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5 Ways Web Developers Can Stay In-The-Know

This post by Dennis Furlan was originally published on the Freshbooks Blog on July 18, 2016

5 Ways Web Developers Can Stay In-The-KnowWe all have childhood memories that stay with us.

For me, one of these memories involves visits to the doctor. Specifically, what stood out to me during these visits was the fact that the doctor used to always interrupt an examination, leave the room and come back again minutes later. Every single time.

For years, I wondered what that was all about. Until, one day, after a session was over, I walked into the hallway past a door that was slightly ajar. I peeked in and was surprised by what I saw. In his room strewn across tables, chairs, floor—you name it—were medical books.

At this instance, I learned that the doctor used to leave during sessions and go into this office in order to look up what might be ailing me. In other words, even the most educated among us need to keep current with their profession.

This is as true for web developers as it is with doctors. However, when you’re with a client, the last thing you want to do is leave and look up your solution in a book. Instead, the challenge for web developers is to stay current, so that those valuable meetings with clients are as smooth and effortless as can be.

Here are some specific ways that web development pros can stay current with their profession.

1. Blogs

Blogs offer a mix of casual (but useful!) content for consumers, including web developers. And with the vast offerings of the world wide web, there is little shortage of blogs offering timely and engaging content on the industry.

A List Apart: A magazine/blog that covers all aspects of website creation since 1997. It has a special focus on web standards and best practices, which is useful for web development pros looking to keep up with their trade.

Six Revisions: Began as a traditional blog, but has branched out somewhat to become a general news website for professionals in the field of web development. The site is targeted towards developers and web designers, with a focus on both websites and apps.

2. YouTube

One of the great YouTube features is that it’s an easily accessible platform for anyone who wants to create video content. This includes video tutorials, which can be incredibly helpful in fields such as web development and web design, where more hands-on, visual approaches may be beneficial for learning.

TheNewBoston: Provides guidance on a wide range of topics for audiences in programming, design and development. In fact, TheNewBoston has over one million subscribers. So, if there’s a web development process you’ve been itching to learn, this is probably the place to find it.

Adam Khoury: If you’re a fan of tutorial-style learning via YouTube, Adam’s your guy. This video channel offers tutorials on topics like coding and design, and covers a laundry list of web development technologies, including JavaScript, PHP, SQL, HTML, CSS and ActionScript.

3. Twitter

One of the signature attractions of social media is embedded in the name itself: it’s a media platform that’s, well, social. If you like to find information all in one place, Twitter is a great platform to use to get a glimpse of what web development gurus are actually like.

Brendan Eich: The inventor of JavaScript and co-founder of Mozilla. Eich’s Tweets regularly, sharing his thoughts on issues relating to web development, as well as a little taste of who he is outside of work.

Codrops: A more newsy resource, Codrops shares web development tutorials, provides frequent updates, insights and resources. So, if there’s a specific web development or web design topic you’d like information on, Codrops is a good account to follow on Twitter.

4. Newsletters

The newsletter is another seemingly ageless media platform. In fact, newsletters have made the transition quite nicely from print to digital—a trend that also comes with some caveats. In the web development world, here are a couple of trusted and useful newsletter sources:

JavaScript Weekly: As the name suggests, it provides a weekly email roundup of everything new in JavaScript programming. Unlike the flood of daily newsletters you typicall receive, the JavaScript Weekly newsletter is sent once a week and is a go-to destination for web developers to stay up to date on anything JavaScript.

Hacker Newsletter: Another weekly source of information for web development professionals, focusing specifically on industry news related to startups, technology and programming. The newsletter’s content is curated from the Hacker website, so subscribers can read material they may have missed on the site.

5. Forums

Internet discussion forums have been around for a while and still are because they offer the topic specificity of blogs and news sites while also featuring the personal interactivity of social media. Basically, if you’re in need of answers to specific web-development questions, a web forum is your destination.

webdeveloper.com: A source for digital discussions on topics from HTML, XML and CMS to graphics, design and mobile apps. JavaScript as a topic has almost 500,000 posts in over 100,000 threads.

KirupaForum: Another forum destination for web development aficionados with the Kirupa website—web development and design instructors since 1998. The forum itself has a unique structure. All threads are on one page, with an infinity scroll. But you are able to filter through threads at the top of the page.

So, say farewell to clunky encyclopedias and get accustomed to the plethora of information available on the web. Web developers from all over are using it to stay up-to-date with the trends.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Dennis Furlan is a freelance writer who covers a broad range of topics of interest to today’s selective content audience. Visit his website DennisFurlan.com.

