Take Stanford Business Classes Online For Free

December 31st, 2013

Whether you are currently on the hunt for a new job or just looking to advance within your current company, increasing your skill set is an excellent way to make yourself more attractive as an employee. One great way to bolster your resume is to take a class or two at Stanford University.

It may sound like an outrageous suggestion. Odds are, you live nowhere near Palo Alto, have never applied to the school, and would be reluctant to take on a pile of student loans, but these days anyone can take Stanford courses online – for free.

There are three varieties of online courses available.

  • The first type, called “In Session” courses, require a commitment of four to ten hours a week and run for eight to ten weeks. A Statement of Accomplishment is issued by the instructor upon successful completion of the course, which means you can officially list Stanford on the education section of your resume.
  • For those looking to learn at their own pace, the “Self-Study” courses offer instruction on topics such as Computer Science, Databases, and Robotics. These classes are available on iTunes free of charge, and often include over fifty hours of instructional content. They can be listened to during a morning commute or on your lunch break. No official recognition is given by the school for completion, but that doesn’t mean you won’t learn a whole lot.
  • The third category of classes is called “Professional Education” and is intended to provide continuing education in fields such as medicine, law, business, and engineering. These courses are aimed at practical skills such as scientific writing, or statistics in medicine. To earn credit toward continuing education requirements for licensed professionals there is a fee, but most offer free participation.

Committed individuals can even earn graduate certificates for free by completing three to five courses within two years. Graduate certificates are offered in subjects ranging from aeronautics to international studies. Click here to see a current listing of available courses.

If you’re curious what courses would best serve you in your current career, talk with your supervisor. If you’re currently seeking work, a good way to gauge the skills you may need is to look at job postings in your desired field. Make a note of where your experience falls a little flat, then peruse the Stanford site to see if any of the available courses could help fatten up your knowledge base.

Learning is a life-long adventure. Investing the time and effort to nurture your skill set will garner increased satisfaction in your work and greater opportunities for advancement. As we head into 2014, it’s hard to think of a better New Year’s resolution.

Questions to Ask of Your Potential Employer (And Why to Ask Them)

December 17th, 2013

Interviews are an opportunity for both parties to engage in a conversation to determine if the applicant is a good match for the company and vice versa. Having questions prepared when you go into the interview, knowing when to ask them, and doing so with style and grace will help you to stand out as the excellent candidate that you are.

Companies put a lot of time into filling their positions with just the right person. The last thing they want to do is hire someone who will decide, after three months of training, that they are in the wrong place. By asking questions you will distinguish yourself as someone who knows what they want.

Of course, you need to know what questions to ask. This will require some research on your part. Grab a notebook and begin by digging into the job description. Then review the company’s website for any pages about the culture, values, mission, or personnel. Jot down any question that comes to mind. Some ideas to consider are:

  • What does the average day look like for the person in this position?
  • Who will you report to and who will report to you?
  • Who held the position before you and where are they now?
  • If it is a new position, why is it being created?
  • What are the strengths of the current team members?
  • What would they like the person in this position to accomplish in the first six months?

Once you have a list of questions, chose the top three or four that would most influence your decision to take the position and memorize them.

It is best to wait until prompted to ask your questions, as the interviewer may have a script to follow, and preempting his or her topics could be considered rude. If, however, the interviewer thanks you for coming in and you sense the end of the interview is at hand, you should feel confident in asking if you have time for a few questions.

When asking your questions, it is always a good idea to give a brief sentence or two of background for each question. For instance: I understand that this is a new position in the company. Can you tell me a little bit about why it was created?

Once you have asked your question, give your interviewer a chance to answer completely before launching into your next question. This may be difficult to do if you’re nervous. Try to think of each question as the start of a mini-conversation. Their answer may spark more questions if you take the time to think about their response before moving on.

Perhaps the most important thing you can do is to really listen. This is important in terms of the impression you make, but it also relates directly to why you are asking the questions in the first place – the answers matter.

Interviews are a unique opportunity to present yourself to a company while getting a good sense of where you might fit in. Asking a few simple questions will help you put your best foot forward and increases your chances of being the one they ask to come back.

New Criteria for (un)Paid Internships

December 10th, 2013

Internships have long been an opportunity for young workers and students to gain experience in the business world. Ironically, as the apprenticeship experience became more official, some of its benefits fell by the wayside, but recent changes in the federal guidelines for internships have sought to bring the value back.

Historically, young people studied under a master for years before joining a guild, or later, a union. It wasn’t until the 1960s that formal internships evolved as part of the educational experience. By 2009 the term “intern” was often being used as code for free labor. Though legitimate internships did still exist, the Department of Labor found an increased number of young people being brought on without pay to do menial tasks with little or no educational value.

To preserve the internship as a respected training experience, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division (WHD) developed six factors to evaluate whether a worker qualifies as a trainee or intern:

  1. The training, even though it includes actual operation of the facilities of the employer, is similar to what would be given in a vocational school or academic educational instruction.
  2. The training is for the benefit of the intern.
  3. The interns do not displace regular employees, but work under their close observation.
  4. The employer that provides the training derives no immediate advantage from the activities of the interns, and on occasion the employer’s operations may actually be impeded.
  5. The interns are not necessarily entitled to a job at the conclusion of the training period.
  6. The employer and the interns understand that the interns are not entitled to wages for the time spent in training.

If all of the above factors are met, then the worker can be considered a trainee or intern and the provisions of the Fair Labor Standards Act do not apply. If you’re considering bringing on unpaid trainees or interns, be sure to review the new criteria carefully. More detailed information on the six points above can be found by clicking here.

Of course, the value of paid, part-time and seasonal employees should not be overlooked. It makes sense, when you pay top dollar for professionals in your field, to not take up their time with menial tasks. Hiring a student for a few hours a week to help execute the operations of your facility is a cost-efficient option that also gives the worker valuable experience in their chosen field.

As employers, we are fortunate to have a wide array of options available to us. With a bit of careful planning we can make the most of our workforce to maximize productivity while training the up and coming leaders of the future.