I’m terrible at PowerPoint, no-show employee wants a bonus, and more

It’s five answers to five questions. Here we go…

1. No-show employee wants a bonus

We had an employee who stopped coming to work with no call, no text, no warning, nothing. After two days of not hearing from her, we called the police to conduct a welfare check. They told us that it appeared that she was at home, but she wouldn’t answer the door.

After another week of not hearing from her, we assumed she had voluntarily quit. We sent her a letter her know she violated the employee policy and that she should return the key.

Then we received a phone call from someone saying he was her friend and she was in a debilitating accident and had to be transported back to Phoenix to be taken care of by her family. He asked for a bonus for her. We told him she was not eligible since she voluntarily quit. We never heard back. Now two months later, she is emailing back threatening to show up to our office to pick up a check for a bonus that she is not going to get. The bonus is not part of any written contract and we give bonuses on a discretionary basis for employee appreciation.

Please advise on how to proceed. We don’t want her to show up when we have patients and causing a scene.

Send her a letter by certified mail outlining the facts: She stopped showing up for work without contacting you, after two weeks of hearing nothing you sent her a letter confirmation her separation from the organization, you issued her final paycheck on X date for $Y, no further wages are owed, bonuses are given at the discretion of the employer, and she is not eligible for one. You can email her back with the same statement too.

If she shows up at your office anyway (unlikely, but worth being prepared for), someone should be prepared to escort her out. If she makes a scene, that’s on her, not on you.

And yeah, it’s very unlikely that someone who was truly in a debilitating accident would handle it like this.

2. I’m terrible at PowerPoint

I started six months ago at a management consulting firm, and I love the job. The company is great and really takes our development seriously. We have a lot of opportunities for professional development and a really good on-boarding program.

But I have come to realize that I’m absolutely terrible at PowerPoint, i.e. the most important tool in a junior consultant’s toolbox. I realize everyone sucks in the beginning but the colleagues that started with me are getting really good and I’m still stuck in mediocre territory. I try to improve. I try to take projects where I’ll have to do a lot of presentations to get more practice but frankly, it’s going very slow. Am I doomed in my career since I’m so bad at this super essential program?

If PowerPoint is a big thing in your work, then yeah, sucking at it isn’t good. But there are zillions of classes and online tutorials in PowerPoint. Take some! If you’ve already tried that to no avail, then I’d (a) ask for advice from coworkers who are good at it — see if they’ll look at some of yours and give you specific tips and (b) raise the issue with your boss and ask for her help in putting together a plan to help improve your skills. (Most bosses will be glad you’re identifying the issue yourself and actively taking steps to address it.)

As long as you do the above, I don’t think you’re doomed. There are some pretty basic rules that you can follow that should get you at least into “acceptable” territory.

3. My coworker keeps pressuring me to get a different degree

I have recently decided to go back to university after several years in the workforce. I don’t have any qualifications except high school, as well as a few work-based qualifications such as a fork lift license. The career path I want to go down is complete a bachelor’s degree in law, yet my one of my coworkers is insisting, almost pressuring me, to complete a bachelor’s degree in social science with a major in criminology.

I have explained to my coworker that I am simply not interested, yet my coworker keeps pushing. Their logic is that while sociology jobs don’t pay as well as a law degree, it will give me a wider range of career opportunities (even though this coworker has no university qualifications herself and no background in career advice/job searching).

How do I politely yet firmly tell my college that I am simply not interested in a social science degree? I have nothing against social science degrees, but I have never been interested in this field of study.

“Jane, I have my plan of study set, so let’s not keeping discussing it.”

And if that doesn’t work: “It’s not something I want to continue discussing. Let’s move on.” Repeat as needed.

All that said … at least in the U.S., undergraduate programs in law (as opposed to actual law school) have a reputation for not being particularly rigorous. Depending on what you want to do with the degree, that could be worth factoring into your thinking.

4. Does my new employer know that I’m only available for the summer?

I recently got a full-time job as a management trainee for a marketing firm. On my resume, it clearly states that my graduation date is in 2018, but my dad is telling me to make sure that the firm knows I’m going back to school in September. My thoughts tell me that it’s clearly obvious that I am going back to school since I put my expected graduation date as 2018 on the top of my resume and the people in charge of the hiring process were all given a copy. What do you think? I don’t want them to think I am second-guessing the opportunity at all and I have April-September to do a great job for them. I think that my dad is trying to be overly cautious, but I want them to know I’m coming in with a sense of urgency to get my job done. I was picked amongst a lot of people for the job so I don’t think that they would overlook the first point of my resume.

Oooooh, no, if that hasn’t been explicitly discussed, you need to make sure that they know that, and you need to do it ASAP. There’s a decent chance that they figured it out from your resume, but it’s also possible that they assumed that you’re taking classes in the evening and that you wouldn’t have applied for the job otherwise. You must, must, must make sure that they know, because if they assumed wrong, it’s going to be a real problem when they figure it out.

This has nothing to do with whether you’re coming in with a sense of urgency or how many other candidates there were for the job; if it’s intended to be a normal staff position rather than a summer job, you’ve got to clear it up right away. And if you’re right that they know, it won’t be a big deal to verify it.

5. I can’t find a job with the certifications I just got

I am having a very hard time finding a job. I am trying to start a career in medical billing. I have just finished my education at a local technical college. I have certifications relating directly to the jobs I’m applying for. I have no doubt that I have received the right education for the job I want. The problem is that I have no experience what so ever in working in a medical office. Every job posting I come by says under requirements:
Education: High School Diploma/GED
Experience: 2 years or more working in medical office

The education part is incredibly frustrating because it almost seems like I just wasted two years on education that means nothing! Also, I have to be able to find a job that support two people, myself and my fiancé (my fiancé cannot work at the moment). Some of these jobs provide that but not all. I am extremely worried for our future. Is there any way that I can overcome the lack of experience? Is there something I can say in my resume or cover letter?

I’d apply anyway and write the strongest cover letter you can about why you’d be awesome at the job. (I can’t tell you what that is because it will need to be specific to you, but you might get ideas from the cover letter section here.) It’s possible that the two years of working in a medical office is a rigid requirement that they won’t budge on, but it’s also possible that it’s not — and you won’t know until you apply for a bunch and see.

Also, talk to your school. They presumably led you to believe that the education they gave you would help you get a job in this field, so tell them what you’re encountering and ask for their advice. (Also, it may be helpful for them to hear that their graduates are having trouble finding work and that they need to do a better job preparing people for the realities of job requirements in the field.)

{ 393 comments… read them below }

  1. Almond Milk Latte

    #5 – I have a few friends who’ve done this, and their school partnered with a few local hospitals to help people get their foot in the door. Definitely check with them for any possible connections they could make.

    1. KarenT

      Yes, definitely! Your school’s career centre may have relationships with employers or an alumni network they can put you in touch with.

    2. Jeanne

      Also, I don’t think anyone puts 0-2 years experience in a job ad any more. They put minimum 2 years experience. It is harder than ever to find that first job. Keep applying, interviewing, whatever you can do.

      For salary, research expected salaries. If the companies are offering salaries in range with the job and the area, then be realistic about which jobs will get you a start in the industry.

      1. SRB

        For what it’s worth, my first job out of college was “High school/GED and 2 years of experience”. I had a bachelors degree, but zero years of experience. The job was affiliated with the school I got my degree from. So, yeah (1) your school may have connections, or may be able to connect you with alumni who are working now and (2) if you have more education, it may “make up for” not having the experience.

        I’d say to apply anyways and write a super awesome cover letter explaining why your education gives you a step up in the medical billing learning curve – from what I hear, it’s pretty steep. :)

    3. Stranger than fiction

      Yeah, in my experience, most trade/technical schools assign you to a counselor that can help guide you on this, have a job postings board, etc. Also, maybe Op can somehow spin the hours spent “billing” during her coursework into the needed experience.

    4. Elle

      The OP’s situation is exactly why I like schools that offer internships/co-ops while still taking classes.

    5. Kelly

      This is actually pretty typical of trade schools, I’m afraid. If you google them you’ll find ton’s of stories/complaints just like this. Our son wanted to go to a trade school so we contacted people in the industry he wanted to work in and asked where he should go … they all said to either get into an apprenticeship or go to a community college. They didn’t have any faith in the abilities of students who came out of for-profit trade schools. That advice saved us $50k.

      I feel bad even saying this because it offers no help to the OP – but the best that can be done now is to turn to the school for help and hope they can help her find a position in her field.

      1. Simonthegrey

        It isn’t always better for community colleges. My husband got his AA in a similar field to the OP, and had this issue after graduating. The college was no help, unfortunately.

      2. nonymous

        My vet clinic is always on the lookout for cheap labor for the kennel techs. They often hire students who are recent grads from the nearby for-profit trade school vet tech program. It’s win-win (ish) because the junior staff have opportunity to be mentored by the experienced techs and the clinic gets overqualified staff for it’s most menial activities. I’m wondering if OP#5 can find a position which offers a similar mentoring setup?

        From what I see on my own insurance bills, she may have luck with a private dental clinic or a small independent specialty practice (think those lasik places) where a good chunk of her time is spent with customer service and competence with high volume generalized billing is not needed (but she can still use her education).

        1. Nonyme

          Way late after the fact for this post, but the other option for anyone in a similar position — wanting to break into medical billing — would be to look for a job in financial services/patient registration at a hospital. This dovetails neatly with medical billing as the registration people (particularly for outpatient services) routinely handle insurance and financial issues, and a heaping ton of prior auth issues, and it will look good on a resume.

          Patient registration is generally an entry-level position requiring only a GED/High School diploma and the ability to pass a background check, but if you know the difference between an ICD-10 and a CPT code, and speak basic medicalese you’re way ahead of the game.

  2. Dan

    #2

    Is your job doing any actual consulting, or just putting together presentations? I hope to god that the most important tool in your toolbox is the ability to critically think. One thing to be careful about is really making sure what’s valued by your customer (and your boss as well I guess). Depending on which school of thought you believe, people may caution you against presentations that are overly flashy — some clients get perturbed if they think they spent a lot of money paying you for style and not substance.

    You’re best off making sure you have a solid story and present it effectively. About the biggest power point sin you can commit is throwing slides of dense text at an audience. If you are intending to speak to the slides, then put fewer words on the slides, and use more charts, tables, and images. If you need heavy text, learn some basics of animations. A little goes a long way — I’m a fan of the “fade in” animation, and don’t use much else. Look at using call outs and what not, and using the fades judiciously. It’ll help focus the audience’s eyes and attention to the point you are currently making.

    Focus on telling the story, don’t worry too much about being the best power point engineer on the face of the planet. My value to my work is much greater than just making power point slides; but I have to do them on occasion to get points across to people. I’m an engineer, and have never taken any power point training whatsoever.

    1. Artemesia

      I’d get a quick tutorial in Prezzi which is must more effective and cool than PowerPoint and it also requires a clear sense of the logical relationships among the points you are making.

      1. Christy

        Oh can we please avoid getting into a debate over PowerPoint vs Prezzi? (I know that’s not what you’re doing, but I feel myself wanting to start that fight with you right now, and I fear I’m not the only one.)

        I will say, if you’re in a PowerPoint environment, the powers that be probably want you to use the same tool as everyone else. Like, I feel fairly certain that standardization is important in consulting presentations.

        (Sorry if I’m scattered–I met my bosses for the first time and just got back from drinking with them and I’m exhausted.)

        1. Dan

          Prezzi gives me seizures, and I’m not even epileptic.

          To your point about “what everybody else does”, as a junior staffer, OP isn’t in a strong position to advocate for change. It’s one thing to put together a demo or something to show a senior staffer, but if that person puts the kabosh on it, then you have to move on and fast, least they end up like the person who wrote in yesterday who got fired for “taking initiative.”

          If OP focuses on telling a coherent, orchestrated, supported story above all else, tool skills (aka knowledge of power point) are secondary. If the story is well told, people may not even notice that OP is using the default, bulleted, black and white template.

          1. Chocolate lover

            Prezi makes me ill, also. And doesn’t help when you’re in a place with spotty connections, like my university student center when trying to give a presentation at orientation, or a major storm knocks out the Prezi servers.

            Even the young, supposedly more “cool” people technologically speaking, in my office didn’t think it was worth the time and effort.

            1. Rusty Shackelford

              Everyone in my daughter’s peer group uses Prezi. They’re high school juniors. ;-)

            2. Stan

              I’m glad I’m not the only one! When my high school students used Prezi, I could never watch their presentations. I had to look at them later on a smaller screen.

          2. nofelix

            Yeah agreed, Prezzi is suitable for a select few situations. If there is a large physical object that you’re describing, where it helps to pan around for each point, then sure it’s helpful. Otherwise just a confusing gimmick. I saw one recently for a sustainable energy presentation and it was just distracting.

        2. Artemesia

          Well that seemed a bit unnecessarily hostile. I suggest Prezzi because when you are competitively bad at something, sometimes it helps to get good at something similar but different. But if one lags at powerpoint, there are many tutorials. A weekend should take care of the problem. I found the most important thing with powerpoint was to avoid the cutesy clip art and templates and go for clean contrasty slides. And of course to avoid lots of text. There are all sorts of rules of thumb out there about lines and words. I also prefer not to convey a lot of information on slides but use them to frame what I am discussing. The PP becomes an organizing tool or a tool to engage when activities or discussions are wanted rather than a written lecture. The more content you put on a slide versus organizational guides, the less people will be paying attention to your presentation.

          1. neverjaunty

            KeyNote is really good for this, if you have access to it. Setting aside which is ‘better’, because KeyNote is not as commonly used as PP, people often think your presentations are ‘better’ simply because they look different.

            1. Dynamic Beige

              It’s true that Keynote does have a different “feel” to it, especially when it comes to animations, I would bet they have a different algorithm for ease in effects. However, it’s only on Mac, last I checked. And, given that PowerPoint comes with Word/Excel/Outlook, few places are going to spend extra money on things like expensive Mac laptops so they can run Keynote. Which is a bizarrely affordable piece of software, if you have the hardware.