When Co-Workers Interrupt Your Discussion

This article by Mark Swartz was originally published on the Monster Career Advice blog.

“And now for the key point of this articlWhen Coworkers Interrupt Your Discussionse. It’s that –“

“Hey,” says an interrupter, “I have a question. Also I disagree with what you said earlier.”

“Umm, we can come back to that shortly. Now…ah, where was I?”

Getting cut off while speaking is irritating. At work it’s like handling a heckler. You get disrupted and your idea is hijacked.

A good communicator can deal with interjectors. Even for chronic disruptors there may be no need for drastic measures.

Allowing Interruptions Can Harm Your Credibility

Part of any job is conveying your thoughts and ideas effectively. If you frequently allow colleagues to walk all over your words, what sort of impression do you make?

People may begin to think you lack confidence to assert boundaries. Your ideas may be viewed as less valuable since you don’t protect them from interference. A lack of protest could also imply they can take credit for your ideas with few repercussions.

Why People Don’t Let You Finish Talking

Not all interruptions are bad. Sometimes colleagues have something really helpful to add. They simply don’t want to risk letting the moment pass. It could also be their brain works faster than yours does. They’re impatient to comment. Or culturally they’re still learning Canadian business norms, not realizing they are being rude.

Then there are creeps who try to undermine or one-up you. Their intent is negative. These are people – along with chronic offenders – who’ll need special treatment.

Could It Be Your Fault Too?

You probably aren’t a trained communicator. So it’s possible you’re making some basic conversation errors. Here are several that invite listeners to jump in abruptly:

  • Be concise and highlight your main point early. Otherwise people interject to stop you from being longwinded.
  • Speak at a level that people can hear easily. If you’re too quiet it might be interpreted as a lack of confidence.
  • Did you prepare adequately? How about rehearsing to reduce hesitations such as umm, ah, mmm or long silences?
  • You get nervous and start losing your place, saying the wrong thing, not speaking with authority or conviction.

Keep an eye on your body language too. Facial expressions, the way you sit or stand, eye contact and hand motions can support (or work against) your spoken words.

 

How To Stop Interrupters

Handle transgressors appropriately. Coworkers who seldom disrupt can be treated very politely. Announce as you begin that you’ll gladly deal with questions and comments as soon as you’re done speaking. If one or two people interject anyway, acknowledge them but remind them of your earlier instruction.

When that fails try more aggressive approaches. Start by asking for input from others. That can block repeat interrupters from taking over. Next fight fire with fire: cut the person off and tell them you are going to finish now. A brasher tactic is to speak over the offender until they stop.

Chronic interlopers should be spoken to in private. Be pleasant. Point out that you’ve noticed their actions and wonder if they realize the effect they’re having on you and others. Hear them out. If possible reach an agreement to be mutually respectful from now on.

Defensiveness Can Backfire

Over-reacting to getting interrupted reflects poorly on you. Keeping your cool shows you’re made of the right stuff. But try to avoid letting yourself be a doormat.

Is it your boss or their supervisors who won’t let you finish? Communicating with managers takes special care. It may be worth letting them say their piece.

Save your objection for encounters you have a better chance of winning.

How Will You Know When It’s Time to Incorporate?

This post first appeared on the CA4IT Insights blog on March 20, 2017

How Will You Know When It’s Time To IncorporateIn short, there’s no single milestone in a business’s maturity that dictates incorporation. It depends on a lot of variables, so it may require self-evaluations at multiple phases to determine when exactly the timing’s right for incorporating your small business.

When you’re conducting those evaluations, it’s important to create an accurate profile of your company and to give consideration to what it’ll look like as a corporation. There are distinct advantages and disadvantages to the title.

In the former column, you’ll have much greater flexibility with your taxes, including how you pay yourself—salary, dividends, bonus—or even if you pay yourself. A 15-percent preferred tax assessment on the first 500,000 of profit may prove to be all the incentive you need to leave your earnings in the company.

In the latter, incorporation isn’t inexpensive. And when you’re starting a business, expenses can already feel too numerous to track, let alone cover. Perhaps the only thing more precious than funding in those early days is time. Incorporation’s going to take a big bite out of that, too, because there’s more paperwork that’ll need to be filed—separate tax returns, notifications of share sales and directors’ actions.

If there is a brief answer to the question at the top, it’s this: Incorporating a business in Canada should not be entered into lightly. The more you understand, the more comfortable you’re likely to feel with your decision.

