan can make a big difference between getting a job offer or not. Good luck!


Getting Talent Back to Work initiative encourages companies to hire those with criminal records

Getting Talent Back to WorkIn a long-overdue effort, the Society for Human Research Management (SHRM) has launched Getting Talent Back to Work. This national initiative encourages companies to change their hiring practices to include recruiting those with criminal records.

Associations and companies that represent more than 60 percent of the U.S. workforce – the National Restaurant Association, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the American Staffing Association and the National Retail Association, among others – have committed to the effort.

And you can too by signing the Getting Back to Work pledge.

Getting Back to Work follows the First Step Act, bipartisan criminal justice reform, passed by the U.S. Congress late last year. And it joins other longer running campaigns like Ban the Box and President Obama’s “Take the Fair Chance Pledge” in bringing national attention to giving those with a criminal record a second chance.

It’s time to eliminate the stigma of incarceration

“This is a group we, as business leaders, cannot afford to overlook as one in three adults in the United States currently has a criminal background,” says Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., SHRM’s CEO. “Not only is it the right thing to do – to give a deserving person a second chance – but it is becoming imperative as businesses continue to experience recruiting difficulty at an alarming rate.”

Richard Wahlquist, president and CEO of the American Staffing Association agrees. “Now is the time to quash the stigma of incarceration,” he says. “Employers need to embrace greater inclusivity when recruiting and hiring, and give qualified individuals a second chance at success in life – particularly when the U.S. labor market is the tightest in history.”

Not only is the labor market tight, but many companies say that people from this population make good, dependable employees. In a study by Northwestern University researchers found that employees with records have a lower turnover rate than those without. An ACLU report, “Back to Business: How Hiring Formerly Incarcerated Job Seekers Benefits Your Company,” came to the same conclusion.

And most managers and employees alike are willing to hire and work with people who have criminal records. A recent study commissioned by the SHRM and the Charles Koch Institute found that only:

  • 26% of managers and 14% of human resource professionals are unwilling to hire individuals with criminal records. (An additional 2% of H.R. professionals refuse to hire them.)
  • 13% of non-managers, 15% of managers and 26% of human resource professionals are unwilling to work with them. (Another 2% of H.R. professionals refuse to work with them.)
Why consider those with criminal records

A brief YouTube video produced by SHRM outlines why human resource managers should consider applicants with criminal records. The reasons for considering them are:

  • To address labor shortages due to low unemployment rates, an aging population and unavailability of skilled workers.
  • To avoid discrimination claims under state and federal law.
  • To reinforce fairness in our culture.
  • To reduce the social costs of recidivism.
  • To improve the GDP, which is reduced by $78 to $87 billion annually as a result of excluding formerly incarcerated job seekers from the workplace. States that lower recidivism by just 10% could save an average of $635 million annually.
Toolkit guides companies that want to hire those with criminal records

And so, beyond signing the Getting Back to Pledge, what can companies do to increase their hiring of formerly incarcerated job seekers and those with criminal records?

Based upon an extensive body of research and evidence-based practices from thousands of enterprises, SHRM developed a resource toolkit designed to guide businesses as they commit to hiring more employees with criminal records.

The “Getting Talent Back to Work Toolkit: The Resources You Need to Advance the Hiring of Workers with a Criminal Background” takes people through the process and includes:

  • A quiz to determine how much one knows about background checks in hiring decisions.
  • Tips for using criminal records in hiring decisions.
  • Information on how to handle an applicant’s criminal record if it comes up in an interview.
  • Information on how to determine the nature and seriousness of an offense.
  • Tips for conducting a risk analysis of hiring someone with a record.

The toolkit also incorporates links to a wide variety of resources, including:

  • EEOC guidance and tips.
  • Ban the Box laws by state and municipality.
  • A Fair Credit Reporting Act Compliance Checklist.
  • A checklist for selecting a reliable Background Checking Company.
  • General resources on how to carry out an interview
  • Incentives and support, including the Work Opportunity Tax Credit and the Federal Bonding Program

Now you know that by hiring those with criminal records you can be part of a national effort to reinforce fair hiring practices, reduce the social costs of recidivism and improve the nation’s GDP. With that in mind, please help us spread the word among your colleagues and business partners, and encourage them to use the Society for Human Research Management ‘s Getting Talent Back to Work resources.

Code for America’s Clear My Record to revolutionize criminal record clearance practices

Clear My RecordImagine the effect that automatically clearing hundreds of thousands of eligible criminal records would have on the lives of people who have them. Those unable to get jobs because of mistakes they made in the past would now be record free. Imagine that.