          2. Anna

            I like Prezzi. It looks good and I’ve never had any problem following the “story-telling” of it. In fact, it makes me sense than a static PP slide frequently. It isn’t as common, though, which is too bad. I’d like our students to learn how to use it because any skill in their training that will set them apart is a good skill to have.

      2. Dynamic Beige

        There’s a very important reason why businesses use PowerPoint — beyond ease of use. And that is because you can share slides between presentations. There’s other things that Prezi doesn’t do, such as print (or at least it didn’t last time I checked). If you’re making a presentation to people, it’s sometimes necessary to print out the slides for them. Frequently when I do a meeting, the client wants the final slide decks and the stage isn’t even struck. Because that’s what they do with them, they post them on their intranet site for other people to access. I’ve been in the position more than once where it’s been a year later and I recognise the slide as something I did, but it’s in a different presentation.

        So, if OP#2 is not very good at making slides, they could very easily look at other presentations within their department and pick and choose what works for them — provided they are allowed to do this. As a professional with ~20 years in the biz, I see it all the time. Some companies are weirdly adamant that their people become proficient with PowerPoint. But IME, there’s a difference between knowing how to craft a story/break your information down, creating the artwork needed to illustrate those points and physically being able to use the program. I mean, when I do slides, I use Illustrator, Photoshop, OnOne for masking and sometimes 3DS Max — it all depends on what is required. I also have an iStock account so I can get images without watermarks.

        The thing is, everyone has different abilities. OP#2 just may not be someone who thinks visually. There’s nothing wrong with that. They may be better at writing or speaking in front of people, which is something a lot of people struggle with. It’s far better to play to your strengths.

      1. themmases

        I took a course on giving scientific presentations once where the instructor encouraged us to try speaking from *only* images. He cautioned us not to literally do that outside of class, obviously, but it definitely improved my presentataions to start from the assumption that I would make a chart or find an image that communicated the idea, rather than a wall of text.

        I found it easier to speak from images too. It frees you up to move around and point things out (burn off any nervous energy!) and is an absolute barrier to just reading the slides. I’d highly recommend it for practice.

    2. snuck

      Less is more in Powerpoint I find…

      Take a look at a few good quality presentations that match your style of presenting, and get someone to show you how any effects were built.

      I believe most people are less about flash, more about content. I’d rather see a few short slides that are clean, to the point and illustrate what can’t be said verbally, than sit through a massive flashy show. Powerpoint has a time and a place – it’s for showing the visual when the auditory isn’t going to work as clearly… keep that in mind… be a great speaker, and save Powerpoint for the data pack.

      1. AcademiaNut

        Back in the days when PP was becoming standard for presentations, and people were still figuring out what worked, I ended at back to back conferences. I was so fried near the end of the second, I spent a session sitting near the back, taking notes about what worked and what didn’t in the presentations, because I couldn’t pay attention to the content. It ended up being incredibly valuable.

        From the OP, I’m not sure what the weakness – is it slide layout (making clear/pretty slides), overall structure (showing the right information, logical flow of the talk), or the act of actually giving the presentation? Because my advice would be different for different issues.

        And I tend to agree about flashy shows – if your talk is logically organized and you are clear on what you want to say and what is important, then a clean and simple presentation is an excellent complement.

        1. OP #2

          Hi!
          Prezi is a no-go at my workplace, everyone works in powerpoint.

          It’s slide layout that’s my weakness. I’m fairly good at the talking part and at telling a story, I just can’t make it look good on a slide.

          1. misspiggy

            In that case don’t worry about it – your audience really won’t mind, as long as there isn’t too much distracting formatting. Keep the font simple and clear for everyone at the back; really work on getting text as concise as you possibly can; and do a straightforward fade/appear between points and slides.

            If you’re worried about lack of beautiful formatting affecting your ability to impress higher-ups, focus on impressing people with your other attributes – unless you want to work in media/design/communications, beautiful Powerpoint slides really don’t matter.

            1. OP #2

              Animations are basically completely forbidden here.
              That’s the first thing they told us in our introductory powerpoint course… ;)

              1. Dynamic Beige

                If I may… who taught this course?

                I have seen that people who are new to PowerPoint will do lots of things because they are “fun”. It’s “fun” to make something whiz onto the screen with a sound effect — maybe once. But when every bullet flies in with a squealing tire effect, uh… not so much. It’s those few people for whom the “absolutely no animations” edicts are usually passed. Also, people who rely too heavily on their slides use them as cue cards and want to see everything all at once, they don’t like (generally speaking) when things build on automatically.

                1. azvlr

                  I came here to say much the same thing:
                  It’s one thing to know HOW to use PowerPoint, but another to know how to USE PowerPoint effectively:
                  – Use the same typeface in the same size in the same location on each slide. You can have more than one typeface, but they should complement each other. Three would be pushing it.
                  – Use simple typefaces rather than decorative ones. Sans-serif is preferred for a presentations – Arial, Helvetica, etc. Save the serif typefaces for large blocks of written text (I’m generalizing a LOT here, so commenters please be kind.)
                  – Font size is important, too. Back away from your desk to judge if the size is reasonable.
                  – Choose colors carefully – Light text on dark for projected presentation, and dark text on light for printed and sometimes on-screen stuff. Contrast is the key. Use the provided color themes or look up color themes online. Avoid combos like red/green or blue/yellow.
                  – No more than 6 lines and no more than 7 words per line (if you have more info to share, make a new slide)
                  – Everything on the slide should be there to convey your message. Don’t use clip-art just for the sake of having a picture on the page
                  – I would argue that sometimes animations are ok. Use them to reveal one piece of information at a time when necessary. But for the love of Pete, a simple “Appear” or “Fade” is all that’s needed.
                  And finally, the presentation is NOT your script. Think of it more like cue cards with visuals. There’s nothing more boring than reading word for word what the presenter is saying. If you must read, there is a space to make notes, which you can print out and no one else needs to see.
                  PowerPoint is relatively simple. You can learn it! But by following a few simple rules, your presentations will shine above all the rest – there are a lot of bad presentations out there.

                2. LD

                  I would imagine that the instructor may have been teaching specific to the OP’s organization…like their own PowerPoint “style” book for for their field or their team. It’s also not a bad instruction for the introductory course to avoid just what you describe….”ooh it can do this so let’s make it do this, and this, and this different and new thing I discovered!” which can make the audience start to count the number of different animations and not pay attention to the actual content. (Why, yes, I’ve done that in a presentation before when the animations were different on every. single. bullet.)

                3. Observer

                  @azvlr I’m going to disagree with “no blue / yellow”. If you are using the right shade / intensity, it actually can work quite well. But, red / green? I’m with you 100% I don’t think there is any way to make it work well.

                4. ancolie

                  @Observer — I can make green and red work, like blue and yellow. But the key to this is knowing HOW to do so. Like the old “you need to have a perfect understanding of the rules if you want to effectively break them.” If you don’t, whoaaaaaa buddy, the results are gonna be b.a.d.

                  …which is, of course, why there are rules in the first place. :)

                5. Undine

                  Red/green may look okay to you, but it will always be an issue for people with color blindness.

              2. Observer

                In that case, I’m betting that no one really cares about “pretty”.

                They will care about easy to scan, useful information, clear layout.

                Another thing – if you generally give a printout of the slide deck, add some useful notes to some (or all of the slides) and format your printout to show the notes and some space for your audience to take notes. I’ve found that to be very useful as a presenter and audience member.

          2. Apollo Warbucks

            I think it is really good you are thinking about this as there is nothing worse than death by power point. Maybe you could have a look on-line for design tips? I found a link that looks interesting which I’ll post below.

            1. KarenD

              Apollo Warbucks nailed it. What OP needs is not “Powerpoint skills” but really, design skills. In my limited experience, the design advice in most Powerpoint education products is pretty darn clunky and basic.

              Fortunately, this is very fixable! There are lots of resources about the fundamentals of good design – I LOVE that link he posted below. Also, look for tutorials on composing good photographs. A lot of those principles (focal points, the rule of thirds) translate into just about any visual medium.

              1. OP #2

                I think you’re right.

                I know the mechanics of PowerPoint but I’m bad at design.
                I’ll start looking around for design tips.

                Thanks for helping me pinpoint it!

                1. IlseBurnley

                  OP, I’m a new consultant too (7 months in) and have been working on this myself. A couple things that have helped:

                  1. Does your firm have a compiled deck of graphics you can pull from? My firm has a couple huge decks that always are circulated with “precanned” graphics for different types of slides; often, when you’re starting a slide from scratch, you can go look through the graphic design compiled deck and copy directly into your file, (editing as needed to be consistent with client design standards if you’re following client templates). My firm has hundreds of slides in this deck and I look for timelines, maps, relationship graphics, org structure graphics, etc…usually the format I need is already in there or it at least gives me ideas.

                  2. Start compiling deliverables into a “reference decks” folder so you can keep track of which slides work well and why, and in doing so internalize some design basics over time.

                  3. Do some self study of design and data visualization. I’m currently working through the book “Impact” by Jon Moon. For data visualization I’ve been finding the Storytelling with Data blog useful. There’s a lot out there if you look for help.

                  4. Try drawing out your slides on paper before creating them. I often find myself bogged down with details like text box outlines, perfect alignment etc, when my time would be better spent in the overall design before investing time in the details only to have the partner kill the slide in the end because it doesn’t really work. Pen and paper forces you to think through the design structure more broadly.

                  5. Finally you didn’t ask for this but a few sources that are helpful for me as a new consultant in general (all of this hit on PPT if you search): Victor Cheng’s newsletters (and I’ve purchased some of his online courses too; they are expensive but actually helpful), the Reddit consulting page, the Consultant’s Mind blog. If you are ever on bench try Coursera for a graphic design course.

                  6. PPT functionality that is always helpful to get your slide into final draft form more quickly:
                  Eyedropper for color matching
                  Aligning and grouping objects
                  Zoom in for detail work
                  Slide sorter view for assessing the overall story line

          3. nofelix

            The simple answer here is to use a template and have a few bullet points per slide. Should be hard to make that look bad.

            If you need to have more complex content, start looking at learning some graphic design for dummies type books.

          4. themmases

            Thanks for sharing this, that makes it a lot more clear what the problem is. I have fixed up a lot of people’s slides for conferences and talks, and I would say your problem is the most common one I see. It can be hard to understand why PowerPoint sloppiness is happening, even though it’s so noticeable. It’s usually, IMO, about inconsistent formatting and alignment.

            Alignment: The “Slides” section of the Home ribbon is your friend. Always start from a premade layout for the slide. Especially at first, don’t move or resize anything unless it’s absolutely required to get what you want. A huge thing that makes presentations look bad is manually created or moved text boxes so the titles appear to jump around the screen in the slide transitions. If you do that, duplicate that slide to reuse its layout on similar slides. If you think you’ve moved something on accident, use the Reset button or the Arrange tools under Drawing. You may also want to go to View > Show > Grid Settings (that pop-out button in the Show section) and turn on snapping objects to grid or the drawing guide to help you align objects nicely. If all else fails, you can go into the properties of any chart, image, or other object and manually set the size and position to force it to be where you want it.

            Formatting: Don’t mess with the bullets, use the auto-created ones and the increase/decrease list level buttons in the Paragraph section of the Home ribbon if you need to move between outline levels. And just in general, don’t fight the installed styles until you’re more comfortable with PowerPoint. Choose a simple template if your company doesn’t have an official one for you to use. If the colors of the official variants are too bold, use that ‘more’ down arrow button under Design > Variants and you can choose any installed color theme or make your own. I would recommend using an installed one or defining one based the official colors in your company’s marketing guide, professionals picked those.

            When you think you’re done, have a run-through in slide show view where you don’t worry about the content, you just scroll through for jumping titles or images, bad animations, and other clunky stuff.

          5. Master Bean Counter

            Grab a template from a coworker and use it. Find a slide somewhere that looks good to you and use it for your template. There is no need to reinvent the wheel is this situation.

          6. Helena

            Alison’s advice still applies; there are some great tutorials for design as well. I recommend Edward Tufte’s courses and books, as well as “Made to Stick” by Chip Heath and Dan Heath. Tufte’s pretty anti-Powerpoint, and “Made to Stick” is more about presenting in general than about slide design, but both helped me grow my ability to present effectively.

          7. Heather

            Here are my steps for effective presentations:
            Write a detailed outline.
            Describe what you are trying to convey in each point in one word (can be an emotion, an object, an idea, whatever).
            Find a picture of that thing.
            Set the picture as a background of the slide.
            Repeat for every point until you are done.

            Exceptions: teaching a specific tool–take screenshots/pictures and do the same thing.
            Can add graphs and charts when necessary.

            My presentations can be anywhere from no slides at all to 50 slides and everywhere in between, depending on what I’m speaking about. I recommend the books Resonate and Slideology as well as using blank black slides throughout to bring the focus back to you.

            1. Heather

              BTW, the reason I construct things this way (with no words if possible) is because people cannot process auditory and visual information at the same time. People process visual information 60,000 times faster than text and read text five times faster than you can speak it. If you have words on your slide, stay silent for a bit because they will be reading and paying attention to it over what you say. Occasionally I utilize a word or two to break up sections, but generally I try to keep it as close to zero as possible save the title slide.

              http://blog.hubspot.com/blog/tabid/6307/bid/34274/7-Lessons-From-the-World-s-Most-Captivating-Presenters-SlideShare.aspx https://www.utexas.edu/lbj/21cp/syllabus/powerpoint_tips2.htm

    3. OP #2

      Hi and thanks!

      I mean, it is consulting but I’m so junior that a lot of the time it’s putting together presentations.