As one of the most respected accounting networks across Canada over the last quarter-century (and one of the few that’s ISO-registered), CA4IT specializes in business accounting services, including incorporation advising, for independent contractors, consultants and entrepreneurs. Click here for a free (no-obligation) consultation.

How to Ace a Job Search Test on Spec Assignment

This post by Jon Simmons first appeared on the Monster Career Advice Blog.

If you’re asked to complete an assignment as part of the interview process, this is your time to shine.

How to Ace a Job Search Test or Spec AssignmentSometimes, the interview process can feel never-ending. There’s always one more piece of the application to submit, one more interview with the team.

That “one more thing” is often a spec work assignment or test, and it’s a crucial one to get right, because it means you’re being seriously considered for the position.

“I always use spec work with candidates,” says John Engel, president of executive recruiting firm Knowledge Capital Consulting in Charleston, South Carolina. “It’s the final stage of recruiting. The top five finalists get a spec assignment.”

We asked career experts to offer tips on how to make sure your spec work gives you the best shot at beating out the other finalists and getting hired.

Reflect the company in your assignment

You know the old adage: Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. To connect with a hiring manager at a company you’re largely unfamiliar with, imitation in spec work can work wonders.

“If you’re doing a writing assignment, it helps to look at the tone of the copy or articles on the organization’s website,” advises Deborah Hankin, VP of Talent, SYPartners, a consulting firm in New York City. “Is it formal? Casual? Authoritative? Your assignment should mirror that tone to show you fit that culture.”

It might be tempting to put your own spin on an assignment, but in most cases, hiring managers want to see if you’re able to produce the kind of work they’re already doing. If they want you to take things in a different direction, they’ll tell you. So even if the style of the work they produce differs from yours, your safest bet is to take your cues from it. This not only makes it more likely that your assignment will pass the test, it also shows that you’ve done your homework.

Ask clarifying questions

Unsure about the assignment’s directions? Having trouble understanding a specific sentence in the guidelines? Don’t just guess at what it might mean or wait until it’s too late. Address it right when you get the assignment.

“Ask smart questions—succinctly and judiciously,” says Hankin. “Remember, [hiring managers] are very busy. If you ask too many questions, you can be seen as not being able to navigate intentional ambiguity.”

For example, if your assignment requires sources, you might ask how many they’d like to see, or how the hiring manager would like them represented (linked in the body of the report or as footnotes or endnotes?).

“If you can’t reach the hiring manager to ask questions, simply make a note in the assignment stating your assumptions,” adds Hankin. “At least if your assumptions are off-base, [the reviewer] can understand your logic in how you solved the challenge.”

Know when to be creative—and when to follow directions

Which is more important, completing an assignment by the book or putting your own spin on it? It depends on the type of role you’re applying for.

“In the creative professions, showing multiple methods to accomplish a task are often welcome,” says Elaine Varelas, managing partner at Keystone Partners, a career management company in Boston. “An accounting role may be much less interested in your creative approaches.”

You can never go wrong by delivering more than what they asked for, so feel fee to go above and beyond. Besides a few hours, there is nothing to lose by submitting more work than required in a spec assignment, and it elevates your work above other candidates who only submit the bare minimum.

And finally, what’s the one thing you should always get right? The deadline. Nothing creates a bad first impression like missing a deadline, so whatever it takes, if you want the job, don’t be late with your first assignment.

3 Reasons Why You Need a Business Bank Account

This post by Nellie Akalp originally appeared on the Freshbooks Blog in February 2017

Keeping It Professional: 3 Reasons Why You Need a Business Bank AccountAs a small business owner or freelancer, you probably encounter a lot of overlap between your business finances and personal finances. On the surface, it seems simpler to just have one bank account—after all, it’s a centralized place to keep tabs on client payments that come in, and personal and business expenses that go out.

However, there are several reasons why you must separate your business finances from your personal finances. For one, having a business bank account will separate itself from your personal assets, while streamlining your tax records. But that’s not all. Below are the three reasons why opening a business bank account is crucial for your business and your financial sanity.

Reason #1: A Business Bank Account Keeps the “Corporate Veil” Intact to Protect Your Personal Assets

Many small business owners form a limited liability company (LLC) or corporation because it helps shield their personal assets from things that might happen in the business—for instance, if the business is sued or can’t pay its debts. This is known as a “corporate veil” since it forms some separation between the business owner and the business.