Considering the hassle and expense that people must go through to clear their records, it almost seems unbelievable. But it’s not. Technology has the capability to “download rap sheets in bulk, algorithmically, read them to determine eligibility and automatically fill out the petitions for the court,” according to Code for America. Code for America is a San Francisco-headquartered nonprofit organization that employs technology to help governments improve what they do.

And Code for America is proving that the automatic clearance of criminal records can be accomplished with its Clear My Record venture.

Clear My Record has connected 10,000 people with attorneys

In April 2016, Code for America launched Clear My Record (now referred to as Classic). The online tool helps people to reduce or dismiss their convictions, if they occurred in one of the 14 participating California counties. After spending 10 minutes to fill out an online application, those who use the tool will be connected to a public defender or legal aid attorney to continue the process. In the nearly three years since it was launched, Clear My Record has connected more than 10,000 people with attorneys.

After finding success with Clear My Record, Code for America decided to dramatically expand the record clearing process with Clear My Record (Automatic). The goal of this pilot project launched last May is to clear 250,000 convictions by the end of 2019.

Technology can clear all eligible criminal records

“Code for America launched Clear My Record (Automatic) to show it is possible for the government to automatically clear all eligible criminal records,” says Alia Toran-Burrell, senior program manager for Clear My Record.We built the core technology that uses optical character recognition to read a criminal record, then maps data to determine eligibility for relief under the applicable statute, and completes the appropriate forms to be filed with the court.”

The nonprofit is partnering with district attorneys in three to five California counties to work on record clearance or reduction remedies available under Proposition 64. California Proposition 64 (the Adult Use of Marijuana Act), a voter initiative legalizing the use of cannabis in California, became law in November 2016.

“With the passage of California AB 1793 (Bonta), which mandates that counties expedite their review of all convictions eligible for relief under Proposition 64, district attorneys must now review thousands of records by May 2020,” says Toran-Burrell. “The Code for America Automatic Record Clearance pilot cohort are setting the standard for how counties implement AB 1793 and provide record clearance relief to hundreds of thousands of Californians.”

Code for America plans to expand efforts beyond California

“Building upon our work in California and as part of a national bipartisan movement, we are helping government rethink its approach to record clearance. We are working to write the blueprint on how to use technology and human-centered design to advance automatic record clearance across the nation and remove a significant barrier to jobs, housing, and education for millions,” says Toran-Burrell.

And clearing all convictions eligible under Proposition 64 is just the beginning. “We are looking forward to expanding our work to other record clearance remedies in California and in states across the country,” she adds.

This work has already begun with a partnership with the Philadelphia District Attorney’s office to implement the newly passed Clean Slate Act in Pennsylvania.

“At Code for America, we believe that contact with the criminal justice system should not be a life sentence,” she says. And her organization, through its Clear My Record initiative, is doing everything it can to make sure that happens.

Drevno receives Jefferson Award for his work with Jails to Jobs tattoo removal program

Jefferson AwardMark Drevno, founder and executive director of Jails to Jobs, has received the Jefferson Award for Public Service for his work to help those leaving prison, ex-gang members and victims of human trafficking remove their visible anti-social tattoos.

The award, given by KPIX,  the San Francisco Bay Area CBS owned and operated television station, recognizes those who make a contribution to their local community. Drevno’s award was featured on both  KPIX-TV CBS television and KCBS radio.  Here is a link to the television video of the broadcast.

The Jefferson Awards were established in 1972 by Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Senator Robert Taft, Jr., and Sam Beard to celebrate greatness in service.

Jails to Jobs tattoo removal program

Drevno, who founded Jails to Jobs in 2012, led the organization in its launch of a tattoo removal program. Based on the tremendous interest in articles focusing on tattoo removal on the organization’s website, Jails to Jobs had created a national directory of free and low-cost tattoo removal programs, which now has over 300 programs in 42 states. Since it was incorporated into the J2J website six years ago, the directory has helped thousands of people find tattoo removal programs that are free or low-cost.

In late 2017, Jails to Jobs took its tattoo removal efforts one step further by establishing its own program. The organization works with a number of local health care providers to remove visible anti-social and gang related tattoos from its clients.

In the first year or so since the program was launched, Jails to Jobs has been a resource for nearly 200 people in getting their tattoos removed. Those in the San Francisco Bay Area with anti-social or gang-related and human trafficking tattoos who would like to participate are welcome apply by email.

Once approved, they are set up with the first of what will be a series of appointments. It can take a number of sessions to remove tattoos, depending on how long a person has had a tattoo, whether it was done by an amateur or a professional, where it is located on someone’s body, skin type and the colors of the tattoo.

Benefits of tattoo removal

But no matter how long the process, tattoo removal is an essential step for intrinsically motivated individuals who have anti-social or gang-related tattoos. Without taking this step, it will be difficult for them to launch a new life and be successful in their search for employment and beyond.