      I know not to make them overly flashy but having issues with making them clear. How to preset a lot of content in pleasing way, basically.
      I’ve been making some improvements since I sent in this question. It’s still incredibly slow going but at least I’m making progress.
      My boss is aware that I want to improve, and I’ve taken on an internal project that is all about presenting lots of information clearly.
      So I AM trying. And no one has brought up that I’m doing badly. But I’m not stupid ;)

      1. Cookies

        Hi OP#2 – Try going to Slideshare, and review some presentations, to see if that gives you some ideas. It’s really helpful.

      2. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)

        Management consulting is its own little world when it comes to PowerPoint, as you know. You’re getting lots of advice here about making good presentations with PowerPoint, but it doesn’t necessarily apply to what you’re doing, right? (Like: animation, very few words per slide, etc.)

        I’d suggest that you ask a colleague (someone at your level whose decks you admire, or someone a level up from you who you could work with as a mentor) for some help directly. Read their decks, ask them why they made the choices they did, compare them to yours and ask what they would have done differently, etc.)

        (I’m not a consultant, but this is speaking from my husband’s experience, who is.)

        1. TootsNYC

          At a lot of workplaces,there is someone who is interesting in coaching or explaining stuff. (at my workplace, that’s me–I love teaching and coaching, bcs it makes me feel really smart–look what I know!)

          And those people can often explain stuff that other people do.

          See if you can find that person, and, as Victoria Nonprofit says, ask them to walk you through what they did and why.

        2. JR

          Totally agree with this – while the above is great advice for PPT presentations in general, consulting has its own culture around decks that you’ll need to match, as you know. I would review some well-done decks that have been put together by your company (ideally under the partner you’re working for) and pull out slides that you particularly like to use as templates. Try to get an example or two for each of the common types of slides you need to know – like a slide that is mostly text, a slide comparing two things, a few slides with various types of graphs/charts, etc. When you have maybe 15ish slides you like, that cover a range of types of information to be conveyed, you should be in good shape to adapt them for most of your needs. Remember that adapting old content is totally your job, not cheating – they want you to reuse old work to minimize the time required to finish the next project. Also, ask for detailed feedback on your presentations and keep looking at good presentations to build your pattern recognition for what works. Finally, I’d say that consulting slides are sometimes just ugly – because they are typically the deliverable, instead of or in addition to being the basis for an actual presentation, they tend to include a LOT of information – bad PowerPoint 101 but totally good consulting. So if the issue is that your slide looks busy, as long as you are focusing on just the key takeaways, it might be the nature of the beast in your industry.

          1. OP #2

            Thank you!

            I’ll start building up a library!

            Like you said, general ppt advice is no good because consultants break those rules all the time. It’s just how it is. But there are good and bad versions of busy.

            1. Observer

              Well, just because consultants break the rules all the time, doesn’t mean it’s a good idea.

              Starting with good general design is a good idea. It’s much easier to break the rules effectively when you have a good grasp of the basics.

              To take an example from another visual medium- If you draw an office scene and all of the furniture and equipment is out of proportion because you can’t draw, that’s sloppy. If you mess with the sizes because you are trying to make a point, that can be very useful if it’s well done.

            2. starsaphire

              I’ll add in, if it hasn’t been mentioned elsewhere:

              The Non-Designers’ Design Book.

              It is full of incredibly useful advice about how to lay out *anything* attractively using the principles of contrast, repetition, alignment, and proximity. (Also offering a really useful, if dubious, acronym.) Also probably cheap, as you can get it used.

              Standard Disclaimer: I was assigned this book for a class and fell in love with it; I have no affiliation with the writers or publishers whatsoever.

        3. Kelly F

          Yeah, seconding this. I’m a law student, but I ended up taking a clinic that was run by and consisted of mostly former consultants, and the emphasis they put on power points and what is “right” is bizarre (to me at least). Like, it had to include lots of diagrams with shapes and colors and have a certain “look” that I never really mastered. It was horrible, I got migraines for the first time in my life because my engagement manager was always on my case about my powerpoints, etc.

          The advice here from non-consultants is well intentioned by I think misses the context here. There isn’t a simple answer about how to make it better. You just have to pick it up somehow, and some people have more trouble than others (like how some people just “know” how to dance/sing/tell jokes etc. and some people can’t)

      3. Stan

        Pearson has a book called Go! with Microsoft Office 2013. It’s got a great section on PowerPoint. Working through the exercises can be really helpful. (I know there are free programs, I’m just not familiar with them.)

        One thing I found really helpful when I was getting started with PowerPoint was to build my presentations while hooked up to the projector. Then I could regularly review how they looked on the big screen. It was really helpful in terms of figuring out the best text size, picture size, slide and font color, etc. Could you borrow a conference room periodically as you’re preparing presentations? Maybe a more proficient coworker could help you look with a critical eye and offer suggestions.

        1. Paige Turner

          There are also a LOT of books out there on PowerPoint. Get a few from the library so you don’t get stuck with one that doesn’t suit your needs, and see if you can pick up some tips.

      4. orchidsandtea

        You’re on the right track! Slide design is a TINY piece of presenting, so if you’ve got the storytelling and the overall flow down, this is genuinely medium potatoes, not giant problematic potatoes. And if you can get just a smidgen of good visual balance so the slides aren’t hideous, it’ll be very small potatoes indeed.

        Helpful resources: start with Nancy Duarte’s Slide:ology and The HBR Guide to Persuasive Presentations. (Duarte made Al Gore’s ppt for An Inconvenient Truth.) There are free online classes at Bright Carbon. When you want to make stellar amazing powerpoints, look up Rexi Media’s free online class—it’s really, really good.

        Smallest of potatoes: Custom fonts only work if they’re on all the computers that’ll be using it, or if you can successfully embed them. But Avenir is a very quick way to make things look pretty.

        1. Nye

          If you do need/want to use a nonstandard font, you can always export your slides to PDF and present that way. Never have to worry about formatting getting messed up from one computer to another. (Says the Linux user who has painfully worked out that “Save as .ppt” is NOT the same as actual PowerPoint.)

        2. Dynamic Beige

          OK, with all due respect, please do NOT get Slide:ology. Aside from some glaring technical mistakes in that book, it is aimed at a designer audience, not really someone who is just starting out. Duarte uses Keynote, not PowerPoint. Instead, try How to Wow with PowerPoint, Beyond Bullet Points, Why Most PowerPoint Presentations Suck And How You Can Make them Better, Fixing PowerPoint Annoyances or PowerPoint 2007 Complete Makeover Kit.

          You can try websites like http://terbergdesign.com/ or http://www.lauramfoley.com/wordpress/ where they have before and after slide makeovers.

          If your boss is really keen on you learning more and/or there is a training budget, you might want to try going to The Presentation Summit http://www.betterpresenting.com/summit/

          Finally, Avenir is not a standard font — by standard font, I mean one that is installed with Microsoft Office. They may not be exciting, but they are safe to use because every computer with Office on them will have them. There are some differences, like in older versions if you bought Business edition that came with Publisher, you got more fonts that the more basic versions didn’t have. While Nye is correct that you can save as a PDF and lock those fonts in, it becomes an issue when you’re presenting on another computer, or a colleague wants to use your deck. Fonts are software, software gets installed. There are loads of companies out there who do not allow any installations on company computers and have installed software to monitor and prevent that. Using non-standard fonts can also be against the branding guidelines of any given organisation.

          1. orchidsandtea

            Thanks Dynamic Beige :) I’ll check out your resources straight away. OP, listen to Dynamic Beige, not me. My links are just things I’ve found helpful. DB seriously knows their stuff.

        3. LQ

          Didn’t we have the post recently about the person who had a boss who didn’t install the custom fonts and had powerpoint issues? Don’t use custom fonts unless you are 100% sure you will be 100% in control of the PowerPoint and all machine it will be on.

          1. Tammy

            Depending on your organization, there might in fact be custom fonts you can count on having. At my company, Marketing distributes a corporate “standard” PowerPoint template, along with the necessary fonts for said template. Of course, they also distribute a version of the same template which uses only the Microsoft-standard fonts. I’m pretty sure there’s a way to transform content between the two templates if need be, but I’ve never had to figure it out since I always present from my own laptop.

            But I totally agree – don’t use custom fonts unless you KNOW 100% you’ll have them available when you present.

      5. Xay

        As a fellow consultant who isn’t great at making beautiful Powerpoint decks, I completely understand. I recommend that you reach out to people at your level and higher who make good ones, ask for tips and ask them to send you examples of really good decks. I promise, every analyst and consultant has a folder of great decks that they pull from.

      6. Lora

        The classic book on data presentation, although written by a total PowerPoint hater, is still great for data presentation: Edward Tufte’s _The Visual Display of Quantitative Information_. He has other books that are excellent for slide creation, especially if you don’t want to bore people to death.

        It’s actually been my experience that the vast majority of PowerPoints are nothing short of atrocious, especially when they come from the more senior corporate people – 100 lines of 4-point font and ridiculously unhelpful cartoon graphics that do nothing to break up the Wall O’ Text. And then they read it to us. This is from major Fortune 500 companies, by the way. When I am presenting to virtually anyone else on earth, I’m told that my presentations are wonderful (I did Toastmasters and other presentation type classes in college), but when I have to present to the head honchos I’m explicitly TOLD to make a 4-point Wall O’ Text “because that’s what they expect to see”. *facepalm*

        1. Dynamic Beige

          That’s one set of books I keep meaning to get and never get around to, Tufte’s set. Gonna have to stick up a Post-it note somewhere ;)

          1. Editor

            I second the recommendation about Tufte. The Visual Display of Quantitative Information totally changed the way I approached tables and data. The second book was very good, but somewhat repetitive. I found his dissection of possible misrepresentations of data to be instructive, too.

      7. Tuckerman

        I used to be awful with PP. This semester I have a professor who gave us some tips. Not sure about your field, but generally images are preferable to bullet points. I’m not talking about clip art, rather other images that complement your presentation. For example, if you’re talking about a technological innovation, show a picture of the technology being used, don’t list bullet points about the technology. Charts/graphs are useful sometimes, but you don’t want to put up something too detailed. Or if you use an entire chart, use arrows to draw their eyes to the important points.
        These tips may be common sense to you already, but they helped me so I wanted to pass them along. Good luck!

        1. nofelix

          Yeah agree about the images thing. The best presentations I have been to have included like 4 words per slide, just labels for images. This allows the audience to focus on the speaker.

          Of course, weak speakers don’t find this very comforting, but it sounds like OP doesn’t have that problem.

      8. nofelix

        Slideshows should not have a lot of information. It’s not a good format for it. People aren’t going to remember several paragraphs of text or a dozen bullet points per slide. If it’s complex then give them a hand-out (possibly tell them it’ll be given out at the end so they listen to you and don’t spend the whole time reading the hand-out).

      9. Cucumberzucchini

        You may want to take some basic graphic design courses to understand the principles behind good design. That would probably help a lot. There are lots of online courses for this.

          1. Sprechen Sie Talk?

            Im in strategy consulting and PPT and visual presentation and story telling were DRILLED into me at my first job. It took me at least a year to really get to grips with visually presenting my data and the overall story. Five years later I can toss off a deck no problem. It takes time to build up the skills to do this, and some people never fully master it. I am guessing you probably have a house style you have to follow at the minimum as well.

            What helped me was to pull together slide libraries that illustrated common concepts well. Things like “competitor comparison” or “gap analysis” or “agenda slides” or conceptual frameworks. I would pull slides whenever I saw good ones and just stick them in a giant slide library. Eventually some of my own slides would join the library. I have one library from my last job that was over 500 slides; at my current job I think I am up to about 50, but haven’t been here that long and the slide work is far less conceptual.

            I have shared these slide libraries with others on my team or across the business so they can improve their messaging, or it helps as a good starting point – maybe you just need a pyramid element you can slap in, and then borrow the side comments from another slide, and add in another box that you used to great effect from another. Its all mix and match, but it gives you a palette to start from! Eventually you will see commonalities across common client issues and will know how to build a deck quickly, with the right elements, so that you can get to the more important value-add work.

            Also, being able to layout complex concepts like this can be very helpful when working through thoughts and clarifications with a client. For some people it is much easier to talk though how pieces interact if you can draw them out on a white board or even a piece of paper. All this deck jockeying for right now will pay off in the end, promise!

            Have they introduced you to the pyramid principle at all, as a way of constructing a logical story flow?

      10. plynn

        I found the book Presentation Zen to be helpful in a conceptual way – no technical information, but good ideas on structure, storytelling and visual communication.

        This was mentioned above, but I think knowing the alignment and spacing tools and how to make a template are some of the most valuable skills you can have in PowerPoint. It makes an incredible difference when you are going though a slide deck to have every headline and subheadline aligned perfectly. Having the placement of text and images move from slide to slide makes things look janky even if the differences are small. And creating simple design features like a coloured sidebar or symbol in the right corner to identify slides that all belong to a section really helps the end user understand the structure of the presentation (if they end up with a copy to look over themselves)

        Oh, and no shadow effects on text. NO SHADOWS AT ALL. This is my own personal preference, but I also think it makes the world a better place if we all remove the unnecessary effects from our slides.

        1. Dynamic Beige

          That was one I forgot to pull off the shelf this morning! He also has Presentation Zen Design. They are both helpful for ideas and simplicity but he also has some bad advice. On page 44, he has a list of “reliable typefaces” — none of those are PPT standard fonts. He has probably confused what is standard with what is installed on a Mac. Use it for the before and afters, the suggestions on simplicity and powerful images, but try to recreate that in PowerPoint.

        2. The Strand

          Another hand for “Presentation Zen”. I think it has great ideas about all the conceptualization you need to do, to really get your message across.

  3. Atlanta

    #3. If you’re in England, law is an undergraduate degree, just like medicine. In the US, though, Allison is right. An undergraduate degree in law (if there even is such a thing in the US. I’m a lawyer in New York and haven’t heard of it) doesn’t qualify you as a lawyer and at least in most states you wouldn’t be eligible to take the bar without a JD from an accredited law school. While you should definitely be able to pick your own program without your colleague’s pushing something else on you, I would be very wary of taking an undergraduate major in law.