In order to keep that personal liability protection, you need to properly maintain your LLC or corporation. This includes drawing a clear line between your business finances and your personal finances. By creating a business bank account, you ensure that your business is its own entity and separate from you as an individual.

In addition, if your business is ever sued, the plaintiff may try to pierce your corporate veil by showing you haven’t maintained the corporation/LLC to the letter of the law. In this case, they can go after your personal assets. In instances like this, that’s why it’s absolutely critical for LLCs and corporations to keep business finances completely separated from personal finances.

Reason #2: A Business Bank Account Helps You Stay Organized Come Tax Time

Combining your personal account and business account is asking for more trouble that you’d think. Ultimately, combined accounts make it harder to stay on top of your books come tax time.

You may find yourself spending countless hours wading through the past year’s transactions—including personal trips to the grocery store—just to find business expenses to write off. Having separate accounts streamlines your recordkeeping which, at the end of the day, saves you time and ensures you won’t miss any legitimate deductions.

Reason #3: A Business Bank Account Gives You More Credibility to Your Paying Clients

When you’re running a business, it can look a tad unprofessional to pay your contractors with a personal check or have your clients write a check to you as an individual. Will this ever be a deal breaker? Probably not. But, having a dedicated business banking account can send the right signals as you scale your operations and evolve from freelancer to business owner.

As a side note, if you’re running your business as a sole proprietorship, you don’t legally need a separate bank account for your business, but it’s still a good idea for the second and third reasons. Having a business bank account can help make your case to the IRS that you are indeed running a business and are entitled to deduct your business expenses should you ever be audited.

You Ready? What You Need to Open Your First Business Bank Account

Opening a business bank account is a relatively simple process. To make things easier, you can open an account at the same bank where you already have a personal account, so you only have to deal with one institution. Alternatively, you may receive reduce banking rates if you belong to a professional group or organization—such as a group for writers, veterans or performers. Check if they offer access to business checking services through a specialized credit union. This can be a great option.

No matter where you choose to open your business account, you’ll need the following documentation:

  • Your company’s EIN (or Federal Tax ID number).If you don’t already have an EIN for your business, you’ll need to get one from the IRS. You shouldn’t use your personal social security number to open a business account.
  • Articles of Organization / Articles of Incorporation.If your business is structured as an LLC or Corporation, then you’ll most likely need your Articles of Organization/Articles of Incorporation that’s signed and stamped from the state. You may also need to show your Operating Agreement.
  • Certificate of Good Standing.In some cases, you may also need to get a certificate of good standing from the state. This documentation essentially says that your business is up to date on its state taxes and other requirements.
  • Tax ID, social security number, DBA.If your business is structured as a sole proprietorship, you’ll need less documentation, since sole proprietors are considered more like consumers than a business. In this case, you’ll most likely need a Tax ID, social security number, as well as a DBA (Doing Business As) registration if you’re using a business name that is different than your personal name.

As your business grows, it’s crucial to build a proper legal and financial foundation. Opening a separate bank account is one small step in that direction, and will help keep your books organized, as well as ensure your business and personal lives remain separated. In addition, opening a bank account will help form your business’ credit history—a big milestone should you ever want to take out a business loan or line of credit in the future.

About the Author: Nellie Akalp is a passionate entrepreneur, small business expert, professional speaker, author and mother of four. She is the Founder and CEO of CorpNet.com, an online legal document filing service and recognized Inc.5000 company. At CorpNet, Nellie assists entrepreneurs across all 50 states to start a businessincorporateform an LLC, and apply for trademarks. She also offers free business compliance tools for any entrepreneur to utilize. Connect with Nellie on LinkedIn.

Are You Making Offensive Comments Unknowingly?

This post by Mark Swartz was originally published to the Monster Career Advice blog.

Are You Making Offensive Comments Unknowingly?You don’t think of yourself as insensitive. Co-workers generally laugh or smile at your jokes. It’s rare that someone complains you’ve hurt their feelings by something you’ve said.

Then a colleague files a complaint against you for making an offensive remark. How can this be? You ask yourself. I don’t remember being inappropriate.

The rules of office etiquette are changing. Yesterday’s tolerated comments may be unsuitable today. Do you know how to avoid being an offender?

Diversity Can Create Uncertainty

If everyone at work was similar to you it would be simple not to offend. There might be unspoken rules about off-limit subjects and acceptable ways to communicate.

In diverse workplaces cultural norms vary. It can be harder to tell who you might upset by saying the wrong thing. You may sincerely believe that you aren’t coming across as abrasive. After all, your friends, family and work buddies never complain.

