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Next Step Academy | Life Skills

Asking for References

October 19th, 2016 by

Whether you’re applying to a new school or a new job, at some point you may need a reference. This could be a written reference submitted with an application or a contact a potential employer will reach out to. In either case, there are guidelines to follow when asking someone for a reference.

Make sure you ask. If you’re asking someone to be reference that a potential employer is going to call, make sure you remember to actually ask! Otherwise, they may be totally unprepared for the phone call. This can reflect poorly on you on both ends and you may not get the shining reference you were hoping for.

Ask the right way. For a professor or past employer, an email is a sufficient way to ask for a written reference. However, make sure you ask the right way. Tell them about the school or the position you are applying for, how the opportunity will help you build your future and make sure you emphasize how grateful you are for their help. Sign the email with “Thank you for time and I look forward to your response” or something similar. If the reference is going to be called, you may want to consider asking them to be a reference with a phone call as well.

Give enough notice. Start asking for references before you start applying for jobs, internships or schools. Especially when you’re looking for jobs, the hiring process can be quick, so it’s good to nail down references ahead of time.

If you know you a need a written reference by a certain time, it’s good to give the person you ask a minimum of two weeks to write it but typically don’t give them longer than four. You want to give them enough time to write a good reference, but you don’t want to give them so much time they forget. It’s also a good idea to give them a deadline of a  week or two before you actually need it, giving you a little extra time just in case.

Follow up. After your written reference has been submitted or you’ve submitted your application, send a note or email thanking your reference once again for their help. Also make sure you tell them each time you use them as a reference so they can be prepared. When you land the job, are accepted to your dream school or receive an internship, make sure you follow up once again telling your reference the outcome. This is a great way to maintain a relationship and they’ll love to hear how they helped you achieve your goals.

Before you send an email asking for a reference, brush up on your professional writing skills with Next Step Academy’s “Business Writing” course!

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Transferring to a Four Year College

October 17th, 2016 by

It still feels like the fall semester just began, but if you’re considering transferring to a four-year school next year it’s already time to start the application process. Here’s how to get started:

6260836872_3581b1512d_bChoose a school. Beginning the college search all over again may seem like a daunting task, but it’s often easier the second the time around. You’ll likely already know the best resources and college search websites available. Also, look back at the schools you considered the first time and see if any of those are still a good fit.

Most two-year schools also have a transfer center that can provide you with information and help you find the best options for your major. Once you’ve considered all of your options, choose at least two to apply to.

Do your research. This is another area where your school’s transfer center can be a big help. You need to make sure the schools you want to apply to have an articulation agreement with your current school and will take the credits you’ve already earned. This will ensure you stay on track to graduate two years after you transfer.

Know the requirements. You’ll need to verify that your GPA is high enough to transfer and whether there are any supplemental materials needed to apply. Depending on your major, you may need to submit a portfolio or collection of previous work. If the school or program you are applying to is highly competitive, you may also want to consider asking professors to write you a reference.

Apply. Mark application deadlines on your calendar and make sure you submit all of your materials on time. Most schools allow you to track your application online, but if you don’t receive a direct confirmation from the school that your application was submitted, you may want to send a follow up email to make sure the school got it.

Need more transfer advice? Take Next Step Academy’s course “How to Transfer to a 4-year School

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The Dos and Don’ts of Productivity

October 10th, 2016 by

You arrive at work coffee-buzzed and ready to get to business. Then sometime after lunch the caffeine wears off and the end of the work day seems further away than it did in the morning. Even if you love your job, it can tough to stay motivated and productive. Here are a couple of ways to stay on-task and focused during the day.

Do: Take regular short breaks

It may sound counterproductive to take breaks in order to be more productive. However, a quick walk around the office or chat at the water cooler helps break up the day and gives your mind a rest. No matter what, always take your lunch break to refuel for the afternoon.

images1Don’t: Reach for another cup of coffee

Drinking coffee in the afternoon can affect your quality of sleep, causing you to wake up feeling sluggish and drinking more and more coffee to compensate. This creates a vicious cycle of poor sleep and caffeine consumption. Studies show that the optimal time to consumer coffee is three to six hours after you wake up. If you wake up at 6:00 in the morning, drink coffee between 9 and 12, but cut yourself off in the afternoon.

Do: Create a to do list and stick to it

At the beginning of each work day, spend a few minutes creating a to do list. Assess how long each project will take and be realistic about how much time you have to complete your list. A checklist can help you remember all the little things you need to do and keep you on track throughout the day.

