Best companies to work for according to ‘Fortune’

Messages at work? No wonder Google is #1 on Fortune’s list of the 100 best companies to work for.

Rank: 1
Previous rank: 1
2011 revenue ($ millions): $37,905

What makes it so great?
The Internet juggernaut takes the Best Companies crown for the fourth time, and not just for the 100,000 hours of free massages it doled out in 2012. New this year are three wellness centers and a seven-acre sports complex, which includes a roller hockey rink; courts for basketball, bocce, and shuffle ball; and horseshoe pits.

Check out the rest of the list.

Should these benefits like messages be taxed? I don’t think so.

The equal pay debate

With the election over, it will be interesting to see how the equal pay debate that produced the infamous “binders full of women” phrase from Mitt Romney will evolve. There are all sorts of opinions on this issue regarding how to make things fair, but many argue that women have to take control of their own situations and learn how to advocate for their own salaries. Meanwhile, government has to enforce equal pay laws on the books.

How to haggle for a better salary

Free image courtesy of

Are you afraid to ask for a raise? That’s understandable in the current economic climate, but many employees have good arguments for a pay raise, and learning how to negotiate salary is very important for new employees and for employees looking for more compensation.

This article give some helpful tips, and the most important involves getting as much information as possible.

“You shouldn’t just pull a number out of a hat,” says Ofer Sharone, assistant professor of work and employment research at MIT’s Sloan School of Management. “Tell them what you’ve researched and explain why you’re worth more than the average person.” Pynchon agrees: Don’t make the discussion about what you want, but what you can provide. “Tell them, ‘I walk on water, and I can walk on water at your company too.’ ” It helps if you request a salary before they offer you one; the first number on the table influences the rest of the negotiation.

Be smart about this. You have to know about your situation, the realities as work and the nature of the market in your field. Good luck!

The crippling cost of college

One of the themes we keep emphasizing has to do with the crippling costs of a college education today in America. Sure, college campuses are much nicer with all the new buildings and new technologies, but they are failing in their basic mission if students leave there with massive student debt that will hang over them for the rest of their lives.

More publications are doing good work discussing these problems. In Newsweek, Megan McArdle asks whether college is a lousy investment.

Why are we spending so much money on college?

And why are we so unhappy about it? We all seem to agree that a college education is wonderful, and yet strangely we worry when we see families investing so much in this supposedly essential good. Maybe it’s time to ask a question that seems almost sacrilegious: is all this investment in college education really worth it?

The answer, I fear, is that it’s not. For an increasing number of kids, the extra time and money spent pursuing a college diploma will leave them worse off than they were before they set foot on campus.

Given the costs, it’s hard to argue with her on this point. She discusses how college was critical for many families in building a better life for the next generation. But sitting on an English degree with $150,000 of debt seems like a pretty bad deal.

That said, we can’t overreact to the current economic conditions. When the economy improves, more of these kids will get jobs with their degrees.

Yet something has to give, and it was very encouraging to hear President Obama challenge colleges to slow down tuition inflation.

Also, the future of free college courses looms on the horizon. Universities would be wise to start figuring out how to lower costs, or they might really have a problem in the future.

Negotiating your salary in a lateral move

Here are some interesting tips on how to gain maximum leverage in negotiating your salary when you are making a lateral move:

If you’re about to make a lateral move, you should list and monetize everything your employer has to pay for in order to secure your services. You may not have stock options, but you probably get a yearly bonus, vacation time, medical and dental benefits, life and disability insurance, free or low-cost parking, continuing education, professional fees and dues, subscriptions to professional journals, and the like.

To escape the strong anchor of your current salary, estimate how much each of those benefits would cost if you had to obtain them in the local market. The final number you calculate will be your “total compensation package.” That is the figure to use when your prospective employer asks you what you’re making now. And the term to use is “my total compensation package” or simply “my compensation.”

When you’re asking for more money than you’re currently making, you’ll also want to take a look at what you’re leaving behind. You might, for example, be giving up retirement benefits that haven’t yet vested, earned vacation, or a year-end performance bonus. You’ll want to ask your new employer to compensate you for the benefits you’ll be leaving at your old firm by making the transition to your new one. In Mayer’s case, that accounted for $14 million of her total compensation.

Read more about using that power and information to your advantage.

Love Animals? Become an Animal Trainer!