We’ve learned that many of those who have gone through tattoo removal compare their experience to an awakening of sorts. Like the clearing of a new path, reconnecting with their best self. Washing away the symbols of an identity they no longer wish to embrace and freeing themselves. Freeing themselves for new opportunities. For a chance at employment. For many it offers the possibility to be a good role model, especially for their children and young relatives. To show them that there is a better way to live.

And Jails to Jobs is determined to be a resource in the process. In order to do that for an increasing number of people, the organization plans to expand its program by adding more health care providers and extra clinic days.

In the meantime, we’d like to thank CBS for recognizing us for the work we do.

Learn how to manage your money by taking a free online course offered by Goodwill

manage your moneyOnce out of prison, one of your first priorities will be to find a job. But then what? How about learning to manage your money?

How do you manage the money you earn? How will you handle your expenses as well as possible? You may have to come up with rent for a place to live, money for a car or transportation and possibly deal with child support payments or have debts to pay off.

If you’ve been in prison for a while, your finance handling skills may be a bit rusty and in need of an upgrade. But don’t worry. There’s an excellent money management course – the best basic one we found online – offered free of charge by the Goodwill Community Foundation. Yes, it’s the same Goodwill that operates thrift stores. But this program, GCFLearnFree.org, is produced in coordination with Goodwill Industries of Eastern North Carolina.

The tutorial, as the organization calls its online classes, is called Money Basics, and the lessons are broken down into four areas:

  • Money management
  • Banking and retirement
  • Money in the marketplace
  • Extras

The lessons are very basic and explain everything in an easily understandable way. They also include links to online resources that provide even more information.

If you take the tutorial, you will begin by looking at how you manage money and if you need to make any changes in the way you do it. There’s a quiz to determine how much you know about basic finances and eight steps to take to better manage your money.

Some of the lessons and what you might learn in them

Creating a budget explains what a budget is and how to create one. It includes a budget worksheet listing all the things you might need to pay for and a math tutorial for those weak in the numbers department. There are tips for things that can help you stay within your budget, like making sure the price of an item is the best you can find, shopping at thrift stores and not eating out as much.

Credit goes into detail about loans and credit cards, how to chose a credit card and what you need to know about credit reports. It also includes a calculator to estimate the actual cost of a loan at various interest rates.

Staying out of debt defines debt and helps you decide whether you have too much. It explains credit counseling and bankruptcy and gives tips on how to stay solvent.

Other lessons cover such crucial information as banks and credit unions, exactly what you need to do to open a checking account and how to deal with ATMs, and learning to put money away in a savings account.

Four lessons deal with things that are purchased or rented

Shopping teaches how to comparison shop and get the best deals.

Buying a car will help you establish a budget, research the type of vehicle you’d like to buy, learn how to negotiate and determine what the car will really cost after everything is added together.

Finding a place to rent teaches those looking for a place to live how to explore the options and includes a list of questions to ask a potential landlord.

Buying a house covers whether you can afford to and, if so, how to find one, make an offer and get a loan.

This Money Basics tutorial can be completed at your own pace, so it’s not clear how long it will take you. But spend the time, and you will be more knowledgeable about money-related matters and better able to get your financial life back in gear.

To learn even more about money management, click here.


Free online courses can help you improve your basic knowledge and skills

free online coursesYou’re just getting out of prison or jail and eager to boost your knowledge and skills to be better prepared for the job market. Maybe you started your educational endeavor while still incarcerated by getting a GED or learning various skills from classes that were offered. Or possibly you even earned a two- or four-year college degree.

No matter what your situation, however, you can usually upgrade your skills and marketability. Whether you want to improve your basic knowledge in math and English, prepare to enter a community college program, get tips on how to search for a job or just learn about a subject that interests you, there are a multitude of free online courses available free of charge.

These are not the super sophisticated MOOC (massive open online courses) offered by universities through the likes of Audacity, Lynda and Coursera. Rather, for the most part, they provide more basic education for those who need to catch up.

Best free online courses for basic knowledge and skills

Here are a few of the best examples:

Khan Academy  — As a nonprofit organization, Khan Academy has helped educate thousands of students around the world with its online courses in math, science, computer programming and other subjects. The instruction is done by using videos, which have been viewed more than 1.6 billion times. Need to improve your knowledge of math? There are  courses in types of math, like arithmetic and geometry. In addition, math is taught by grade level, from kindergarten through high school.  Khan Academy even has a section on careers with videos of people who work in those jobs, what they do, how much they make and other details.

YouTube Learning – It’s still just a year old, but YouTube Learning is building its connections to educational channels and offers a growing number of courses that include technology and digital skills, how to get better at math, launching and running a business, and career advice.