Don’t: Multitask

When you start a task, make sure you finish it. Do not go back and forth between different projects or try to do multiple things at once. Nobody can truly multitask and it will just leave you feeling burned out. You’ll most likely spend more time working trying to multitask than if you start and finish one item at a time.

Do: Avoid distractions

Keep your work area clear and don’t open up browsers unless you need them. You might say you’ll only check social media for five minutes, but that can easily turn into half an hour. If it helps, there are browser extensions such as Work Mode for Google Chrome that can block websites for a set amount of time. This way you won’t be tempted to check your feed or watch the most recent viral video.

Don’t: Stay late

Finishing up a project after normal work hours once in awhile is okay, but don’t make it a habit. You should have a set time where you pack up and leave everyday. You’ll be more productive and realistic about how much work you can get done in a day if you give yourself limits. If you work from home or have a flexible  schedule, make one for yourself and stick to it.

Need more help staying productive? Take Next Step Academy’s “Time Management” course!

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Networking 101

October 3rd, 2016 by

When it comes to building a business or finding new career opportunities, who you know can be the most important tool for growth.  Networking is a necessity for making connections and establishing relationships with people in your industry. There are different ways to network, each with their own set of benefits and uses.

Dell Women's Entrepreneur Network event - NYCTraditional networking events. With a simple internet search, you can find plenty of networking events — held as frequently as every week — in your area. These traditional networking events usually take the form of a speaker or presentation with a meet and greet afterwards. These types of events are best for meeting new people, especially if you’ve just graduated and don’t know anyone in the industry.

Hosting your own event. If you are already established in your industry and want to make a few new connections or acquire new clients, host your own smaller networking event. Invite clients, business partners or former coworkers and perhaps ask them to invite a few people of their own. Plan an activity that your guests will enjoy. This can be attending a musical, going to a sporting event or even a wine tasting. Even if you don’t gain a new connection from the event, it’s still a great way to strengthen the connections you already have.

Double “dating.” A double “date” (not an actual date) in the business world has the same effect as hosting your own networking event, but on a smaller scale. If you have extra tickets to a show, invite a current client, connection, or strategic partner to go along with you. Ask them to bring someone they think you should meet and you’ll do the same. This is a great opportunity to make an ideal connection you may not have met otherwise.

Reconnecting. This strategy is meant for following up with connections you haven’t spoken with in a while, whether it’s a former professor, classmate or coworker. You and your current connections likely run in the same circles. Meeting up with old connections can be a great way to break out and meet people outside of your current network.

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Finding College Scholarships

September 30th, 2016 by

Finding scholarships can seem like a daunting task, but there are plenty of opportunities available to you. In fact, a 2015 study conducted by NerdWallet found that over $2.9 billion in scholarships and aid went unclaimed during the 2013-2014 school year. The money is out there, you just need to know where to look.

Your first step is submitting the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), which tells you how much in federal aid you qualify for based on income, among other factors. For the 2017-2018 school year, the FAFSA opens on October 1st with the priority deadline being December 1st. These dates are earlier than previous years, as the FAFSA is undergoing several changes to make it easier for students to receive aid.

Next, check out scholarship matching websites. Sites such as Fastweb.com or Scholarships.com ask you to fill out personal information and then find you scholarships that fit your needs and qualifications. These sites often provide a direct link to the scholarship website or application. Also when you’re searching, try to think of what makes you unique. There are scholarships based on gender, cultural background, religion, even height!

While you can qualify for some scholarships based solely on an application, many scholarships require a little work on your part. You may need to provide examples of experience, write a short essay or take part in an event. Take note of all application deadlines and read scholarship rules carefully to make sure you are meeting all the requirements before you submit the application.

Lastly, don’t be afraid to apply for scholarships or grants because you think you won’t qualify. Additionally, don’t discount local scholarships just because they aren’t as lucrative as the $10,000 sweeps contests. You have a much better chance when there is a smaller pool of applicants, and every dollar counts when it comes to finding money for your education.

Most of the $2.9 billion in unclaimed aid went unclaimed simply because students didn’t apply. Take advantage of every opportunity that is out there.

Looking for more help funding your education? Check out our Paying for College course to learn more!