Definition of Offensive Comments

If beauty is in the eye of the beholder, offensive remarks are in the ear of the receiver. Each person will weigh what you’ve said against their own sense of what’s tolerable.

If they consider your remark offensive they’ll see it as one or more of the following:

  • Personally repugnant, in violation of their moral or decency standards. For instance if you make a sexually suggestive joke.
  • Personally insulting, like when you belittle their work performance or intelligence.
  • Bigoted, as in judging others based only on their skin colour, religion or political beliefs.

Offensive statements cause people to cringe. Those who are affronted feel attacked or otherwise upset. That’s why you need to be aware of the impact your words are having.

Bigotry

A remark can be distressing if it stereotypes people. Bigotry is a broad category that covers some heavy duty typecasting. Statements that reduce a person to a set of prejudged traits belong here. They diminish the importance of respecting others as individuals.

Racism and sexism are in this category. So are sweeping comments based on age bracket, disability or sexual orientation. Same for marital and family status or country of origin.

Good thing there are ways to minimize your tendency to pigeonhole people.

Put Downs and Insults, Even In Jest

It’s unlikely you blatantly insult your boss and colleagues. More probably any put downs are made with a measure of humour. It can be fun to point out someone’s shortcomings – or to exaggerate their behaviour – in a non-hurtful way.

Except there’s a possibility of your intent being misinterpreted. Some people don’t find those sorts of comments comical. There’s also a risk that no matter how harmless the remark, the person on the receiving end is insecure or overly sensitive. They could react negatively.

Be careful about making people feel vulnerable. That’s especially true when publicly shaming others to motivate them.

Raising Sensitive Issues

Are there topics best avoided where you work? You might offend accidentally by bringing them up, even if you do so innocently.

Recalling embarrassing incidents that everyone wants to forget falls under this banner. Revealing somebody’s personal information without their permission does as well.

Watch That You Don’t Violate Policy

The workplace is not a 100% free-speech zone. Your employer may have policies that govern what’s off-limits. Read the employee manual for guidance. Study the sections on mutual respect and acceptable communication practices.

These policies could extend to what you say online. Express your controversial opinions to trusted followers. Offensive social media remarks that are publicly visible might get you called in for chat.

Online and off, it isn’t that you have to walk on eggshells in fear of offending someone. What you need to ensure is that you’re delicate in what you say or write, and never blurt out something that could be taken as harassment or bullying.

Get More Positive Stress at Work

Positive pressures create a way to balance out anxiety and worry

This post by Mark Swartz was originally published on the Monster Career Advice Blog.

Get More Positive Stress at Work (Positive pressures create a way to balance out anxiety and worry)Here’s some sunny news about stress: certain types can actually be good for you. A bit of pressure and nerves gets you focused.

But too much of what happens at work creates “distress” (negative tension). Like lack of control. Or not enough resources to do the job well. That can lead to ailments of the body and mind.

Creating more positive tension, also known as “eustress,” takes a conscious effort. A number of techniques are available to turn this into a healthy habit.

Good Stress Builds You Up

We all know the symptoms of stress. Over time the bad kind can lead to health problems, or play havoc on emotions unless dealt with.

Eustress does the opposite. There’s still tension and pressure involved. Only it challenges you to try harder, reminds you to concentrate on what’s important, and generates results that improve self-confidence.

Good stress is a great antidote to negative tension. There is less wear and tear, more drive toward accomplishment.

How Eustress Is Experienced

You know that feeling of butterflies in your stomach? Not the kind that makes you violently nauseous, or leaves you paralyzed with fear.

It’s more like the nervousness you feel on the way to a job interview you’ve prepared for, or before making a presentation in front of your colleagues.

The adrenalin is flowing. Your heart pumps faster and louder. All of your senses seem amplified. This fight-or-flight response makes you more alert and ready for the tasks at hand. It seems like whatever is about to happen will be within your coping abilities.

When the challenge you’re facing is completed, relative calmness returns. Eustress tends to be short-term and event-specific.

Typical Good Stressors At Work

There are lots of examples of positive personal stressors on the job. These may include:

  • Starting a new job or career you’re excited about
  • Receiving a desired promotion or raise
  • Relocating for work after asking to be re-assigned
  • Getting ready for a much needed vacation when things are busy
  • Preparing for retirement

 

Big events such as changing jobs or relocating don’t arise frequently. So you’ll have to produce your own eustress on a more regular basis. Consider the examples below.