If you’re interested in an industry that’s rewarding, fun, and has an excellent job outlook, consider animal training. Employment in this career field is expected to grow 20 percent for the 2008-2018 decade, which is much faster than the average for all career fields. Not only this, but this is one of the top fields for individuals interested in freelancing or running their own business. Around 54 percent of animal trainers are self-employed.

So what do you have to do to become an animal trainer? Besides having a love for animals, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, you’ll need a high school diploma or GED equivalent for some jobs, and a bachelor’s degree for others. For example, if you’re interested in becoming a marine mammal trainer, a bachelor’s degree in marine biology, animal science, animal psychology, or biology may be required. Some jobs may also require an animal health technician degree.

Education plays an important role in how much you will earn as well as experience and certification. For example, dog trainers with certification by a professional association or a private vocational or state-approved trade school have the most opportunities and earn the highest salaries in this sector. The Bureau reports that overall, animal trainers earn an average salary of $27,270 per year. The middle 50 percent earned between $19,880 and $38,280 and the lowest 10 percent earned less than $16,700. The top 10 percent earned more than $51,400.

To find out information about animal training and certification, visit the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers (CCPDT) at or the Bureau of Labor Statistics at

Graduate, Online School Enrollment Increase

One of the best ways to increase your marketability in tough economic times is to earn a degree. It’s true that a degree is not a guarantee that you will get the job you want and in the timeframe you want, but it is a fact that the unemployment rates for individuals without an education or less education are astronomical compared to unemployment rates for individuals with a degree—especially an advanced degree. As of February 2010, the unemployment rate for individuals with less than a high school diploma was 14.9 percent. For individuals with a high school diploma, the unemployment rate was 10.3 percent. The unemployment rate for individuals with some college, but no degree was 9.2 percent. The unemployment rate for:

  • -Associate degree holders is 7 percent
  • -Bachelor’s degree holders is 5.4 percent
  • -Master’s degree holder’s is 4 percent
  • -Professional degree holder’s is 2.4 percent
  • -Doctoral degree holder’s is 1.9 percent

These figures combined and averaged bought the overall unemployment rate to 8.2 percent in 2010, according the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Not only does education protect you from unemployment, to a certain extent, it can also keep you out of the low-income bracket. Individuals with a degree earn double (and in some cases triple) the amount per week that  less educated workers do.  

The bottom line is—education pays, especially in a tough economy where competition is intense and employer’s are in a position to demand more from potential employees. As a result, adults are making the decision to return to school to earn an advanced degree, while others are enrolling in a variety of certificate programs, online degree programs, and more. Hundreds of colleges and universities have reported an increase in graduate school enrollment ranging from 7 to 15 percent, while online undergraduate degree programs have seen a significant increase over the past several years. Some colleges and universities report a 2.3 percent increase in undergraduate online enrollment while others report more than a 10 percent increase. 

The reasons for the increase in enrollment in graduate programs and online undergraduate degree programs go beyond America’s current economic crisis. Graduate programs have actually become more accessible through online offerings and international enrollment is up, which helps boost percentages.

The availability of graduate programs online appeals to many full-time working professionals that may also have major obligations at home. The same is true for online undergraduate programs. Overall, these online programs are also a way to conserve and save money. They’re just more affordable, as they eliminate the need to commute and spend.

About Online Undergraduate and Graduate Degree Programs

Most online undergraduate degree programs are an extension of an existing program at a brick and mortar college or university. Online graduate programs, especially MBA’s, are offered in abundance through most accredited colleges and universities. Although online degree programs have the same curricula and requirements as brick and mortar programs, in many cases (and contrary to popular belief) online degree programs are much more difficult.

To successfully complete an online program you must be at least somewhat computer savvy, mainly because you have to master the system you will be using in order to attend lectures, chat, submit papers, post to discussion areas, and more. Programs such as Blackboard and SOAR are common platforms. In addition, you must be extremely disciplined, organized, and focused. It’s a lot tougher when you don’t see your professor or interact with other students several times a week.

It’s up to the student to check in, read through all materials, jot down due dates, post to discussion boards, and contact the instructor if there are any issues. There is absolutely no hand holding in an online environment, but the good news is, in addition to earning an advanced degree, your organizational and problem-solving skills will soar.

Before you enroll in an online degree program, check to make sure the school is accredited. This means that the U.S. Department of Education must recognize the schools accreditation. You can check your school’s accreditation status by accessing the U.S. Department of Education Database of Accredited Postsecondary Institutions and Programs.