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Five Tips for Eating Healthy in College

September 21st, 2016 by

Avoiding the dreaded Freshman Fifteen can be a challenge in college. Junk food is readily available, dining halls tend to be all you can eat and for the first time you have the freedom to eat ice cream for dinner if you really want to. Don’t let yourself from unhealthy habits. Keep yourself accountable with these 5 tips for eating healthy in college.  

cereal-1474496_960_720Don’t keep junk food in your dorm room. When you’re working on a paper late at night and you need a snack, you’re going to eat whatever is around. Only keep healthy snacks in your dorm room to prevent yourself from snacking on junk all night long. Need some inspiration? Try apples and peanut butter, veggies and hummus, baked corn chips and salsa, or trail mix (heavy on the nuts and seeds, light on the dried fruit and chocolate)

Keep a snack in your pack. Pack a granola bar or other prepackaged healthy snack in your bag at all times. When you’re rushing to your next class and the urge to snack hits you, it’ll prevent you from grabbing a chocolate bar or chips from the vending machine.

Fill half of your plate with fruit/veggies first. When you’re eating in the dining hall, it’s easy to fill up your plate with pasta, pizza and the special of the day before you even see the salad bar. To prevent yourself from overeating and loading up on the unhealthy meals offered, hit the salad bar first and fill up at least half your plate. If you’re still hungry afterwards, you can always get more.

Don’t drink your calories. The unlimited juice and soda available in the dining halls is extremely tempting, but you’ll end up consuming a lot of unnecessary calories. Keep a reusable water bottle with you at all times and fill up throughout the day. Limit your soda consumption to weekends or when you’re dining out.

Eat breakfast in the dorm. Opt for a lower meal plan and eat breakfast in the dorm. Breakfast food tends to be cheap. So in addition to eating healthier breakfasts every day, you may also end up saving money in the long run. Buy food like eggs, fruit, yogurt and granola — food that doesn’t take long to prep, but will fill you up until lunch. Strapped for cash? Fruit is available all day in the dining hall, so fill your backpack up at dinner and you have breakfast for the week.

Looking to build healthier habits? Take Next Step Academy’s Fitness course!

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Preparing for a Skype Interview

September 19th, 2016 by

Remote interviews are becoming more common and acceptable. From a business perspective, it makes sense: an interview over Skype can save valuable time and money. There’s a good chance a Skype interview could be in your future, so it’s important to know how to prepare.11075028576_6b76d4878c_b

Set Up. Make sure you have Skype set up a few days ahead of time and that everything is working properly. Troubleshoot your camera and microphone to make sure the picture and sound is clear. Also be sure that you will be centered on the screen and not off to the side. Lastly, make sure wherever you plan to interview that you have a strong Wi-Fi connection or you can plug into the Ethernet to ensure a good connection throughout the whole interview.

Lighting. When setting up your camera, consider the time of day and the amount of light that will be available. If your interview is at a time with no natural light or if you’re in a room without windows, you may want to consider setting up a lamp so the image isn’t so dark. However, you also don’t want so much light that your face becomes washed out or uneven light where half your face is in shadow.

Background. Keep your surroundings and the background of what will be in view of the camera clear of clutter.  Sit in front of a plain wall and make sure your desk or table is clean. Remove posters and knick-knacks from view.

Attire. Even though you aren’t meeting in person for the interview, proper attire is still important. Read our blog about dressing for the interview for more tips on proper attire. It’s also important to note that even though the interviewer most likely won’t see your bottom half, doesn’t mean you can wear sweatpants. Putting on a complete and professional outfit will put you in the right mindset for the interview.

Body Language. It can be easy to lose focus when you aren’t being interviewed in-person, so be mindful of distractions. Keep pets locked up and ask roommates or family to stay quiet during the interview. The interviewer can only see you from the chest up, so sit up straight and be aware of tapping and fidgeting in your seat.

For more ways to prepare for your career, take one of the professional courses at HR.nextstepacademy.com

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The Job Search

September 12th, 2016 by

Whether you just graduated or are just looking for a change of pace, there is a lot to consider when looking for a job. Here are the four biggest areas you need to keep in mind during the job search process.

14089983055_af729e023b_bLocation. Before you start looking for jobs, you need to consider how far you’re willing to commute to work everyday. Would you commute an hour or possibly relocate for the perfect job? If not, you need to decide what is an acceptable commute and search for jobs within that distance.

Reputation. Does the company you’re applying to have a good reputation? Do they offer benefits and treat their employees well? When considering a job you need to look at the environment the company creates. Websites like Glassdoor.com allow you read reviews by past employees to get a good indication of how you’ll be treated as an employee if you get hired at the company in question.