Learn a new skill

It can be stressful to try and pick up new knowledge or skills. Yet it ultimately brings about self-improvement and increased personal marketability. Those are the hallmarks of eustress.

Set Firmer Boundaries

Have you said “no” recently when the boss asked you to work nights and weekends? Standing up for yourself takes gumption. It often creates tension at first, which encourages you to take care and do it respectfully.

Volunteer To Do A Presentation

Few things boost your profile like giving a well-prepared talk. Yet few things are as nerve-wracking as public speaking. The secret is to know your stuff, cater to the needs of your audience, and rehearse till it hurts.

Deal With Workplace Conflicts

It is risky to confront an annoying colleague or supervisor. However if something must be done, proceed in ways that are likely to generate eustress. Plan your approach carefully. Try to propose win-win solutions. And do your best to keep emotions in check.

Take On A Stretch Assignment

Step out of your comfort zone every so often. Offer to work on a committee that puts you in a leadership role. Attempt to solve a problem that no one else has been able to.

Eustress Versus You Stress

Worry and strain are among the many aspects of working life. They need to be balanced with positivity in your daily routine.

Eustress is beneficial pressure that ignites your resolve to succeed. Insert more of it into your overall activities. At first you may feel increasingly vulnerable. But as you learn to manage the fears, you can harness those butterflies to fly in formation.

Terrible Tax Advice Exists — Here’s How to Spot It

This post by Janet Berry-Johnson originally appeared on the Freshbooks Blog in March 2012

Terrible Tax Advice Exists—Here’s How to Spot ItHow do you know you have a great accountant? He has a tax loophole named after him… All jokes aside, tax is a complex subject and, despite decades of talk about simplifying the tax code, it just seems to get more confusing each year. After a decade of working in public accounting, I can’t count how many times clients came to me to ask about sketchy tax advice they’d received from dubious sources.

“My neighbor says Social Security income isn’t taxable.”

“My girlfriend’s dad told me I can deduct all of my vehicle expenses if I set up an LLC.”

“I saw an ad on TV that promised me a bigger tax refund than the competition.”

“I heard that paying taxes is voluntary.”

When you’re seeking out sound financial answers, be wary of the source. Next time someone offers their tax advice, look out for these 8 red flags.

  1. The Advice Sounds Too Good to be True

This kind of advice usually involves tax-free income or being able to deduct personal expenses.

According to the IRS, all income is taxable unless the law specifically says it isn’t. Life insurance proceeds, scholarships, gifts and inheritances, child support payments, welfare benefits and damages for physical injuries or sickness are all types of income that may not be taxable. However, there are a few situations where they might be. When in doubt, consult with a qualified tax pro.

Personal expenses are rarely deductible. Some common exemptions are home mortgage interest, real estate taxes, medical expenses and charitable contributions. They’re allowed as itemized deductions on Schedule A of your Form 1040. Other expenses for your personal residence or vehicle are only deductible if they are used for business. If a friend tells you he writes off all of his home or vehicle expenses, he’s practically telling you he’s committing tax fraud. Don’t take tax advice from a crook.

  1. The Advice Lacks Context

Above, we mentioned that certain types of income are usually non-taxable, but may be taxable under certain circumstances. The tax code is rarely absolute. When you read the code, you’ll see a lot of words and phrases like “generally,” “except under certain conditions,” “usually” and “in most cases.”

Most tax pros joke the answer to any question starts with the words “that depends.” Be wary of any advice that doesn’t take your unique situation into account.

  1. You Have Difficulty Understanding It

The tax code is complicated, but a good tax pro should be able to explain any basic rules, deductions and credits that apply to your return.

Remember: you are responsible for everything on your tax return, whether or not you paid someone else to prepare it for you. If you don’t understand something, ask! If you’re getting a much larger return (or owe more money) than expected, consult someone and find out why.

  1. There Might Be a Conflict of Interest

Look out for tax advice from people who are seeking to receive a commission or kickback. Some tax pros are also qualified to give financial advice but avoid taking advice that comes with an ulterior motive. The person might suggest you invest in a real estate venture that they hold a stake in or recommend financial products for which they receive commissions or referral fees.

Don’t be afraid to ask, “How will you benefit from this?” if you suspect the advice is not in your best interest.

  1. The Advice Suggests Taxes is Voluntary

No matter how many times these arguments get shot down in court, some people continue to claim that the payment of federal income taxes is “voluntary.” This claim is based, in part, on the fact that the IRS itself describes the way we file and pay federal taxes as “voluntary compliance.”