About Accreditation

Accreditation is a validation process by which institutions of higher education are evaluated against established standards to ensure a high level of educational quality. Accreditation is accomplished through a peer-review process in which faculty from accredited institutions help to conduct evaluations of either new non-accredited institutions or accredited institutions seeking renewal. The standards used to conduct these evaluations may vary but in general they assess the institution’s mission, goals and objectives, resources and resource allocation, student admission requirements, student support services, and the quality of the faculty and educational offerings.

America’s Best Graphic Design Programs

Graphic designers design art and copy layouts for material to be presented by electronic media and visual communications media such as magazines, newspapers, books, television, and packaging. Graphic designers use a variety of techniques to communicate messages such as animation, illustration, color, type, and photography. Graphic designers work for advertising agencies, newspapers and magazines, the film and video industry, publishing houses, and government agencies, design firms, and public relations firms.

Although graphic design jobs are available in these industries and many others, the biggest employers of graphic designers are marketing and advertising firms. Many graphic designers work on a contract basis. Currently, 25.6 percent of all graphic designers are self-employed.

Depending on factors from the size of the firm to region, graphic designers can earn anywhere from $42,000 per year on the low end to $95,000 or more on the high end. Entry-level graphic designers usually earn the lowest salaries, but in most cases, these designers advance rather quickly—usually within 1-3 years.

Graphic designers are in high demand today, but positions are very competitive. However, most graphic designers will agree that the right position is well worth the effort because not only are these creative positions exciting and rewarding, they are also the most stable positions in the creative sector. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the job outlook for graphic designers is good, based on an impressive 13 percent increase in job growth between now and 2018.

So, what does it take to become a graphic designer? Employers prefer to hire graphic designers with at least an associate degree, but designers with a bachelor’s degree or higher will find more opportunities. They will receive higher starting salaries as well. Currently, more than 50 percent of all graphic designers have an associate degree or higher and more than 20 percent have some college experience, but no degree. More than 6 percent of all graphic designers have a master’s degree. 

It is important to note that education alone does not guarantee entry into or success in the field. Creativity, communication skills, and computer skills are a must. Web design and animation experience are also a must for most of the top firms.

Graphic designers come from many different educational backgrounds. Some have a degree in advertising or marketing communications while others may have a degree in fine art, multimedia arts, or even animation. If the focus is graphic design, students can expect to take classes such as flash animation, marketing design, website design, computer graphics, studio art, printing techniques, principles of design, commercial graphics production, history of graphic design and desktop publishing, to name a few.

In the U.S., there are more than 250 accredited postsecondary institutions with programs in art and design. Art & Design schools are twice as likely to offer a degree or certificate in graphic design, but many of the schools on the list below are traditional four-year colleges and universities. The list was complied by U.S. News and World Report. If you decide that the schools on the list aren’t for you or they are just too competitive, remember, many other schools offer graphic design programs. If you come across a school that you aren’t familiar with, just check to make sure the program is accredited by The National Association of Art and Design (NASAD) or other recognized accrediting agency. Visit for a list of recognized agencies.

America’s Best Graphic Design Programs 

  • -Rhode Island School of Design, Providence, RI
  • -Cranbrook Academy of Art, Bloomfield Hills, MI
  • -Yale University, New Haven, CT
  • -Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, VA
  • -Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, PA
  • -Maryland Institute College of Art, Baltimore, MD
  • -School of Visual Arts, New York, NY
  • -California Institute of the Arts, Valencia, CA
  • -Pratt Institute, Brooklyn, NY
  • -California College of the Arts, San Francisco, CA
  • -School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, IL
  • -New School–Parsons School of Design, New York, NY
  • -Rochester Institute of Technology, Rochester, NY
  • -University of Cincinnati, Cincinnati, OH
  • -Minneapolis College of Art and Design, Minneapolis, MN

How to Get a Federal Government Job


Yes, you can still find jobs with the nation’s largest employer—the Federal Government. In fact, federal government departments have seen significant growth year after year, even during the darkest days of the recession. So, how do you do you get a Federal Government job? You can start by earning a bachelor’s degree!