Google Digital Garage – If you would like to become up to speed on Python programming, or learn the basics of code, the fundamentals of graphic design or other things digital, head for Google Digital Garage. While at the garage, you can also check out career courses on such subjects as landing your next job or business communications. While many of the classes are just one-hour long, some are 20 hours or more.

Learn my Way – For those who have no computer experience, the British website Learn My Way includes a comprehensive course with many lessons on how to use one. It includes tutorials on everything from how to use a mouse and creating documents to using search engines and keeping your personal data safe.

California Community Colleges Online Education Initiative – Want to enroll in junior college but feel your basic knowledge of math and English could use improvement? The California Community Colleges Online Education Initiative has created an excellent list of resources for underprepared students. This list includes videos on improving grammar, how to evaluate the validity of a website for research purposes and understanding various mathematical principles.

Microsoft training – Those not up to speed on Word or Excel, two programs that most businesses use on a daily basis, can get free training at the online Microsoft 365 Training Center. Brief tutorials teach users how to create and edit documents and perform other functions. There is also training programs for PowerPoint and other Microsoft products.

Although there are other educational sites out there, these are the best free sites we know of to get you started. Hopefully they will help you improve your basic skills and provide knowledge that will give you the confidence to go out and get a job.

How to get things done — and find a job

How to get things doneA job search for many is not just a full-time job. It can be a monumental task. There are so many things that need to be done that at times it may be difficult to determine how they will all be completed.

With a little bit of planning and the use of various techniques and practices, however, you will be able to develop a way to get things done effectively and efficiently – and find the job that’s right for you.

Here are some of our favorites. The most important ones for an effective job search are the to-do list and personal kanban, and we suggest you employ those for sure. After that, pick those items from the rest of the list that you feel will be most helpful.

Create a comprehensive to-do list for your job search

Include everything that needs to be done. Take items off that list as often as necessary for your short term to-do list, and as you accomplish the tasks cross them off.

Set deadlines

As part of your to-do list create deadlines for when the tasks should be completed. These deadlines may need to be flexible, but they will give you guidelines and help to keep you on track.

Put together a to-don’t list

This will include all the things you shouldn’t be doing as you search for a job, like playing video games, watching television, spending time on social media, surfing the web mindlessly or whatever else you may like to do but shouldn’t.

Employ personal kanban

This unique form of visualizing and processing your work was inspired by a Japanese technique that was created by Toyota in the 1940s. It makes sure you don’t tackle too many things at once. Here’s how it works: Create a white board or bulletin board with three columns “To do,” “In progress,” “Done.” Decide what tasks you need to work on and post them on cards or sticky notes in the first column. Move no more than three of these to the “In progress” column and concentrate solely on them. When complete, move them to the third column. This process helps you visualize what needs to be done and concentrate on the one, two or three tasks you want to work on at any particular moment.

Break a task down

If you’re doing something that seems overwhelming, break it into smaller steps. Make a list, and as you do each of them, you’ll accomplish the larger task.

Tackle the things you don’t want to do first

Maybe you dread making cold calls to hiring managers at the companies you’ve included on your list of potential employers. You decided to call 10 a day, so do that first.

Try doing just one thing

Multitasking is overrated and doesn’t make for efficiency. Concentrate on a single task and put your full attention to it.

Perform a one-minute or two-minute task

Some people like to do a one-minute task, while others a two-minute task. Either way, the point is to just do something quickly. And if it doesn’t work in a minute or two, figure out how to do it differently or ask someone for help.

Refuse to be distracted

Resist the urge to check your personal email, texts and especially social media feeds. These things can be incredibly distracting and take time away from your more important job search.

Handle email efficiently

Read it, respond to it and/or add anything that needs to be taken care of to your to-do list. If you need the info for reference, file the email away.

Get seven or eight hours of sleep every night

Go to bed early and get up early, so you will be ready to tackle the day.

Take breaks

Do something you like to do, like take a walk, have a snack or make a quick call to a friend. These activities will revitalize you and help you be more productive.

Don’t break the chain

Do like Jerry Seinfeld did and keep a paper calendar. Each day you accomplish what you set out to do put a big X through the day. Don’t cheat, and don’t break the chain.

Create a vision poster

Take a piece of poster board and cut out pictures from magazines or print them out from online websites. Pictures of a house you might be able to buy if you get a job, the beach vacation you might be able to take, a picture of your significant other or your children. Anything to inspire you. Put this in a place where you will see it every day as an inspiration and a reminder of what can happen if you reach your goals.

Learn how to say no

Don’t overcommit yourself to socializing with friends or doing everything they might want you to do. “No” is a very effective word, and will help you stay on track with the things you really need to do.

We’ve listed a few of the things you can do to make sure you accomplish what you need to in order to conduct an effective job search.

Maybe you have some others that you’d like to share with our readers. We would love to hear from you.