    1. The IT Manager

      I really, really hope the LW is not from the US. I have never heard of an undergraduate law degree, and I worried that she was going down the wrong path thinking that would lead to becoming a lawyer.

      Criminology is a common degree in the US. I think it’s usually a stand-alone degree and not an emphasis in sociology. It seems to be a degree for people interested in law enforcement and related fields.

      1. Doriana Gray

        Yeah, I’ve never heard of an undergrad law degree either. Criminal justice and criminology, yes. And like you said, law enforcement types or people who want to end up in that field in some capacity complete those degrees. I too would probably tell the OP gently (and once) to rethink that degree if they’re in the US. You can’t practice law without getting a JD from grad school and passing the bar, and I’m just not clear on what other career paths there are out there for an undergrad law degree that would justify the expense.

        1. MK

          I am not sure it’s the place of a co-worker, unless they are also a close personal friend, to go into someone’s career options. I mean, if I actually knew that they were misinformed about how one becomes a lawyer, I would speak up, but otherwise, no. In this case, the OP might know that this degree is only the first step in becoming a lawyer. Or they might have researched the market and know of ways to utilise an undergraduate law degree. Or they might work in a field/organization that requires a university diploma to get promoted (there are places, my country’s government for one, in which a degree isn’t necessary to do the job, but it is a requirement for promotion after a certain point, so plenty of people just get a degree in whatever they find interesting or is easier to get). Finally, some people,especially mature students who are not dissatisfied with their present work life, study a particular subject out of interest, not expecting to put it to use directly.

          1. Doriana Gray

            I am not sure it’s the place of a co-worker, unless they are also a close personal friend, to go into someone’s career options.

            Eh, I think it’s a work culture thing. I work with a bunch of people who are always asking me for career advice (and these folks are not friends for the most part), asking each other these things, or just discussing these things in passing, and offering advice or information in that context isn’t out of bounds as long as it’s done respectfully. Where the coworker is out of bounds is by harping on it. OP said she’s not interested in doing the social science thing, so her coworker should have left it alone.

          2. Megs

            To be clear though, in the US at least, this is NOT the first step to becoming a lawyer. I went to law school just a few years ago and I can’t think of anyone with an undergrad law degree. There are many, many more useful degrees, but to be honest, the only things you need are good grades and a good LSAT score.

            To be honest, if I heard a coworker say they were getting an undergrad law degree (and thought it would earn them more money than any other liberal arts degree), I would feel obligated to try and find out if they’d really thought it through. Clearly they shouldn’t be pressuring the OP, and maybe there are details we don’t know, but in most circumstances (in the US), the coworker’s advice is right on the money.

            1. nonymous

              US perspective here. My dad did a business degree with a pre-law emphasis (way back in the day) and I remember a lot of undergraduates who entered as freshman claiming a “pre-law” or “pre-med” major (which isn’t really a major, but whatever). Many universities have guidance regarding coursework for students on these tracks, regardless of the major.

              It could be that OP is conflating all of these ideas into the “undergrad degree in law”, assuming a US origin. If this is a US scenario, OP would be best served by a degree that provides the option of employment after undergrad years. It sounds like OP does not have a huge financial safety net so she may need to be more pragmatic and cautious about choice of major than the trust fund types. Criminology offers greater employment options after undergrad if she chooses to decline law school for whatever reason, while keeping law school as an option. There is a huge emphasis on data analysis and community-based policing nowadays, so there’s definitely a place for the desk jockeys.

        2. AAA

          In Australia, you can get an undergrad law degree which will qualify you to become a lawyer. My sister got a double undergrad degree – law and science – and is now a lawyer. So it would depend where OP is from as to the validity of OP’s potential degree.

          1. Doriana Gray

            Right – this is why we’re saying we hope OP isn’t in the US because your ways are not our ways when it comes to this kind of thing.

        3. Stranger than fiction

          Actually there’s a few states where you can take the bar and practice without a degree. You have to do an apprenticeship instead and it’s super hard and you’d be competing for jobs with those who do have the degree.

          1. Tennysonlover

            You’d also have to find s supervising attorney with the time to apprentice you. That’s a long shot.

            I believe have heard of an undergraduate “legal studies” degree. Other than possibly qualifying you as a paralegal, it is a fairly useless degree.

            1. Megs

              I’m not even sure about the paralegal thing – that sounds a lot of a University of Phoenix style promise.

              1. AB

                It depends. It can be, absolutely.
                The thing to check for is ABA accreditation – if a paralegal program is not ABA accredited, it’s fairly useless.

        4. AB

          An undergraduate degree in Legal Studies can qualify you for paralegal jobs. I am a paralegal with a bachelor’s in history and a paralegal certificate (which is a one year program), but I had a co-worker who had a degree in Legal Studies from one of the local private colleges. Many paralegals only get an associate’s degree, but the better positions require a 4-year undergraduate degree and a certificate from an ABA approved paralegal program. If the undergraduate degree in law is recognized by the ABA as a paralegal program, I’m sure that would count too.

        5. Koko

          IME a Bachelor’s degree is a Bachelor’s degree. I have interviewed for many jobs where the ad listed a preferred major that wasn’t my major. Nobody cared – they just wanted someone who could get through a 4-year degree. Those 30 credit hours you took in Poli Sci or Psychology both equally qualify you to file government documents or empty bedpans at a sanitarium.

      2. A Dispatcher

        A lot of colleges lump crim classes in with sociology classes and/or put them both under the social sciences heading so I’m thinking that’s what coworker means.

        As for the law major, count me as another who is confused (assuming OP is from the US). Maybe they mean pre-law, but that is not very useful unless one intends to follow it up with law school. Or maybe something like my major which was actually political science but with a heavy focus in law? Again, not super useful on it’s own though. I’m curious what OP intends to do with his or her degree.

        1. Mookie

          Right. In US universities with quality tier law programs, sometimes there’s a designated “pre-law” advisor who helps undergraduates build an individualized curriculum that will improve their admissions chances. Likewise, specific courses and seminars in political science, sociology, philosophy, logic, history, composition, public policy, et al., are sometimes listed as useful (or compiled on a “pre-law” track) for students interested in law school, and the departments offering them absolutely house faculty who are willing and well-equipped to offer such students opportunities for CV- and application-padding projects. Otherwise, there’s no such thing here.

          1. Artemesia

            And while pre-med is an actual thing as medical schools require a specific set of courses and it is entirely possible to enter med school as an English major but only if you also have the pre-med coursework, pre-law really isn’t. Law schools don’t have specific course requirements different from a strong undergrad degree. My husband the lawyer was a math major, his law partner was a philosophy major and I have known people with music degrees, English degrees etc all enter competitive law schools. The standard pre-law major is political science, but law schools don’t require it.

            1. Judy

              My roommate in college went to law school with her undergrad in engineering. She wasn’t planning that until late in her junior year, but it wasn’t an issue. I also had a friend who went to med school with an undergrad in engineering, but she had to manipulate her electives carefully to meet the pre-med requirements.

              1. Megs

                I have all of the envy for lawyers with engineering degrees. Assuming they’re interested in patents, of course.

                1. Kelly F

                  Yeah, engineering is probably the BEST undergrad degree to have going into law school in terms of job prospects.

                  I’m a current law student and I know no one who had an undergrad “law” degree. If you want to go to law school, the key is to find a major you like, so that you’ll get good grades, get to know professors, so they can write you LORs and make sure you learn to write well. An academic major (such as sociology) is going to look better than a pre-professional major (like law, criminology, etc.), whether that is right or wrong.

          2. Ask a Manager Post author

            There actually is such a thing here; some lower-tier schools have a degree that’s actually called “law” or “pre-law.” (And not pre-law in the sense that Mookie is talking about above; this is the actual name of the degree.) It’s sort of like a criminal justice degree, in that it’s designed to help you go on to being a paralegal or work in law enforcement. It’s considered … not rigorous at best.

            1. AMT

              Agreed. My profession, social work, has an undergrad degree associated with it, but people who come from these programs tend to be underprepared for graduate education (and for many social work jobs, for that matter). Technical/professional undergrad programs don’t always give you the kind of writing, research, and analytical skills you’d get from a liberal arts degree. The practical experience in these programs can be valuable, but practical experience has its limits as a teaching tool.

              1. Rob Lowe can't read

                Interesting. I have a BSW-holding acquaintance who has been searching for a nonprofit job focused on policy and advocacy for several years, and I’d always wondered why her social work background wasn’t getting her more traction. Of course, it’s likely that there are other factors at play as well – we’re not close enough for me to be privy to all the details of her life and career – but I’d kind of assumed that having a BSW isn’t much different from having a liberal arts BA+an MSW.

            2. Laura

              Just want to jump in and comment on liberal arts schools. The one I went to has a pre-law TRACK, which involves taking courses in political science, economics, and business. You can major in whatever you want– most students choose one of the aforementioned fields. It’s meant to prep students for law school.

              1. sam

                yeah – there are definitely some recommended curricula if you’re actually interested in law school (I had a joint major in political science and women’s studies, with a minor in sociology), but you can theoretically major in anything before going to law school. A science/engineering background is particularly good if you want to become, say, a patent lawyer. One of my current colleagues went to Julliard.

                But all that really matters here is what the OP actually wants out of the degree.

            3. Pwyll

              Some of the upper-middle schools have undergraduate degrees in law now as well, actually. A good friend of mine, who is now a great lawyer, received one from Lafayette. That said, my understanding is that it’s one of those “individualized” sorts of degrees, where you work with the faculty to create your curriculum based on your specific goals. My friend did hers in Law and Social Justice, if I remember correctly (and she now does M&A work, so much for all that).

              That said, I certainly wouldn’t recommend it in the US. As someone who personally collects degrees, I would never tell anyone not to go to school for something they’re interested in, but the utility in a generic undergrad law degree seems fairly small. I think a thesis-track major in anything someone finds useful is a better help to preparing for law school later than even most pre-law programs. (I frankly found the folks from pre-law programs who took intro courses in undergrad to be annoyingly wrong in law school).

          3. AMT

            A lot of liberal arts colleges do this as well. As with universities, it doesn’t make the degree any less useful if the undergrad later decides not to go to law school. They’ll have a perfectly normal degree in sociology/English/history/whatever, just as a pre-med might have a degree in biology or chemistry.

      3. Elizabeth West

        It is common, but a lot of people think criminology automatically means CSI. There are tons of jobs in the field, but you’ll almost always have to have something else. (I have a degree in English and one in Crim.) I’m not sure if Jane is thinking the OP could do this or what.

        You’re not going to work in criminalistics unless you have specialized training in one of the sciences, and then generally that would be a laboratory setting. You’re unlikely to do any investigative work unless you’re an LEO. To be an LEO (at least where I am), you need an additional certification like Peace Officer Standards and Training Program (POST) and you don’t get to do any CSI stuff until you get past your probationary period and can get on the specialized team. Our PD does not have civilian crime scene techs; it’s all done by police officers. To work for the medical examiner’s office, you’d need the POST standard in some jurisdictions and medical knowledge (or you should!). My uni had POST training as an adjunct program.

        You can’t just get a criminology degree and get a job in the field with it–or maybe anything past an office position, and it’s difficult to get city/county jobs in law enforcement because of the competition. Our PD starts office employees on the front desk and typically on the night shift. If you don’t want to work dispatch to start, you may be out of luck. Records is something you work up to. Getting a police department internship is cutthroat. I almost got one–almost. Did not, though. :'(

    2. UK Nerd

      I wondered if the OP might be outside the US because they said ‘university’ rather than ‘college’.

      1. JB (not in Houston)

        People here say university, too. Not everyone, but it’s not uncommon. But I assumed the OP was not in the US because of they are getting an undergraduate law degree, which is uncommon here.

      2. catsAreCool

        Since the person said “decided to go back to university”, I think the person isn’t from the US.

    3. super anon

      It’s the same in Canada. My alma mater’s JD program requires an undergraduate degree – and I’m fairly certain that all Law programs here do. I’ve never heard of an undergraduate law degree here (meaning a program where you direct entry from high school), even back when we granted Bachelor’s of Law (LL.D) degrees, they still required you to hold an undergraduate degree to apply.

    4. Amy UK

      Even in England, the OP would need to do further study to become a solicitor (the LPC and training contracts). So just a Law Undergraduate degree wouldn’t make them a lawyer.

      But yes, Law at undergraduate level is a perfectly respected degree, and if you’re applying for jobs that just want any degree then it would be enough. It just doesn’t (fully) qualify you for being a lawyer.

  4. Dan

    #5

    So… I’m going to be a realist here, and am not intentionally trying to be a debbie downer. My ex got an AS in billing and coding as well, and all the jobs she ever came across had the same requirements you found — HS diploma + experience. I don’t think she ever found anything other than temp work that hired entry level employees. And the temp gig she did find was pretty much a sweat shop, she’d come home telling stories about people getting fired just for checking face book.

    I googled “is medical billing and coding in demand” and the only things that came up were from schools trying to get you into their program and pay money. They all like to cite BLS stats talking about the expected growth in the field. Indicators of strong growth are willingness to hire those with no experience (ie fresh out of school) or hiring a transferable skill and willing to train. REALLY strong indicators are people working in the field who know that their company is hiring. If you have five friends in the field, and they all say, “gee, I’d send in your resume, but we’re not looking for anybody right now.” What does strong growth look like? Take software developers — go to the first ten company’s sites that you can think of, and I bet 8 out of 10 of them are looking for a java software developer, and most are likely to take you right out of school.

    I can’t give you good advice. I hate to say it, but based on past experience, I think your fears are well founded.

    1. Jen

      The field is definitely active, but what’s hard is a lot of coding is now being outsourced to both “coding sweat shops” (billing companies) and also overseas- where many of these billing companies are relocating.

      I am in a field that hires ex medical coders to help build medical software that coders use; a lot of the very experienced ones come to us after layoffs.