As the fact-checking website Snopes points out, “common sense dictates that if paying income tax were really voluntary, that tidbit of information wouldn’t be known to only a small cadre of tax protesters while millions of other Americans annually forked over considerable amounts of money they weren’t obligated to pay.”

As numerous tax court cases have shown, neither the obligation to file a tax return nor the payment of income taxes is voluntary. File your return and pay what is owed. Otherwise, you’ll soon find out just how mandatory paying taxes really is.

  1. The Advice is Referred to as a “Tax Shelter”

There are a few bonafide tax shelters such as those related to oil and gas exploration and development. However, most are at least bad deals from a business viewpoint, and at worst they violate tax law. Any business deal that needs to be structured as a tax shelter to be profitable is not a sound business deal. Good business deals show profits before tax considerations.

There are also tax shelters that promise you’ll receive $400 in deductions for every $100 you invest (or some similar “too good to be true” scenario). The tax authorities are constantly investigating such tax shelters. If you get caught avoiding income taxes by illegal means, you’ll have to pay back taxes, plus interest and some hefty penalties.

  1. Someone Promises You a Big Refund… Before They Look at Your Info

Every year during tax season, the commercials, ads and billboards that promise huge tax refunds begin to flood in. No accountant can get your refund faster or bigger than anyone else. You are entitled to the same refund, whether you prepare the return yourself or hire a professional.

Anyone promising they’ll get you the biggest refund may be padding your return with credits you’re not entitled to. Don’t fall for the hype.

  1. You Receive No Advice at All

Even if you normally prepare your own tax return, you may occasionally run into a new situation and need help. Major life changes, such as selling real estate, buying your first home, starting a new business or adopting a child usually means significant changes to your tax filing.

Don’t be afraid to seek out the advice of a professional. Even if you want to prepare your own return, most tax pros will be willing to sit down with you to answer questions and offer advice on your unique situation. The hourly rate they’ll charge may be well worth avoiding an audit—or paying a penalty for filing an incorrect return.

If you’re unsure, seek that advice from a certified and experienced tax pro. Look for someone with a credential, such as a CPA or EA. These professionals are well-trained, held to a code of ethics and required to maintain up-to-date knowledge.

At a minimum, all tax preparers in the United States are required to obtain a Preparer Tax Identification Number (PTIN). You can use this search tool available on the IRS website to find a preparer who holds a professional credential or voluntarily obtained a certain number of continuing education hours each year.

Getting professional advice is more expensive than getting advice from your skateboard buddy, but think of it as insurance: pay a small premium today to avoid an expensive disaster tomorrow.

About the Author
Janet Berry-Johnson is a CPA and a freelance writer with a background in accounting and insurance. Her writing has appeared in Forbes, Parachute by Mapquest, Capitalist Review, Guyvorce, BonBon Break and Kard Talk. Janet lives in Arizona with her husband and son and their rescue dog, Dexter. Outside of work and family time, she enjoys cooking, reading historical fiction, and binge-watching Real Housewives.

How to Handle Office Pet Peeves and Annoying Coworkers

This post by Joe Issid first appeared on the Monster Career Advice Blog

How to Handle Office Pet Peeves and Annoying CoworkersIf you’ve ever worked in an office, it is inevitable that you have held on to some unhealthy feelings towards one (or more) of your colleagues. Whether it is your impolite boss or a hygienically-challenged cubicle mate, ill-feelings can develop pretty quickly and can linger for longer than necessary. Personally, I have had my fair share of annoying co-workers over the years (my personal favourite was the co-worker who built a temporary wall to divide our cubicle because he suspected that I was stealing his work). I am also reasonable enough to admit that I must also be guilty of being that guy to other people with whom I have shared an office over the years. No matter the case, no one is immune to these feelings of frustration and we are all equally eager to rid ourselves of these regular annoyances. Here are some suggestions that may help:

Don’t suffer in silence

One of the worst things you can do in a professional setting is to hold on to grievances. If there are some elements in your work life that are not living up to your expectations, it behooves you to discuss then with the relevant people involved. I’ve seen far too many people suffer in silence, which only serves to further their feelings of frustration and alienation. So, if you share a cubicle with someone who insists on cutting their toe nails at your desk every week or floss right in front of you, it is probably best for you to address this before you get to the point of destructive confrontation. So, how do you do this?