Qualifications. You need to be honest with yourself about your experience and abilities, meaning you should look for jobs seeking candidates with your skill set. However, that doesn’t mean you should ignore all positions that you don’t qualify for 100 percent. It’s good to reach for opportunities. For example, if a job opportunity is seeking someone with 3 years experience in the field and you only have 1 but earned a lot of experience in the process, still give it a shot and apply. However, if a job requires a master’s degree and you only have an associate degree, that may be too far of a stretch.

Personal Satisfaction. Money and benefits are important, but so is your personal satisfaction. If you don’t love the work you’re doing, it’s going to be hard to get up early every day for work, no matter how large of a paycheck you get at the end of the week. Make sure you are clear about the type of work you’ll be doing if you get hired. Also consider the ethics, goals and purpose of the company. If the company’s ethics don’t fall in line with your own personal ethics, then it may be personally taxing to work there every day.

Looking to find out what career is right for you? Take a course at Next Step Academy to find out if it would be a good fit.

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Three Notetaking Methods to Help You This Semester

September 7th, 2016 by

If this is your first semester in college, or if you haven’t been in school for some time, then your note taking skills may be a little rusty. Here are three of the most popular note taking methods to help you start the semester strong. Remember, different note taking methods work better for different types of learners. Try out a couple and see what works best for you.

Outline Method

Ideal For: Taking notes from presentation outlines provided by the professor, such as a slide show; Taking notes from written material

With the Outline Method, notes are written in an organized layout based on indentation that mimics an outline.

First you write the main topic or general points of the lecture. Then indent the line below the main topic and write subtopics, indent again and record supporting details beneath each subtopic. When the professor introduces a new main topic, go back to the left side of the page and start again.

Mapping

Ideal For: Content heavy lectures; Lectures with an unknown structure

The Mapping Method is similar to the Outline Method, but is visual and nonlinear.

Use boxes, bubbles or other shapes to outline main ideas, then draw arrows to subtopics and supporting details. This method makes it easy to highlight important points and show direct relationships between information. It works really well for visual learners and allows you to separate topics and information by shapes and color.

Cornell Method

Ideal For: Producing summaries and remembering key ideas; Studying for exams

The Cornell Method has you divide your note page into three sections, providing you with space for note-taking and review.

The first section is created by drawing a horizontal line 2 inches from the bottom of your page. The remaining space at the top of the page is divided again by drawing a vertical line 2.5 inches from the left hand side of the page.

The largest section is where you record notes during the lecture. Within 24 hours after the lecture, use the bottom section to summarize the material and the main points covered. The section on the left is for writing key words and ideas that can be used to create a study guide. You can also use this section to record questions you have for the professor.

Need more life skills hacks? Check out the life skills category at Next Step Academy.

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The Four Ingredients of Entrepreneurship

August 18th, 2016 by

Have you ever wanted to open your business, but didn’t know where to begin? According to Arunas Chesonis, CEO of Sweetwater Energy in Rochester NY and expert entrepreneur, there are four ingredients for starting a successful business: experience, planning, funding and teamwork.

Experience. Before you start a new business, you need to understand how a business is run. Apply for internships or volunteer at an organization and put in quality effort. Take time to learn from those around you and understand the ins and outs of the industry. By working in the field of business ahead of time, you will make meaningful connections and gain valuable experience, setting yourself up for future success.

Looking to become leaders in their industryPlanning. When it comes to starting a new business, you cannot just wing it. You need to construct a detailed plan and answer these fundamental questions:

-Who is my target market/audience?
-What exactly do I want to do?
-When will I launch my new business?
-Where do I want my business to be after 1 year? 2 years? 5 years?
-How much will it cost?

You should also come up with a justification for the new business. What niche does it fulfill? Why should people use your product or service over someone else’s?

Funding. Once you figure out how much starting your business will cost, you need to figure out how it will be funded. Can you afford to fund the project yourself or do you need investors? If you don’t have enough people to invest in your idea, you can also investigate small business loans. There are plenty of funding opportunities available it’s just a matter of finding the best option for you.

Teamwork. Creating a team of smart and dedicated individuals will be necessary to help your business grow. Working with others can be a challenge, so make sure you pick your team carefully. Choose trustworthy people that are smart, dedicated and passionate about the business you are building together. Make sure you and your team brush up on their interpersonal communication skills and go into every meeting with an open mind. You want to establish a strong, upbeat and conflict-free environment from the get go.

Learn more about starting a business with Next Step Academy’s Entrepreneurship course!

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