      That said, I’d not discourage OP here. See if you can get some temp work to get your feet wet before applying. A lot of places want you to come in with either experience billing a specific type of work (hospital vs outpatient surgery for ex) and some basics on the nuances of various insurances (oh, XYZ insurance requires you to Bill like this; DEF will reject a claim less you use X, this won’t fly with Medicaid but that will, etc).

      1. Charlotte Collins

        Also, look at it from the other side: insurance companies also hire coders. And working for one gives you valuable experience “on the other side.”

        My experience is that a lot of coders are more freelancers who work for a lot of smaller offices that can’t afford to have one staff member dedicated to claims submission. That does require being more of a salesperson, too.

      2. Dan

        “That said, I’d not discourage OP here.”

        So… there’s being supportive and being realistic. I realize the OP is looking for advice (and that she already has the education, so that’s a sunk cost.) Telling the OP that the market is tough is NOT doing her a disservice. (Putting a smiley face on it may very well be.)

        If I were in the OP’s shoes, and lots of people were writing, “Put in your dues as a receptionist! It’ll take two years but you can do it! There’s a light at the end of the tunnel!” I’d want to know, is that how healthy job markets work? Did I really go through to years of school to be a receptionist? If that’s the real deal, maybe I should skip it and go back and find something that actually will hire me after graduation. Because no, flat out no, are these signs of a healthy job market. Even in your post, you talk about the jobs going to billing companies and overseas. You also talk about people you hire that mostly come through layoffs.

        OP asked if she’s missing something about her employment prospects. No, she’s not. She’s accurately assessed the situation and wants to know if she wasted her time and money. There’s a strong chance she did, even if it’s a hard truth that isn’t pleasant to acknowledge.

        1. nonymous

          I don’t think OP#5 has wasted her time/money. A lot of generic jobs won’t look at anyone without some education after HS, and OP now has that. Will her education lead to a job in the medical billing world? maybe, maybe not. But at the very least she can put down AA or AS credentials, which is a big difference compared to mere HS diploma.

          Worst case is that OP is in a similar position as many liberal arts majors who are working reception/clerical duties. With only two years investment in tuition, that might be a good thing.

    2. dackquiri

      Medical coder of five years here—it is still an active field, and while some places are outsourcing (despite the language barrier constantly proving to be a hurdle when dealing with intricate medical terminology, especially if the doctors’ notes don’t read like perfectly proofread and intuitive articles), the current crutch is EHRs, electronic health records. This seemed like the ultimate cost-cutting measure, having the doctors do the coding by just selecting from a database. Problem: they’re not coders, and you can’t make them coders from a training session. The codes they select are often missing crucial information you can’t bill without. And with ICD-10 being implemented in America last October—requiring even *more* detail—most places are coming to the conclusion that this EHR business is just not viable (especially when, starting *this* October, insurance companies will be allowed to deny and audit for noncompliance based on nonspecificity).

      So, to OP, here’s what I suggest you do. Take Alison’s advice, and in that cover letter, drum up your ICD-10 chops in your cover letter. And my coding teacher always stressed this—”inexperienced” also means “doesn’t have to unlearn anything”. We had a lengthy debate at a meeting regarding hiring another coder—did we want someone with experience who had proven his competency, or did we want someone less likely to be appalled and thrown off their rhythm by our doctors’… let’s call them “unorthodox documentation habits”. Newbies acclimate better to certain stuff. Exactly the sort of stuff practices are currently looking for coding hires to field.

      1. Noah

        When I was a paramedic they made us choose ICD-9 codes from a huge list. It was annoying and many of us ended up defaulting to the same 10 or so codes we could remember for various things. The billing department was always kicking back EHRs to us saying “please change ICD-9 to ____ and resubmit”. Eventually they gave up and changed the EHR format to just a text box where we could describe our impression/diagnosis instead and let billing code them. ICD-10 just made it even harder to have employees with patient care code, they are just way too many.

        Also, sometimes you need to right code to get insurance to authorize something. For instance, an MRI for headaches will probably not be preauthed, but if you get specific enough, like pain behind the eye, it will be approved.

  5. Anna

    #5 – Medical coder here. The billing/coding industry can be very, very hard to break into depending on where you live. It personally took me just over 2 years to get an entry level coding job, I had to pay my dues and be a receptionist and then a biller first, but persistence pays off!

    If there’s one thing I’ve learned, your professional certifications and your network can make or break you. If your school can’t help you (even if they can!) then start your own network.

    Network with people who are currently working in or around the industry, including educators and even students – you never know who’s going to know someone! Coding/billing is a hot industry right now, if you live near a large city there’s probably meetings you can attend (AAPC allows nonmemebers to attend 3 a year, AHIMA might have something). Get some business cards and have your elevator speech ready! A lot of large healthcare networks do open houses fairly regularly which is fantastic for networking. Don’t be afraid to directly ask for job seeking help and consider taking a lower level job in order to get your foot in the door. Reception isn’t a bad place to start, you may also be able to find something in the medical records department. There’s also a variety of volunteer positions at hospitals.

    If you don’t already have a professional certification, such as the Certified Professional Biller through AAPC I would recommend looking into your options. That said: don’t rush and choose just any certification, look at job postings and figure out what local companies want (case and point: where I live most companies want their billers to be certified coders (CPC) so being a CPB wouldn’t be of use).

    Hang in there, you’ve got this!

    1. Dan

      Ooof. Thanks for weighing in. I try not to pick too many nits, but as someone who actually works in a hot field, can I offer that it’s disingenuous to label a field as hot if it’s “very very hard to break into”, takes two years to get an entry level job, and furthermore, that one should consider getting their foot in the door doing receptionist or admin work?

      When a field is hot, you get interviews at the drop of the hat, have your pick of a couple of jobs, and perhaps even get signing bonuses. Ex coworker of mine decided to move on from our old company — he got 5 interviews and 5 offers. “Time on the market” in a hot field is going to be way less than 90 days.

      As I wrote elsewhere on this this thread, my ex had an AS in billing and coding, and watching her experiences job hunting, they were way different (way more difficult) than mine ever were.

      1. Doriana Gray

        All of this. From the sounds of it, OP got this certification from a for-profit school. I was an admissions rep at one of these places five years ago, and medical billing and coding was out worst program to try to enroll. Our career placement department couldn’t get hospitals or local doctor’s offices to arrange externships (basically co-ops) for our students, so a lot of the people who ended up going through this nine month program ended up unemployed and practically unhireable. The reality is that the demand for these jobs just wasn’t there. And we aren’t in some rural area either. It got to the point where I was trying to persuade people to go into our medical assisting program instead because we could actually find them jobs in that field (and our grads often got permanent positions out of those).

        Then there was a big push to try to get more people enrolled in the medical billing program. Most of the people who came through our office for interviews had done their research and knew the job market for this wasn’t great. However, a lot of people were clueless. But we were told from our corporate office that we needed to make a big push to get people enrolled into this program or they’d have to cut it along with the instructor teaching it. I felt some kind of way being told to essentially lie to people about the so-called “hotness” of this field (it’s not), and when one older woman came in who was close to hitting her lifetime government student aid asked me whether she should take out a $15k loan to do this program, I told her absolutely not. She was trying to make a career change to support her young child, and I told her truthfully that she’d probably end up worse off after leaving our program because the externships that could get your foot in the door were practically nonexistent. Plus, if her young child needed financial aid help in the future, she wouldn’t be able to help her because she would have already hit her max (and I didn’t even know at 23 that there was such a thing). But yeah – it was not uncommon for our grads to go a year or three without finding jobs in this field. Meanwhile, the medical and dental assistants had no problems whatsoever.

        1. Development Professional

          Yes, thank you for writing this. I came here to address the same issue. Healthcare overall is going to continue to grow in the next several decades, it’s true. But the number of people being sold expensive “degrees” and certificate programs in medical billing is downright tragic. It isn’t the only field where this is happening, but medical billing and coding is opaque enough for people who have never worked in healthcare or known someone who has that they can readily believe that health industry growth = medical billing as a “hot” industry, even when that is demonstrably untrue.

          Someone I know went through a very long period of unemployment then entered one of these programs followed by…another very long period of unemployment. He did eventually get a job, by moving four states away to a rural-ish area that most people wouldn’t just move to.

          1. Doriana Gray

            Very much so, though I will say the one I briefly worked for did do an excellent job at placing the medical and dental assistants – most of those students (around 95%) had jobs before they even graduated. But the cost of the programs were outrageous since they were just getting certificates (not even associates degrees!), and I wasn’t cool with their referral practices, which were damn near harrassment.

          2. Z

            So much this. I’m trying to beat in to my cousin’s head that he is Absolutely Not Allowed to go to one of those for-profit schools if he chooses to go to college instead of the military. They are unaccredited scam artists. No. No, no, no, no. No.

            1. Dan

              My ex looked at a couple. I’m all for open access, but everything these guys did had slime written all over it. Including the “application notification” they stuck in her packet. The subject was “URGENT: JANE DOE HAS APPLIED!” I know used car sales tactics when I see them, and these were repulsive.

              I looked at the tuition costs and was like, OMFG. I get that marriage is a partnership, but I made it clear to her that I refused to sign anything for financing. Sorry, but that’s just throwing good money down the drain.

              The local community college? Different story.

              If the for-profit industry went poof, I’d be leading the ticker tape parade. What they do to vulnerable people is despicable.

        2. Tracy

          Dorianna Gray, did you by any chance work for CCI? I went there and what you describe sounds a lot like my experience! I was very fortunate to have succeeded IN SPITE OF going there!

          1. Doriana Gray

            I didn’t, but I wouldn’t be surprised if a lot of for-profit schools operate like this.

            1. Oryx

              Agreed — I worked as the librarian at a for-profit school for several years and it all sounds the same.

    2. Tyrannosaurus Regina

      I’ve heard before that medical coding/billing is tough to break into, but I don’t know anyone in the field I could ask. I’m curious about why it’s tough to break in. If it’s not derailing too much, Anna, would you shed light on that?

      1. Dan

        Simple answer, actually, and it applies to any field that is hard to break into:

        There’s way more applicants than there are jobs.

        It’s the same with sports, hollywood, and what not.

      2. Anna

        When all is said and done, it’s about the money. Billing errors lead to insurance denials which cost the company money to fix. Incorrect coding leads to incorrect bills which gets you angry patients at best and, at absolute worst, the government can pull the company out of the Medicare/Medicaid programs which would result in catastrophic loses. Private insurance companies also occasionally call for an audit which can throw a wrench into the system if your worker bees aren’t on the top of their game. Even accidental errors (known as “abuse”) can lead to some really nasty fines for both the individual who did them and their employer. There’s also the pesky problem of embezzlement.

        There are millions of dollars on the line so they don’t want just anyone doing it.

        That said: I know my employer is currently looking for fresh-out-of-the-box coders so out of curiosity I pulled up the other major healthcare networks in my area. Almost all of them have postings for no experience needed, level I coders (just need an AS and a CPC-A), and several of them are looking for billing assistants with no experience, just an AS with a CPC-A preferred. Not very surprising considering that we just changed the coding system from ICD-9 to ICD-10, which is way more demanding. Production levels are down and people are needed to fill the gaps.

        1. Charlotte Collins

          I think the “hotness” of the field depends very strongly on your location. I live somewhere with multiple health insurance companies and several hospitals, not to mention clinics and small provider offices. But I can see where you might have a harder time finding work. (For the record, I know that if I were willing to move about 100 miles, there’d be more jobs in my own field, which is not medical coding. I just work with coders.)

        2. nonymous

          What was interesting to read is the fact that OP’s credentials/experience qualify her for jobs labeled “billing assistant”. I hope she picks up on this tidbit to inform her job search.

      3. themmases

        My impression from working in a different area of health care was that this field got flooded. Whether the demand was there at some point or not (or maybe just the for-profit college marketing saying the demand was there?), I saw medical coding/billing portrayed for a while as a relatively quick way to train or retrain for a professional job. Something similar happened in rad tech, although I think not as bad.

        1. Dan

          My brother is a rad tech. He’s in his mid 30’s, and his first job paid him a signing bonus. He was laid off, and from the sound of it, he was lucky to find another job.

          Last night when the thread went up, I googled “is medical billing in demand” (or something like that). The top links were all schools advertising programs, quoting some old BLS stats talking about the “above average growth rate” in the field. Some of this was 2010 data, forecasting out to 2020. Um, 60% of the way through the forecast, isn’t it time to rebaseline? Granted, I think some of these were written in 2013, so at the time they weren’t so bad, but quoting something three years after the forecast was done, and continuing to push those numbers three years on top of that is disingenuous at best.

          Niche specialties are a dangerous thing. I wonder how many billers a given hospital/clinic/practice actually has? Then, what’s the growth/turnover? If a hospital has a staff of 20 (completely guessing, I have no idea), and has a turnover/growth rate of 10% (ie, they are only hiring 2-3 a year), and even assuming there’s 3 major hospitals in the area, that’s a total demand of less than 10 new billers every year. Graduate 25 people in a class, and it only takes a couple of years before the backlog becomes insane.

          A given place might be hiring at twice the rate that it had been in the past, given the appearance of being “hot”, but if programs still graduate more students than there are job, there is a supply/demand imbalance.

          1. Tyrannosaurus Regina

            Thank you all—Dan, Doriana, themmases, Charlotte Collins, Jen, and Anna—for the thoughtful replies. This is so interesting and I appreciate your insights.

  6. Dan

    #1

    AAM, I apologize for picking a nit, but I don’t think the word choice “not eligible” is quite appropriate. “Eligible” sort of implies that that there is some set of predefined criteria or set of requirements that need to be met. OP is beyond clear that her company hands bonuses out on a discretionary basis. I’d just stick with something like this, starting with what you wrote: “bonuses are given at the discretion of the employer, and she will not be receiving one”

    FWIW, ExJob was very clear that bonuses would be paid out on X date every year, and that you had to be a current employee to receive one.

    1. Searching

      But then again, OP’s company already told the “friend” that she would not be eligible, so that term has already been mentioned (indirectly) to the ex-employee. Writing it in the letter would simply reinforce what had been communicated verbally.