Effective feedback

Whenever we consider providing feedback in a work context, it is usually perceived negatively as it is often associated with some form of consequence. As such, it is somewhat understandable why so many people refrain from providing unsolicited feedback. However, providing effective and constructive feedback is the single best option that you have to resolve any work issue you may encounter. According to Chantal Westgate, Adjunct Professor of Organizational Behaviour at McGill University’s Desautels Faculty of Management, “[for] feedback to be perceived differently, one has to convey that it is the only way we can improve.” So, if you have a colleague whose behavior is distracting and/or bothersome, providing constructive feedback is an excellent way to address an ongoing issue.

When to speak up?

While I would certainly advocate an open dialogue in all offices, there are certainly some situations that may be best left untouched. For example, a former boss did not like the fact that one of my team members came to work wearing a very short skirt and asked me to address it with her. After deliberating for a while, I chose not to raise this with the team as I did not feel that it had any real merit. Firstly, the company did not have a formal dress code, so my staff member was not violating any defined protocol. Additionally, her attire was not impacting her work nor was it impeding anyone else in the office from performing their work. As business was not being impacted, I felt that raising the issue may have had a negative impact on the workplace despite the fact that the boss’ sensibilities were being tweaked.

It’s not getting better

As with most work-related disputes, I would suggest you try and resolve them among yourselves. In some instances, however, you may need to escalate the matter if the issue has grown into something more substantial. Personally, there have been some situations where I simply could not reconcile the differences between a co-worker and myself. In such a case, you need to be honest with yourself and determine whether these differences are deal breakers. In some cases, these annoyances are minor and can be ignored when looking at the bigger picture. For example, are you really willing to go to war over a co-worker who noisily chews gum during meetings? On the other hand, is the issue significant enough that it is impacting productivity and happiness at work? If so, you may need to look into speaking with your boss or someone from human resources before the issue gets out of control.

Am I the problem?

To paraphrase a bawdy expression that my grandfather used to say: if everyone around you is annoying, maybe you are the problem. If you find that your default mood at the office is aggravation or hostility, you may want to consider the possibility that you may be the source of much of this negativity.

Over the course of my career, I have been very well-served by looking inward whenever I encountered difficult situations. Let’s face it: we’re not all perfect!

Communication is Key for a Successful Job Interview

Making the Most of That One Big Chance to Make a Lasting First Impression

This guest post was provided by the good folks at Effortless English

Making the Most of That One Big Chance to Make a Lasting First ImpressionThere is a good chance that you have had at least one job interview, and probably more than that, where you review your performance and feel frustrated that you could have given some better answers to the questions put to you.

Trying to anticipate the sort of questions you are going to be asked will help you to prepare for the process and stop you from freezing in the headlights when you get thrown a curve ball question.

Rise above the crowd

Of course, it is not just about rehearsing some carefully crafted stock answers to certain questions, as your interviewer will probably have come across these responses many times before. To get the job or even be considered for the job, you need to find a way to stand out from the crowd and make it easy for your interviewer to remember you and mark you down as a potential candidate for filling the role.

As this resource demonstrates, the mindset that you need to adopt is that you are not applying for a job as such, but selling yourself in the style of sales presentation. Your pitch might well amount to the same thing as submitting your application for a position, but the mindset and approach are different.

If you are trying to perfect your English and want to come across as grammatically correct as possible, the fundamental point being put across by the Effortless English service in the link above, is that to present yourself in the best possible light, it is not a case of sitting down and laboriously going through a set of rigid grammar rules, it is much more a case of learning to think English grammar.

There is a difference between the two learning methods, and that can definitely come across in a much more personable way when you are sat across the table from an interviewer, and trying to sell yourself as the best candidate they have seen.

Good listening skills are essential

The art of listening is also often grossly underestimated when it comes to coming across as a strong candidate.

Some consider listening to be one of the most important communication skills that you can possess, and it could be argued that one of the most powerful ways to make a meaningful connection with another person, is to listen.

This is an attribute that can serve you well in an interview process. Yes, you are expected to do a lot of speaking and provide convincing answers when being interviewed for a job, but just as important is knowing when to stop and listen to what is being said to you and what is specifically being asked.

Listening doesn’t just mean interpreting the words being spoken. It also means non-verbal as well as verbal communication skills.

Your ability to listen successfully hinges greatly on the extent to which you are able to accurately perceive and understand the verbal and nonverbal messages being portrayed to you in the interview process.

Many companies put a lot of emphasis on good communication skills, and if you are able to demonstrate this ability in abundance during your interview, by the way you speak, listen and present yourself, you will be increasing the odds of getting the call to say the job is yours.