Not all executive M.B.A. programs are equal

Earning an executive M.B.A. degree can provide a boost to your career prospects. But it’s not easy earning those degrees; It takes loads of time and money.

It’s helpful, then, to know which schools have the executive M.B.A. programs that offer the most payback for your dollars.

The editors at the Wall Street Journal recently studied these programs to determine just that.  The paper ranked the top exeuctive M.B.A. programs in terms of how much money they returned on students’ investment during the first five years after these students officially earned their new degrees.

Texas A&M Mays School of Business topped the list, bringing a five-year return on investment of 243 percent. The University of Florida’s Warrington School of Business came in second at 243 percent, while Ohio State University’s Fisher School of Business came at third with a return of 170 percent.

These are definitely rankings to consider when applying for an executive M.B.A. program. In any economy, you don’t want to waste your dollars. But that’s especially true today.

Looking for a job today? Here’s a blog to make you feel less alone

Looking for a job is terribly stressful, in any environment. Today? It’s stressful enough to send anyone to the doctor with a giant-sized ulcer.

Of course, if you are looking for a job, you’re not alone. You probably know this, of course, because you face so much competition for any job worth getting. They say misery loves company. But I’m sure job hunters would like a little less company these days.

But if you are looking for work and you are despondent, you might want to take a look at this blog. It’s the Wall Street Journal’s Laid Off and Looking blog, and it makes for fascinating reading. As the name suggests, the blog follows the highs and the lows of eight different people looking for jobs in today’s recession-adled jobs industry.

Read this and you might pick up some sound job-hunting advice. And you’re certain, too, to at least feel a bit of comfort in knowing that there are many, many people in your exact situation.

More bad news: Unemployment rates reach 26-year high

Sorry to be the bearer of bad news again — My timing is always suspect. I took over a new real estate blog right when the housing crash started. Now I’m working on this blog and unemployment rates are skyrocketing — but new claims for unemployment benefits reached a 26-year high last week.

You can read the grim news here.

Here’s the breakdown: The Labor Department reports that applications for jobless benefits in the week ended Dec. 6 rose to 573,000. That’s far higher than the 525,000 claims that economists had predicted.

It’s the kind of news that, I’m sure, makes retailers gasp. After all, they already are expecting a rather grim holiday season. The latest job news means that consumers will spend even less to put presents under the tree this year.

It’s bad news all around, and there’s little I or any blogger or career expert can say to make things better. In such an economy, I’d do everything I could to hang onto my job, even if it’s not a particularly good one. Let’s hope that 2010 — when the housing market is finally supposed to start its rebound — will bring some better economic news. It looks 2009 is going to be one dismal year.

Looking for a hot career? Try education, accounting or healthcare

It’s a terrible job market out there, right? Everyone’s firing everyone. The employment statistics are positively frightening.

This is all true. However, there are certain careers (not freelance writer, I stress) that are actually expanding during the country’s recession. A story on  says that people looking for careers in health services, education and accounting are making sound choices.

These are three fields that are actually doing well right now. Education is thriving because, unfortunately, so many people are out of work. They’re looking for more degrees, training and certifications to boost their status among potential employers.

Health services is doing well because so many of us aren’t. The population is getting older. That means more aches, pains, illnesses and injuries. The demand for healthcare is booming.

Finally, as companies try to not to overspend and cut back on their budgets, they’re turning to accounting pros for help. Thus, the accounting field is thriving, too.

Yes, it’s a bit depressing that these fields are doing well largely because of firings, the poor health of our country and axe-wielding employers. But what can you do? In a jobs market like this, you take whatever good news you can get.

When you know it’s time to move on

A friend of mine recently started a new job with the City of Chicago. This came after he spent more than 10 years working for a different government agency.

The first five or so years were fine. Ever since, he’s wanted out. He’s wanted out so badly that it at times made him miserable.

At a holiday party last weekend, he told us all a story of a fellow employee who received a plaque and commemorative medallion when he reached his 10th year of service at this agency. The employee wondered aloud what the present was for 15 years of service.

My friend had a quick reply: “If I’m here in 15 years, I hope they give out a gun with a single bullet.”

Yes, it was time to move on.

Here’s the best advice I can give to anyone unhappy with his or her job: If it’s making you miserable, if you hate trudging to work in the morning, do something about it. Start interviewing. Start networking. Start looking for something new. Yes, this is a terrible time to find a new job. But, isn’t at least looking — at least being proactive — better than complaining every day about your boss or the dull work you’re saddled with?

Get busy looking. Your dream job could be just around the corner.

And playing the part of Scrooge … your employer

I’ve long preached to the workaholics I know that they really shouldn’t devote too much of their lives to their careers. Yes, it’s important to earn your money. But devoting every waking minute to your employer is excessive, and I know too many people who do just that.