  7. Jeanne

    For #1′ can you get your company’s lawyer to write the letter? (Most places have a working relationship with one even though it sounds like you wouldn’t have one on staff.) it might help with being very clear that she is not getting any more money. If she comes to the business and causes a scene, you may have to be prepared to call the police. I don’t understand her thinking. Even if she had been ill, you don’t just say you’re showing up for your bonus.

    1. snuck

      I would take the threat of showing up and causing a scene as implied blackmail!

      She (the ex employee) obviously knows that there are likely to be patients there, she knows the type of employment culture… she knows that the threat of a scene is going to cause them to consider paying her to shut up.

      But what’s to stop her badgering you for more, that the bonus isn’t enough… the bonus is a retention tool and reward for good work… bonus is the wrong word here… extortionate payoff sounds more suitable.

      To the OP… Send the letter registered. If you have a legal person around get them to go over it, if you don’t then keep it short, to the point, and send it registered. Also email it, same day the registered post is due to arrive, and read receipt that too.

      And then if they blow up or attempt to contact you again ignore it. If it escalates to direct threats treat it as you would if a person was doing it to you as an individual – ignore/do not engage, and contact police. If they do show up at your premises have an agreement about who will escort them out, and a plan for reception/someone to also ring the police as soon as they are sighted and request support.

    2. Florida

      If she shows up and refuses to leave, I would call the police. The police will not arrest her immediately. They will tell her that she is trespassing and if she doesn’t leave, they will arrest her. (She’ll leave.). Also, they’ll tell her that if she returns, she will be arrested.

    3. Menacia

      This and also, it’s a good idea to let the lawyers know the situation just in case it gets out of hand. This is a really strange one, but it’s hard to determine if there were signs leading up to this, or if it was an anomaly on the part of this employee. What is really odd is the fact that she’s calling asking for her “bonus” and not the ability to discuss what happened to her so she could be reinstated for her job (presumably with benefits that she needs if she has medical bills to pay). Asking only for her bonus tells me her financial situation could be based on immediate need and not long term financial goals.

  8. The IT Manager

    Can you define how you are bad at PowerPoint? Awareness of your lack of skill is a first step in improving. I’ve encountered so many people that present terrible presentations, but they usually don’t know it.

    It really depends on how you use it. Less words are more except when your power point has to stand-alone. I would never use transitions and fades, but I always present on a Lync meeting (remotely) so that’s just an opportunity for the screen to build slowly and lag. It is very situtational, but you should be able to define what you think you lack and emulate the good ones your co-workers build.

    1. JessaB

      Also is it actually bad at Powerpoint the programme or is it bad at deciding what to put on a slide or how to arrange it. That’s two different skillsets. I’m pants at Powerpoint but I’m really good at layouts and things. So mostly I sketch it out on a piece of paper and then google for a template that is close to what I want it to look like and once I have that, I save all my templates so I can go back to them. And since a lot of places want their stuff to look branded, having them look similar once I have a good looking thing is not bad.

      But if I had to do a job where they wanted a power powerpoint user (pardon the pun) I’d probably self select out, because I am so not that.

      However as has been said there are online courses and if you’re not good at self learning even with video classes, there are adult extension courses (check your local uni or educational department, they’re usually very cheap (under 100 bucks,) and are often held at night or on weekends for people who work. Even if you can’t afford that, if your company has any educational benefit, they might be willing to send you to a course like that.

      But I’d make a list of what you have to do that you struggle with and target those specific skills.

    2. Calacademic

      Yes to all this. OP, what bothers you about your talks? Content, or style? Content is on you, but style…

      Check if your organization has templates that you can/should use, or ask a colleague to save a good presentation as a template if there are particular style choices that you like. Check out the Slide Master (View -> Slide Master) to customize your style (colors, fonts, etc). This is also a good way to “fix” style if you’re pulling slides from multiple people who didn’t follow the style guide.

      Another tip: I love the wide-screen ratio look in PowerPoint, but for maximal compatibility, we always go with the 4:3 slide size.

      1. OP #2

        I’m bad at the layouting part.

        I’m ok at writing content but I can’t present it in a clear way.
        We have a lot of old slides and a company wide template, but that can only take me so far.

        I just don’t… see it, you know? I can tell a good slide from a bad, but creating one myself…

        1. Xay

          Until you get the hang of it, don’t create slides from scratch. Build up a library of good decks and borrow liberally – in management consulting, that is almost expected. Also, see if your company has an online resource of slide layouts, designs and templates that you can use while you build your skills.

          1. Edward Rooney

            Just be sure you don’t pull a Nike and put Kevin Durant’s name on a presentation for Steph Curry.

        2. LQ

          What is the structure of a good slide? What makes a bad slide bad? If you can tell a good from a bad I think you’re on your way, you just need to step back and sort through what makes something good and bad in your world. Line up 10 good slides and 10 bad ones and get super analytical about them. (I’d actually print them out and take a red pen to the bad ones, what could you do to critique the bad ones to make them better?) I’d also say don’t do this with your own slides. Doing critiques of ones that are bad (and even good) will help you strengthen your own skills a lot. Do some of this and then sit down with one of your own decks and critique it like it was someone else’s.

        3. Rebecca

          I went to a class on presentations by a company called Duarte. Seriously was the best class I have ever been to about ppt. Not sure if that is somethings your company would support, but I feel they really broke down why slides are and aren’t effective. they have a cool website with a portfolio section that might be worth taking a look at to give you different ideas. I agree with other people who say to grab slides you like and replicate. You really only learn by seeing different presentations.

        4. Management Consultant

          Hi OP – you’re not doomed, don’t worry! I work in strategy consulting and I came from a humanities background – i.e. lots of essays, not much graphic representation of concepts and data – and I remember struggling with visually presenting an idea initially too. You’re doing all the right stuff with looking at old slides etc – you’ll get there!

          Also, someone upthread said that your key skill as a consultant is your ability to think critically about the business problems in front of you, not be a presentation whiz. That is very true, even at a junior level – if you are doing this, then your company should have patience to let you develop your powerpoint skills.

          If you have more questions, I’m happy to help if I can. I started in strat consulting 5 years ago, and a stranger can sometimes be easier to ask stuff than colleagues. If so, feel free to private message me on Twitter (@Leami12). Otherwise, best of luck – I’m sure you’ll be great!

        5. Viva L

          OP – it’s great that you’ve narrowed down what you want/need to work on. It’s also great that you can tell a good slide from a bad one – that’s key to making your own slides fall on the “good” side of the spectrum. It’s just going to take some attention to that one detail of your overall work. So, your company will have style guides, but may I recommend you try to spend some time with each slide and ask yourself:

          1) What is the ONE thing I want my audience to know when I talk about X topic?
          2) How would I represent that visually/without words/in another way? (it may take a while to come up with something, but if you spend time thinking about it/practicing, you’ll get better at it)
          3) Is what I am saying clearly and succinctly represented by what I have put on this slide?

          There are also lots of online guides/resources about good design, as folks have listed here. Best of luck!

  9. Elkay

    Has the RSS for the site glitched for anyone else? This didn’t show up on Feedly this morning and isn’t in the “Subscribe by RSS” page following the link on here.

    1. apostrophina

      I have the feed on my Netvibes start page, and this post still hasn’t shown up there. (AAM’s site also hasn’t displayed within Netvibes for almost a year, but I just open articles in a new window.)

    2. JR

      I was wondering about this too. When I checked the actual RSS for this site, this post just wasn’t there. I wonder why.

      1. irritable vowel

        It came through on Feedly some time between after you posted this comment and about 12:30, so whatever you did must have fixed it!

  10. R2D2

    #5: This is actually very common across many disciplines. The reason is that schools have shifted from an “endowment-based” funding model to a “tuition-based” one. Under an endowment model, schools have a vested interest in you being financially successful, since that is the only way they can make back the cost of educating you. Under a tuition-based model, you’ve paid all the fees up front, so they couldn’t care less what happens to you after graduation.

    You would think that this would be unworkable as a business model, but the barrier to entry to starting a new school is very high, so in an area with few schools period, their quality becomes less important. Also, schools have become very good at spin — “this college is a rip-off” becomes “what do you mean college is a rip-off, studies show that to be factually wrong!”

    I’d mark it up to life-experience, and learning that educators don’t always have your best interests at heart, despite fond memories from primary school.

  11. Katie the Fed

    #1 – in the letter you send you might also mention that should she attempt to show up on the property, you will call the police to have her removed for trespassing. Something tells me she wants to steer clear of law enforcement.

    1. AcidMeFlux

      I’m just now re-reading “The Gift of Fear” which has a lot of advice on how to deal with irrational (and persistent) harassers. If you don’t know the book, it’s worth a try (I think Carolyn Hax recommends it at least once a week.) Common sense professional advice.

      1. Amadeo

        I just finished this one and need to return it to the library. Frankly the best takeaway (for me) from the whole thing is ‘No’ is a full sentence and following up with ‘reasons’ gives pushy folks openings to reason away the ‘no’.

  12. Tracy

    Letter Writer #2: I found myself in a similar boat after I completed school to become a medical coder and passed my CPC exam. It seemed that any position I found advertised wanted experience in a medical office. I ended up taking a job as a receptionist in a doctors office for two years. It was actually really helpful because it exposed me to the goings-on in the office environment; terminology, etc. After two years, I found a job coding and I haven’t looked back. I know it sucks to complete schooling and still have to “pay your dues” so to speak, but just jump right in and do it. And besides, you can still keep your eye out for billing jobs while you’re working at the front desk and you might be able to convince the billing manager to let you help out. Good luck!

    1. Kimberlee, Esq

      And I would imagine that having medical billing education would make you a more attractive candidate for a medical office reception job, right? So you’re still using your education to get a foot in the door; it’s just like the door in the lobby, and you still need to get to the elevator. :)

  13. Former Retail Manager

    OP #4…..as Alison mentioned you MUST say something. I can assure you that this employer is not assuming that this is a temporary summer job. It’s very common in many fields for people to work full-time in their field of choice while finishing their last year of undergrad or to work full time throughout grad school. If the position offered was full-time, they are expecting you to continue beyond the summer. Most companies would not expend the resources required to hire and train a full time employee who is only planning to stay for the summer.

    When I was applying for jobs while still in college my resume read exactly as yours does, but by applying for full time, permanent positions I was clearly telling the company that I would be available on a full time, permanent basis during their regular hours of operation. For what it’s worth, if you can make your school schedule work with this position, I think you definitely should consider trying to stick with the full time, permanent option.

    1. The IT Manager

      I agree. I question the LW’s logic. If the LW applied for a full time job not one labeled as a summer job, the company has every reason to believe that the LW intends to continue working after the summer ends. if they believed they were hiring someone to stay on longer, they will be very upset to have wasted time and effort to hire someone to only work for 3 months. And they will have every right to be if the LW applied for a full time job and never let in that he had different expectations. On many, many jobs 3 months is not enough time to accomplish anything, but it is long enough that the company will have to conduct a brand new job search. Frankly the LW’s reluctance to bring this up at all hints to me that he knows he’s pulling the wool over their eyes.

      It much more obvious to me that a job not labeled a summer/temp/seasonal is intended to be permanent (for lack of a better word) than it is obvious that someone who is expected to graduate in 2018 is only looking for a summer job. There are many online or night/weekend degree programs that allow someone to maintain a full time job while completing their degree.

      1. Koko

        In my company 3 months would barely be enough time for us to find and hire OP’s replacement. We’d literally be starting a new hiring process the day OP started.

    2. Kimberlee, Esq

      100% agree. Honestly, I tend to glaze over education entirely when I’m reading resumes, so I would not be shocked to learn that nobody had noticed a graduation date in 2018. (before anyone panics, I’m never the last word on hiring at my org!) Especially since this is listed as a management trainee job, I’d be shocked to learn that they were cool with training someone for management for 3 months!

      1. Kimberlee, Esq

        I guess it’s actually 5 months, which is better but also worse… if you’re available to start working now, during the standard school year, your employers are absolutely assuming that you’re taking night classes or something that allows you to work full-time. There’s no reason for them to assume that you’re not going to remain with them past September.

        1. LQ

          I absolutely agree that if someone was working now, I’d assume they’d continue working past September. Unless there was an actual conversation which was “So I’ll be full time at school in the fall and won’t be able to work then” I’d be very surprised if they believed you’d be gone in 5 months.

        2. Ben Around

          I agree with everyone here — I believe the employer is assuming the employee will remain on the job into the fall and winter. There’s a burned bridge that will come out of this.

          Part of my work involves trying to craft emails short enough and clear enough that readers will actually notice crucial information, and many still don’t pay enough attention to understand. OP4, I’m almost certain your hint that you’ll be leaving in the fall hasn’t been read the way you meant it.

          1. sunny-dee

            Also, if you’re “hinting” … there’s a problem. If the LW didn’t think it would have been an issue in hiring, she could have been explicit in her plans for school or the scope of the work. It should even be part of her discussions with her manager; if this were a temporary job, they would want to scope out everything that needed to be done in that short time period.

    3. Delyssia

      I so want a follow-up on this one!

      And I completely agree with Kimberlee, Esq’s point that since the LW is starting during what would normally be part of the school year, the employer wouldn’t necessarily think the LW will have to leave to go back to school. Maybe it would seem more clear if school is in a different location than the employer, but even then, there are now so many online degree programs that I wouldn’t even count on that being self-explanatory.

      1. Rusty Shackelford

        Seconding the wish for a follow-up. Honestly, I can’t imagine this employer assuming the LW is going back to school full-time in the fall just because of the anticipated graduation date on the resume!

    4. SarahDances

      I this one is a little bit on the employer too, for either not having noticed or not having asked about LW’s schooling at all. I’m trying to think of an interview I’ve had where my education didn’t come up, in which case I’d imagine the verb tense would tell them you were still in school, and I can’t imagine why they wouldn’t ask about how that would affect your schedule and availability for work.