Nearly half of all federal government employees have a bachelor’s degree and the majority of mid to high-level positions require a bachelor’s or master’s degree, especially in fields that involve research, scientific, and professional work, or medical work such as engineering, biology, psychology, medical technology, and accounting. To qualify for positions in these fields, the degree musty also be from a college or university that has obtained accreditation or pre-accreditation status from an accrediting body recognized by the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Education.

High-level federal government positions are generally assigned a letter/number of GS-7 or higher. In these cases, the applicant must have some form of specialized experience. At least one year of the specialized experience must have been equivalent to level of the next lower grade in the Federal Service. So, to qualify for GS-11 you must have had a minimum of one year of specialized experience equivalent to GS-10.

If you do not have a college degree, you can still qualify for certain lower level positions in the Federal Government and you can work your way up. But even for positions that are considered lower level, you should have:

  • 1.) Been in the job market for several years
  • 2.) Accumulated an extensive work history

Starting at the GS-5 grade or equivalent level, positions generally require 1 year of specialized experience equal to the next lower grade. For clerical and assistant positions at the GS-2 level, a high school diploma and some work experience is all that is needed.

How to Apply for Federal Jobs

Potential applicants may find out about job vacancies in the federal government by visiting the Federal Government’s Employment Information System at Here, applicants may utilize the Online Resume Builder feature, which allows job seekers to create on-line resumes specifically designed for applying for Federal jobs. Applicants can use the resume builder to create, print, save, edit for future use, or send by fax or mail to employers. Many of the hiring agencies will accept electronic submissions of resumes created through USAJOBS for vacancies listed on the web site.

The automated phone system is also available 24/7. Here, potential job seekers can access current job vacancies, employment information fact sheets, applications, forms, and apply for some jobs.

Best Places to Work in the Federal Government

The first list of rankings below has been determined based on employee satisfaction. The second list covers rankings based on pay and benefits. Both lists rank federal government departments in order (starting with the best) from 1-30. The last list covers government agencies with the highest employment beginning with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs—home to the nation’s highest number of government employees.

Employee Satisfaction Rankings

  1. 1. Nuclear Regulatory Commission 
  2. 2. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission  
  3. 3. Department of Veteran Affairs 
  4. 4. National Aeronautics and Space Administration
  5. 5. Department of Justice
  6. 6. Department of the Army
  7. 7. Social Security Administration 
  8. 8. Securities and Exchange Commission 
  9. 9. Department of State
  10. 10. All Department of Defense
  11. 11. Department of the Air Force
  12. 12. Department of Agriculture 
  13. 13. Department of Health and Human Services
  14. 14. Department of Labor
  15. 15. General Services Administration
  16. 16. Department of the Navy
  17. 17. Environmental Protection Agency
  18. 18. Department of the Interior
  19. 19. National Archives and Records Administration
  20. 20. Department of Commerce
  21. 21. Department of the Treasury
  22. 22. Office of Personnel Management 
  23. 23. Department of Transportation
  24. 24. Department of Energy
  25. 25. Department of Housing and Urban Development
  26. 26. Small Business Administration
  27. 27. epartment of Education
  28. 28. Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation 
  29. 29. Department of Homeland Security
  30. 30. Government Accountability Office

Pay and Benefits Rankings

  1. 1. Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation
  2. 2. Nuclear Regulatory Commission
  3. 3. Securities and Exchange Commission
  4. 4. National Aeronautics and Space Administration
  5. 5. General Services Administration
  6. 6. Office of Personnel Management
  7. 7. Environmental Protection Agency
  8. 8. Department of Housing and Urban Development
  9. 9. Department of Education
  10. 10. Department of State
  11. 11. Social Security Administration
  12. 12. mall Business Administration
  13. 13. Department of Agriculture
  14. 14. epartment of Commerce
  15. 15. Department of Energy
  16. 16. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
  17. 17. Department of Health and Human Services
  18. 18. epartment of the Treasury
  19. 19. Department of Labor
  20. 20. Department of the Interior
  21. 21. Department of Justice
  22. 22. Department of the Army 
  23. 23. Department of the Navy
  24. 24. All Department of Defense
  25. 25. National Archives and Records Administration 
  26. 26. Department of Transportation
  27. 27. Department of the Air Force
  28. 28. Department of Veteran Affairs
  29. 29. Department of Homeland Security
  30. 30. Government Accountability Office 