This story on Yahoo!’s finance site provides yet more evidence that while you may care about your employer, the odds are pretty good that your employer doesn’t care all that much about you. The story lists the top 10 benefits employers may cut next year to boost their profitability during what everyone predicts to be a dismal 2009.

The changes include requiring employees to pay for a greater amount of their healthcare costs, freezing salaries, reducing merit increases and cutting 401(k) matches. It’s not particularly pleasant stuff.

So next time you’re tempted to work through the weekend or hang out in the office until 8 p.m., think twice. You owe your employer an honest day’s work, but nothing more. Your employer certainly isn’t watching out for you.

Hey bosses, no holiday parties on Friday

I was talking to a public-relations pro working from downtown Chicago on Friday. As we were waiting for a vice president from her company to join us on the line, she mentioned that she had to attend her first work-related holiday party later that evening.

She didn’t say it outright, but the tone in her voice did: She wasn’t looking forward to the big event.

And who could blame her? Work-related holiday parties are bad enough. I mean, do you really want to chat up the boss during a holiday party? Not unless you can ask him where your holiday bonus went, I suppose. Or maybe you’d like to tell him that while you appreciate the coupon for a discount ham, you’d much rather have some cold, hard holiday cash to spend.

But worst of all is the holiday party held on a Friday after work. Most employees are trudging through the week with Friday as the light at the end of their tunnels. A holiday party on that magical day? Talk about dimming that light.

So listen up, bosses of the world: If you insist on forcing your employees to attend a holiday party, hold it on a Wednesday or a Thursday. Leave Friday alone. That’s the day your workers finally escape you.

Too much gloom and doom on the news? There’s a reason for that

Because I’m a freelance writer for newspapers and magazines, I often hear the complaint that the news media spends too much time reporting on the negative. How can we hope to recover from this recession when the newspapers are telling everyone that everything is so bad? they ask me.

Well, there’s a reason the newspapers are filled with so much bad news these days. That’s because things are bad.  Really bad.

Just look at the news that the United States shed more than 500,000 jobs  in November. That’s right, more than half-a-million jobs were lost in one terrible month. No wonder we didn’t need to hear an official acknowledgement from economists that the country is in a recession. We can feel it.

So next time you wonder why you can’t read anything good in the newspapers, maybe it’s because there isn’t much good to report on.

Single women might have it the worst in today’s economy

Everyone hurts when the economy slumps. No one loses a job and doesn’t suffer at least a bit.

But it’s single women who stand to suffer the most as the recession swallows jobs.

Gail MarksJarvis, a columnist writing in the Chicago Tribune, writes that single women are the most vulnerable as job losses mount because they generally have little to no savings to back them up. In an emergency, they don’t have the cash needed to help them survive.

MarksJarvis took her information from the Consumer Federation of America. The federation reports that the 26 percent of households headed only be a woman earn, save and have built far less wealth than have other American households. Here’s a startling statistics: Women on their own had acquired a median net worth of $32,850. At the same time, the median net worth for the heads of all households in general came in at a far higher $93,001.

The Consumer Federation recommends that financial counseling be made available to single women who support themselves. I agree with that. I have no idea how such a program would work, but the federal government and the states should be able to work something out, don’t you think?

Focusing on the minutiae a habit employers can’t break

We all received a memo this morning at the publishing company at which I work on a full-time/part-time basis. Seems several employees have been entering and leaving the building without swiping their tiny little electronic tags in front of a sensor in our lobby. The tags help the company keep tabs on when employees are leaving and returning to their cubicles.

I admit, I’m one of the culprits. I come in one day a week, and I’ve long since lost my electronic tab. I’d like to think it was a deliberate bout of sabotage. After all, it’s pretty intrusive of an employer to keep such close tabs on employees. I find it a bit insulting. But, alas, I really did lose my tag. And I don’t feel like going through the effort to replace it.

Most days this is OK. But depending on who is working at the reception desk — and how fast I move — I have to sign in every time I walk in or out of the building. If I go to the 7-11 across the street for a Diet Coke? Yep, I have to sign and out. It’s a real drag.

I’ve never fit well into corporate culture, which is why I’m thrilled that I spend most of my days working from home, and that the better half of my income comes from freelance writing, where I’m my own boss. Here’s my thoughts on signing in and signing out: Isn’t there a better way to measure whether employees aren’t working hard enough? Can’t you look at their work itself? For instance, our building is filled with salespeople. Some sell a ton. Others, well, they don’t. Are the salespeople who sit at their desks from 9 to 5 better than the ones who take constant smoking breaks even if the ones taking the breaks bring in more ad dollars? I don’t think so.

So many companies — and, yes, I know there are forward-thinking ones out there — focus on the tiny things, the minutiae that rightly drives workers crazy. Times are incredibly tough out there right now. I think everyone would be better off if companies focused on big-picture ideas of how to bring in more profit. Keeping tabs on every time their employees run across the street for a coffee? That seems more obnoxious than profitable to me.