      That said, unless the job has specific indications of being temporary (e.g., words like “summer,” “internship,” “fellowship”), you should absolutely have raised this earlier in the hiring process! Even if you were certain it was temporary, you should have asked about specific start and end dates before formally accepting! I’m not trying to lecture you, but for future reference, it sounds like nobody here really did their due diligence.

      1. Green

        I’ve never had a job say “Are you sure you’ll be available in 3 months?” when I applied for a full-time, employed job. If someone had a degree in progress but applied to for a full-time job, it is reasonable to assume that they will be available for the job they’re applying for and are completing their studies online.

        1. SarahDances

          Were you still in school, with the intention of continuing to attend school while working full time? If I were hiring someone still in school (and especially if I were hiring them over a candidate who had already completed their degree), I would absolutely ask them about it during the interview! “I see here that you’re getting your degree – are you attending full time? How do you intend to manage your school schedule with your full time commitment here? Have you previously worked while attending school? How did you manage that?”

          I worked 30 hours/week while attending a very demanding graduate program, and I have yet to interview for a job where they haven’t brought it up.

          1. Rusty Shackelford

            Yes, I would be curious about how they intend to handle the full-time job they’re applying for with school. But I would never assume they’re expecting that full-time job to slide into part-time when school starts, and I don’t think it’s necessarily incumbent upon the employer to straighten that out – if the applicant has something non-standard in mind, the applicant is the one who needs to bring it forward.

          2. Kimberlee, Esq

            While I totally agree that the employer should notice and bring it up, I do want to point out that the reverse has been talked about on this site before… employers unfairly assuming that after-hours school attendance will jeopardize their ability to do their job. Additionally, if someone applied to my full-time position in early 2016 and listed a graduation date in 2018, I would 100% assume they were attending part-time or at least had planned to work full-time while attending school. I would *might* bring it up as an interviewer, but it would seem so cut-and-dry that I might just trust that they know their own stuff… the same way I wouldn’t ask if they had a car, or how they get to work. That’s their business. Lots of people take classes while working. It doesn’t work out for everyone, but my asking about it isn’t likely to actually suss that out.

            I would say that the onus was definitely on OP to get aligned on this, and while I hope they don’t get their offer pulled, I would bet money they will. :(

            1. Green

              Yes; my view was where the onus of speaking up affirmatively. I wouldn’t ask about the full-time + school issue in general (if the degree wasn’t a requirement) because I doubt it would be likely to yield any useful information (I guess except in the rare instance such as this one!).

        2. overeducated

          I had this happen several times the year I graduated (both before graduation, with employers wanting to know if I was 100% sure I’d be finishing by summer, and after, with a couple interviewers double checking whether I’d finished yet since my resume just said the calendar year, not the month).

      2. Ad Astra

        I’m only 5 years out of school and most of my interviews haven’t really touched on education. It’s been almost exclusively about experience and things like work style. But I’m still surprised there was no conversation about long-term goals, or some other opportunity for OP to mention something about still being in school.

        I also wonder if OP’s school is a more traditional four-year college or a college with a large number of nontraditional and/or part-time students. If your resume says “University of North Carolina, expected graduation date 2018,” I’m going to wonder what’s going on. If it says “Southern New Hampshire University” or maybe something local that is known to serve a lot of night/weekend students, that graduation date seems less odd to me. Hopefully, I’d still ask about it — but it’d be an easier mistake to make.

    5. JMegan

      This is one of the few exceptions to Alison’s “don’t take career advice from your parents” rule. In this case, OP’s father is exactly right! I’m glad OP wrote in for a second opinion, and I hope the conversation with her employer goes well.

    6. OwnedByTheCat

      100 time yes. I just hired an entry level position and many of the applicants said they were in school/going back to school. I assumed (and would confirm with them) that they would be working while in school because otherwise why would they be wasting my time applying to a job they could only stay in for three months?

      1. Not a Real Giraffe

        Right. I’m a little confused as to why OP applied for this job in the first place. If you wanted a summer job or internship, surely you should have applied to summer intern programs, temp roles, seasonal positions, etc. I understand wanting the office experience, but applying for a full-time role and then leaving at the end of the summer strikes me as an odd way to do this.

    7. themmases

      Yes, and the fact that this OP is a management trainee says to me that they probably have assumed the OP is available longer than the summer. The only management trainees I’ve ever worked with were being groomed to be managers at that specific company at the conclusion of the training program. It wasn’t like an internship or fellowship at all.

    8. Libervermis

      I did this once, entirely by accident. My first year in undergrad I applied to be in the pool of substitute workers for the library back home, assuming that they wanted summer people because they specified a starting date of June 1. When I got an interview towards the end of July, I thought it was weird but figured they wanted someone during school breaks when their other employees might want time off. When they called to offer me the position it became very clear that they were looking for someone year-round, and I had been in such “summer job mode” that I didn’t see it. Cringe. I was young and they were nice about it, but I’ve always been very careful about confirming availability and expectations for all jobs since, especially part-time ones. Definitely confirm.

  14. WhichSister

    For OP2 – I recommend Clear and to the Point: 8 Psychological Principles for Compelling Powerpoint Presentations by Stephen M. Kosslyn. Its a straightforward book, simple design rules. It was recommended to me by a highly respected communication specialist.

  15. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2

    #1 – is rather strange. But taking the devil’s advocate view – if someone were in a major accident, or suffered some other major disaster – do you routinely fire based on the fact “we assume you’ve quit” … only to learn that the person has suffered some trauma/tragic event that does not allow him/her to make contact with you?

    You may recall that I made a post – I was being yelled at for sending a very sick employee home. And while I was being yelled at, the employee’s wife called in – well into the work day – to report her husband was in intensive care and things were “touch and go” but he would likely survive. Management was setting about to possibly terminate him.

    That’s why you always talk to the lawyers – if your company has them – before firing someone.

    And – be careful – because if the person is hitting a milestone and would otherwise be entitled to that bonus, you could hit another mess that the lawyers may have to handle.

    That being said – the police “welfare check” may be sufficient to defend what’s happened thus far. BUT – be careful here.

    1. Temperance

      You can fire a person for any non-discriminatory reason. So if this firing was based on a disability, that would be a problem, but IIRC, an accident isn’t that.

        1. Jeanne

          Of course. If the employee had later contacted them or had family contact them saying she had been in a terrible accident, they may have handled it differently. My parents had to do this when I got very ill. My company did not fire me for becoming unconscious. But having someone contact them asking for a bonus is odd at best.

    2. sunny-dee

      Except the scenario is entirely different. The employee was at your job, so it wasn’t a no-call / no-show, it was a sick day. And then the employee’s wife called in to further let you know what was happening. You were thoroughly informed.

      In this case, the woman went weeks without responding to any outreach or having any of her family or friends let the OP know where she was or how long she would be gone. Seriously, there is absolutely no scenario where not a single person could find a few minutes to call or send an email, especially after the OP wrote a letter stating that she was dismissed. She could have called or texted even if she were lying on her couch, high on pain medication.

          1. Wendy Darling

            Or at least a feeble attempt at one — “Oh I’m SO SICK so you should feel bad for me and give me a bonus!”

        1. Koko

          NB Her *friend* called to ask for her bonus. Likely because she was rightly ashamed of going off the radar.

      1. Undine

        Although I don’t think that’s what’s going on in this case, it can take a while if relatives do not have the employer’s contact info. My sister was in a serious accident while on vacation and was in an induced coma for over a week. She did not have her cell phone with her. Since it happened while she was abroad, I don’t think anyone was checking the phone for messages, and come to think about it, I’m not sure who was handling the utility bills — I know it wasn’t me. But we did contact her job as soon as we could, of course — we were frantic about the health insurance.

        Fortunately, she was able to use the job’s leave bank for the nine months or so before she came back.

          1. Undine

            Oh, I agree that in this case, this woman is off the charts. We’d have been on our knees begging for health insurance. I’m just saying, in case you are ever in the situation where an employee drops off the ends of the earth, remember it isn’t always possible to contact the employer. And, on the same note, give your employer’s contact info to somebody, y’all!

      2. Brett

        “Seriously, there is absolutely no scenario where not a single person could find a few minutes to call or send an email”

        Well, they have to know who to call or send an email to, which might not be possible if it was a serious enough accident.

        Sadly our neighbor passed away suddenly Sunday. His family stopped by to inform us. None of them know who his employer is. We knew the employer’s name, but there are several companies in the area with similar names and none of us have been able to find out who his employer is or even who to contact.

        He was working 60-80 hours a week and nearly all of it was from home. They might not even be aware that he is not working, much less be aware of his death.
        (I was actually waiting for Friday, if still none of us could find his employer, to ask advice on what to do next.)

        1. Undine

          In that situation, I might try to contact the HR at each of those companies and ask if they have an employee by such and such a name there. It would presumably be the same person you would call to verify employment for a job application, so you could start with the general/front desk number on the website. They would also want ask if he had any life insurance through the company and how to collect it.

        2. Judy

          If his computer belonged to them, then usually there’s a warning screen about “This computer belongs to Teapots Ltd, any unauthorized use is bad” or something like that.

          If his computer is his, can they log in and look for emails or documents?

          Can they look at this tax return? I’m assuming he’s not on linkedin?

          1. Brett

            Didn’t find him on LinkedIn.
            I’ll ask his brothers about the login screen on his computer. (He was definitely doing TS+ intelligence work, so I don’t think any of us should try to do anything past the login screen. Another big reason we need to find his employer.)

            1. Undine

              Here’s an idea (after some googling). Call the state employment office. They have records of everyone who works in the state (apparently these are what private investigators use). If you have the social security number and death certificate, perhaps they can help you, or direct you to the correct place to get that information.

            2. Bea W

              Sometimes there is a sticker on the computer itself that identifies the company. If it’s a laptop also be sure to check underneath. Once someone had left their bag in a Zipcar and that was how I was able to reach him directly and quickly, the lable on the botton of the company laptop.

        3. Observer

          Except that someone did know enough to call a few weeks later to ask for a bonus. And she did refuse to answer the door when the police showed up. AND there was a letter from the employer – at that point anyone with some sense would have immediately called and explained what had happened.

        4. Jeanne

          The family needs to contact a lawyer. He will know what to do and will be better able to do it.

    3. Rusty Shackelford

      do you routinely fire based on the fact “we assume you’ve quit” …

      For many employers, failure to show up for a certain number of work days is considered quitting, as opposed to a reason for being fired. Based on the LW’s statement about violating the company policy, this may be one of those employers.

      1. Not the Droid You are Looking For

        In every employee handbook I can recall having, the rule has always been explicitly written out as three days no call/no show will be considered a voluntary quit.

      2. Jill

        I would use that exact verbage. “we assume you have quit” implies that “if you haven’t, you darn well better reach out to us with an explanation”.

        I might have added language to that effect though, “If you have not quit, please contact us by X date or we will consider your employment terminated.”

    4. LQ

      Firing people for not showing is incredibly common. I might guess it is the most common reason people get fired. NCNS (no call no show) can be considered quitting by the employer. It may be one of the most common ways to “quit” a job but I’m not as sure about that as I am about it if you consider it being fired.

      (I’m going with all jobs, not just white collar jobs.)

        1. Judy

          Our corporate policy is 1 NCNS is a verbal warning, within 180 days 2nd is written warning and within 180 days 3rd is termination. It explicitly states that if multiple days in a row are NCNS, the disciplinary action does not have to happen progressively, 3 consecutive NCNS days require termination.

          This is common even with white collar jobs.

          1. Judy

            I meant that this policy is common even with white collar jobs, I’m not sure I’ve ever seen it used, though.

          2. Cecily

            At my workplace, 2 NCNS in a row is automatic firing. Happened to one of my coworkers recently.

    5. Sunshine

      I wouldn’t call it “routine”, since it happens rarely… but, yeah. If someone stops showing up for work and doesn’t make contact, I’m assuming they no longer work here.

      1. sunny-dee

        It does not happen rarely, it just happens rarely in some types of jobs. In white collar jobs, I think it’s rare (in almost 15 years of working, I don’t recall it ever happening to a coworker). However, my husband is in restaurant management, where it happens monthly (or more). My dad works in a mine where they have to fly to a remote location. Missing the flight means you miss a minimum of one week of work and there’s no one to cover, so it’s immediate dismissal with very few exceptions. Someone gets fired for NCNS at his place every couple of months.

        1. Elizabeth West

          At most of the office jobs I’ve had, the employer will call and check on you before they fire you for no-call/no-show. Or like the OP, send cops for a welfare check or drive by and knock or SOMETHING.

          You’re right about the food service. People regularly did that when I worked in restaurants. If you didn’t show, they just assumed you quit.

          1. NotAnotherManager!

            Yep, my office calls and, if they get no response, requests a police welfare check when people don’t show up for work. (Sadly, a few times it has resulted in finding out someone no-showed because they had passed away.)

            I did have a problem employee simply stop coming to work a few years ago, didn’t respond to calls but got pretty angry about the welfare-check visit from the police, and then was STUNNED when we considered the job abandoned and sent a termination letter, final check, and COBRA paperwork. It’d been a week with no contact (other than the police confirmation they were alive), so I’m not sure what they were expecting to happen. I think they thought we’d beg them to come back.

            1. Elizabeth West

              My boss might not even notice if I didn’t show up unless she tried to message me, but my remote coworkers would probably worry if they emailed me and I didn’t answer. My boss’s phone numbers are on my cell phone, so if I get hit by a bus while walking in my neighborhood (no joke–a bus does go through it), someone could notify her. I have a group called Coworkers.

              Wow–it’s like they just thought they were taking a random vacation! Sheesh. :P

        2. Bookworm

          I just read that as “My Dad works as a mime…” and was very confused for a few moments there.

          1. starsaphire

            Aaaaand now I have a mental picture of mimes trying to call in sick to work… with an imaginary phone…

            1. ThursdaysGeek

              And without being able to speak into the imaginary phone, too. Now I feel sorry for sick mimes.