Federal Agencies with the Most Employment

  1. 1. U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs
  2. 2. .S. Army
  3. 3. U.S. Navy
  4. 4. U.S. Department of Homeland Security
  5. 5. U.S. Air Force
  6. 6. U.S. Department of Treasury
  7. 7. U.S. Department of Agriculture
  8. 8. U.S. Department of Justice
  9. 9. U.S. Department of Defense
  10. 10. U.S. Department of the Interior
  11. 11. U.S. Social Security Administration
  12. 12. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
  13. 13. U.S. Department of Transportation
  14. 14. U.S. Department of Commerce
  15. 15. U.S. Department of State
  16. 16. National Aeronautics and Space Administration
  17. 17. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
  18. 18. .S. Department of Labor
  19. 19. U.S. Department of Energy
  20. 20. U.S. General Services Administration
  21. 21. U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development
  22. 22. Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation
  23. 23. Smithsonian Institution
  24. 24. U.S. Department of Education
  25. 25. U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission

For more information about government jobs including salaries, projections and more, visit the U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics at

Employer Tuition Assistance Programs

Did you know that many employers offer Employee Educational Assistance Packages to employees interested in pursuing an associate or undergraduate degree, graduate degree or certificate? Currently, around 33 percent of employees that attend college through Employee Educational Assistance Packages (EAPs) earn an associate degree, 23 percent earn a bachelor’s degree, 22 percent pursue master’s degrees, and 15 percent pursue professional certificates. EAPs offer tuition reimbursement and reimbursement for books and program associated fees.

Employee Education Assistance Packages are common at large firms, although some smaller firms may be receptive to the idea. More on this later. Larger companies in the insurance industry, public utilities, financial, hospital care and education will almost always offer EAPs to employees. And contrary to popular belief, many plants and retailers do offer tuition packages to employees under certain circumstances. A good example is Ford Motor Company. Back in 2004, when Ford’s Edison, New Jersey and Avon Lake, Ohio plants closed leaving 1,500 workers without jobs, workers became eligible to receive up to $15,000 a year toward tuition as long as they were enrolled as full-time students.

There are two types of EAPs: job related EAPs and self-improvement EAPs. Job-related EAPs offer the most benefits for employers. They are tax deductible for employers and the training the employee receives will increase the employee’s worth (i.e. performance and productivity). Job related EAPs are also tax-free for employees. Self-improvement EAPs may or may not be tax deductible, so it’s best to consult the most current tax regulations before applying for EAP funds.

To apply for EAP funds, employees must complete the application through the Human Resources (HR) department. Depending on the company, the HR department may evaluate the application based on the institution, the program, the employees work history, salary and whether or not the course of study fits within the objectives of the company. Again, this depends on the company. Some companies may offer assistance for just about any program as long as the employee maintains a B average or better.

Approximately half of all companies that offer EAPs pay 100 percent of tuition costs. Twenty percent pay between 50 and 90 percent of tuition costs and 30 percent pay below the 50 percent mark. While most employers offer tuition reimbursement through EAPs, other plans may pay for tuition up front, but with one caveat. If the employee drops out or does not pass with a B average or better, the employee will have to reimburse the employer in full. If the employee quits his job before paying the employer back, the employer has the right to collect through the appropriate legal channels. Remember, all employees that receive money from EAPs will have to sign an agreement stating that they agree to pay the employer back if the employee fails, drops out or quits his job.

Not every employer has a formal employee education assistance program in place, but they might be open to the idea on a case-by-case basis or as a group. If the employee or group can prove that higher education will result in returns for the company, the employer may be willing to make an offer. It’s best to schedule a meeting with the boss to present your case.

Overall, EAPs are well worth the effort. They offer an excellent way for employees to finance their education. Remember, billions of dollars are readily available through employers to cover the costs of tuition. No other financial aid avenue offers a salary plus free money for higher education.

The list below represents only a fraction of the companies that currently offer Employee Educational Assistance Packages.

  • -American Fidelity Insurance
  • -AT&T
  • -Chicago Mercantile Exchange
  • -Cigna
  • -Ernst & Young
  • -Farmer’s Insurance
  • -General Mills
  • -Google
  • -Hilton Hotels
  • -Johnson & Johnson
  • -Kaiser Permanente
  • -Lockheed Martin
  • -Microsoft
  • -Nike
  • -Philip Morris
  • -Starbucks
  • -U.S. Bank
  • -Wal-Mart
  • -Wells Fargo
  • -Xerox

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