              1. Snork Maiden

                “Is it OK for me to text my boss that I’m ill and can’t come in? P.S. I am a mime.”

        3. Sunshine

          That’s fair. I should have been more clear, but I was just referring to my own experience/location/industry.

      2. Rafe

        Oh it happens and is rather common in service-industry type jobs (wait staff is what immediately comes to mind).

        The drama of the letter — it’s not fair, but all I could think is the reasoning of the ex-employee is right up cray-drunk-high territory (and as often as not, such people often forget exactly what they demanded or threatened a day ago while on drugs etc).

      3. Stephanie

        Even when I worked in a shipping warehouse (where no-call, no-shows were common), we at least did one call.

  16. nofelix

    #2 – Having put together a good number of slideshow presentations, I’d say Powerpoint itself does not produce good slideshows and should be avoided if you want professional quality. Some of the templates look okay, but only if your content just consists of text and very basic arrangement of images.

    I just export a PDF from InDesign and flick through the pages. This lacks some of the interactive functions in Powerpoint, but I’ve never seen a situation where those helped a presentation so

    I’m actually a little confused how someone can be ‘very bad’ at Powerpoint, since it’s such a poor tool in the first place. If your colleagues putting funky animations and slide transitions in their work and this is making you feel like you should too, then know that these gimicks don’t help the message of your presentation, and shouldn’t be worried about. As long as you’re not using a dozen different fonts in garish colours then I’m sure your work is just as good as most business Powerpoint presentations.

    A truly professional looking presentation will be at this level of graphic design quality (very difficult to achieve in Powerpoint): http://i.imgur.com/VvE4MR1.jpg

    Acceptable presentation will look like this (Powerpoint can do this although sometimes will be frustrating): http://i.imgur.com/TsQPwUq.jpg although too much text being used…

    Just make sure you’re not doing something like this: http://i.imgur.com/SGtXUQv.jpg

    1. Cucumberzucchini

      When I do professional Powerpoints I typically design many of the slides in photoshop then just place the slides in a powerpoint template. Or I’ll make a backdrop design and put the text on top in Powerpoint, depending on the complexity of the design elements of the slide.

      1. nofelix

        Unfortunately Powerpoint doesn’t reliably render the external images so one can spend ages making something look nice and it then look different when presented. Most PDF readers, including Adobe Acrobat, have a presentation mode where the pages are full screen and you can click to advance.

    2. ex-faff

      I wonder if it is the technique or the actual process of deciding the story and visualizing it effectively?
      OP – Its one thing to technically have a jazzy ppt and another to design a well-told story via ppt. Which is your problem? The latter is a bigger issue and doent just depend on amping your ppt skills.

    3. Searching

      I think… if they’re having trouble with Powerpoint telling them to use InDesign or Photoshop is not a solution. Those are just harder, more design focused programs, that the OP would have to learn and that may not be available in their office as Adobe is $$$$. OP said above they’re having trouble with what is a good layout and communicating the story coherently.
      I get it. I don’t like Powerpoint either, and I guess my reaction to the OP is- very few people are “good” at powerpoint and in lots of business situations, if you get your point across the perfect design matters less than what is communicated on the page.

  17. Temperance

    Re LW#1: Was this person a problem employee before she went MIA? I’ve seen this happen twice in professional jobs, and both times, the employee had drug issues. That could explain the weird behavior and having some random person call and demand a bonus.

    If she did indeed have an accident, I can see not calling for a day or two. Not weeks. Not to the point where cops show up to do a welfare check.

    I had a serious health crisis back in February where what I thought was a sore throat/swollen glands landed me in the ICU for 5 days. Because of the urgent nature of the situation, and how quickly it progressed, I didn’t have time to talk to HR. I texted my direct boss and briefly spoke with her in the ER before I was admitted, and gave her my husband’s phone number for updates. I emailed my other boss with an apology for not calling (it was around 9:00 p.m. at this point).

    I was admitted on a Thursday and called HR on Tuesday. My bosses alerted them to the situation. I kept my job, although I didn’t ask for a bonus.

    1. hbc

      Yeah, if there’s someone close enough to call and demand money, there’s someone close enough to call within a few days of the accident happening. Even if it was all innocent, a termination letter like that would usually generate a response like, “Please keep her job open for when she comes back, it’s not her fault!” Not “Gimme some pity money.”

      1. Lontra Canadensis

        Exactly – I can wrap my head around a situation where none of the family/friends knew how to contact the employer, or thought someone else already had. But in that case, I’d expect the call from them to be “OMG, so sorry, we didn’t know how to contact you/communication SNAFU, etc.” Not demanding a bonus!

        1. Lontra Canadensis

          Aargh! – I can wrap my head around family/friends *not* knowing how to contact…

      2. BeautifulVoid

        Yep, this is pretty much what I thought. If the caller is close enough to the employee to know she might have a bonus coming in soon, one would think that he’d know where she works. If the employee is well enough to tell her companion to call her job and demand a bonus, she’s well enough to call herself and explain what’s going on.

    2. Kyrielle

      If she did indeed have an accident, I can see not calling for a day or two. Not weeks. Not to the point where cops show up to do a welfare check.

      Yeah, I once worked with a gentleman who suddenly got -very- sick and wasn’t able to contact the company. I wasn’t his manager so I wasn’t privy to the whole thing, but I guess that when his family contacted the company, it was to tell them what had happened, and to ask whether they could please hold his job for him when he recovered. (Which, in fact, they did.) Oh, and to ask about the process of starting the disability insurance payments, I would assume.

      But not to ask for a bonus. O.o

      1. Amadeo

        The same happened at a former place of work of my own. A gentleman had collapsed in his house and nobody knew where he was until some people from our office kind of just went to his house and invited themselves in and found him on the floor.

        All he asked for was short term disability and a disability accommodation when he came back.

        1. Temperance

          I knew that I would qualify for FMLA (lawyer), but was very pleased when they gave me disability at my full pay rate (which I didn’t really qualify for because I hadn’t been here long enough – they counted my internship to put me over the threshold). They were very understanding … but I’m generally reliable unless my train is extremely late.

    3. Ama

      I had a boss who no showed/no call for a day and a half, then her mother emailed us claiming hospitalization due to a car accident. Her bosses were trying to find out what hospital she was in (so we could send flowers, not because they suspected anything), when her story completely fell apart. Turned out she knew a pending audit of our books was about to find several questionable expenses on her part and she was buying herself time to try to wipe her work laptop and destroy records before quitting. The email from her mother was sent by the boss herself — she had actually been at their house the entire time.

      There were no prior indications that any of this was about to happen — she hadn’t been in that department for long, but she’d been with the larger employer for years and was considered an exemplary employee.

    4. nofelix

      Yeah seconding drug use. The no-show, not answering the door to cops, needing money. Definitely pointing in that direction at least.

  18. Alli525

    If I were OP2’s boss, I’d be more worried that a management consultant I hired didn’t have the resourcefulness to think of taking a class or watching YouTube tutorials on their own, than just by the lack of skills.

    /cranky

    1. Liana

      You don’t know that the OP hasn’t done that though – it’s entirely possible they’ve watched dozens of tutorials and are still struggling.

      Also, I’d argue that writing to AAM for advice is pretty resourceful on its own. I get that you’re cranky, but there’s no need to be that harsh.

    2. Marvel

      Even if the OP hasn’t already done those things, how is asking for advice on here indicative of a lack of resourcefulness? This IS a resource.

      1. Bookworm

        Right. Maybe she’s trying to figure out what to prioritize. Already some commenters have offered her a lot of feedback and advice. Honestly, that’s probably a better starting point than randomly googling.

    3. Alli525

      No, you are all right, I was harsh and I am sorry, OP2, for being so harsh. But I have both been managed and been a manager, and the number of times I have had to say “have you even googled how to do this?? or did you just ask me because asking me was easier than doing your own work?” makes me want to tear my hair out.

      1. OP #2

        It’s ok.

        Like many other commenters have concluded, I’m bad at design. The visual stuff. I just don’t have an eye for it. I’m good with the actual program but I struggle with making it look nice.
        But I’ve gotten lots of good ideas from here and will be looking into design guides and layouting for other media.

        1. Sunshine

          This would be me, I think. I tend to focus on function, and honestly very little on what something looks like. Now that I think about it, I’m that way with pretty much everything I do. I’ve been in my office 8 years and don’t have a single picture hung. Someone made the comment that “it looks like a temp works in here”, so I finally got a bookshelf and threw some stuff on it. That stuff just doesn’t occur to me.

          1. Not the Droid You are Looking For

            I love, love, love functional, under designed power points.

            Seriously, as the creative team we all recently sat in the back of the room and wanted to scream at the multiple fonts, colors, images, and animations that people had inserted into their presentations to liven them up.

            We all had a collective sigh of relief when one of the sales guys put up a beautiful, minimalist presentation.

            1. Florida

              Agree. I’m happy with a solid background and plain words and pictures. If people notice the design, you are probably doing something wrong. The focus should be on the content.

          2. Observer

            Sometimes it doesn’t really matter. But, sometimes design matters A LOT. Also, sometimes what something looks like definitely affects function.

            If your work is not affected by that, then that’s fine. Or if your work is such that doing it right generally results in things looking the way they need to, then you really don’t need to focus on visuals. But, in some fields – and anything requiring presentations tends to fall into that category – that can be a real issue.

        2. Manders

          I have the same problem. I know when things look “off” visually, but I just don’t have a designer’s eye. I stick to making the simplest possible powerpoints when I do have to make them, but there are some great tips in this thread I’ll be using for future presentations.

    4. Temperance

      There are some things you can’t learn by YouTube tutorials. Namely, creativity and graphic design.

  19. John R

    #2: You can be the BEST person at PowerPoint but if you do the following people will be polite but HATE it.

    1. Email the PowerPoint deck to everyone and tell them to read it before a meeting.
    2. Project the deck at the meeting.
    3. Read it verbatim.

    PowerPoint is just part of a good presentation and should AUGMENT the point your trying to get across, or serve as an outline, not be the entire show.

    Seriously, if you can develop a good presentation style people will look past your PowerPoint decks being mediocre.

    1. Bend & Snap

      Why wouldn’t you project the deck at a meeting? This is an incredibly common way to guide a presentation.

      1. Kyrielle

        I *think* John R was saying to not do all three of those steps. If everyone reads the PowerPoint deck before the meeting, and then you project it and read it verbatim, you are going to put your entire audience to sleep. (Actually, if they read it before the meeting and you project it and don’t give a *lot* of content not in the deck, they’re probably going to be bored and frustrated. And if most of your content isn’t in the deck, then having it isn’t very useful…really, step #3 is the problem here, IMO.)

      2. LSCO

        I think John R meant it as step 2 in a list of 3 steps you shouldn’t do. I would hate being asked to read through a deck of slides, only to be shown exactly those slides at the meeting (and then talked through them verbatim). If you want me to read a bunch of slides before a meeting, there better be further discussion or an interesting take on what I’ve already read.

    2. Artemesia

      Exactly. It could be if the OP’s office is cramming tons of content into powerpoints that a good powerpoint presented would be out of synch.

      1. StudentPilot

        I’m in the Canadian federal government, and that’s how everyone here refers to it. (Confused me when I first started….)

      2. Laufey

        I have only heard a powerpoint referred as either slides (for talking about a few) or a deck (for a finished presentation. A slideshow is the thing you watch.

      3. Tammy

        My organization seems to favor this term too. Honestly, that – and our tendency to use the word “ask” as a noun (“my ask is that…”) – drive me a bit crazy sometimes. But those aren’t hills I’m interested in dying on. :-)

        1. Kelly L.

          We’re so infested with “piece.” The marketing piece, the design piece, GAH. We also have a bit of a case of never being able to say “about.” I’m tired of “around.” But I also don’t want to be the around-curmudgeon. Argh.

      4. The IT Manager

        The US military/govt does it too. I’ve always assumed it’s left over from the days when the slides were physical transparencies so there was a deck of physical slides like a deck of cards.

      5. Not the Droid You are Looking For

        I hear it a lot…finished presentations are always “a deck.”

    3. Evan Þ

      I do appreciate when someone emails us the slide deck after the meeting, though. It’s a great refresher and reference to refer back to.

      1. Not the Droid You are Looking For

        Or prints it out with the note taking lines as a meeting handout :)

    4. Us, Too

      I agree with you on your peeve that you post, but point out that there are environments in which the deck must be complete (standalone) and is not “only” an augmentation to my physical/verbal presentation.

      There are places that I have worked that the deck is circulated to people who don’t attend the presentation. In those environments, I have been forced to create decks that include way more content than I would prefer. For example, I can’t just include an image or graph and explain their significance verbally. Instead, I have to include the image and then have text explaining the significance.

      This phenomenon is particularly common in highly collaborative environments in which attendees will feel the need to forward the info to a million other people for commentary or as an FYI.

  20. Blue_eyes

    Hi Alison!
    I subscribe to AAM on feedly and I noticed that this post didn’t show up in feedly this morning. Usually the 5 questions posts are in my reader when I wake up (7am eastern). Not sure if this is an issue on your end or not but thought you’d like to know RSS readers may suddenly be missing posts.

  21. Steph the PM

    PPT at a consulting firm is a whole different sport.

    My first job out of college was at a Big 5 management consulting firm. I stayed there for 5 years. I get, OMG do I get, the use of PowerPoint, and how much of a role it’ll likely play in your job as long as you’re there. I, for one, now (ahem, 18 years later) like putting together decks and am regularly the one tapped on my team to do it now.

    What specifically are you having a tough time with?

    My fast and dirty tips for making text/content appear favorably since it sounds like you’re rocking the content already, and you’re already taking steps to get better:
    – Offer to help out on a proposal. You learn crazy stuff and tricks at 2 AM from people who have been there.
    – Always ask the manager for a PPT template to use (and examples or directories of decks that “they like” or “they’ve used” for that client or similar clients and whether you’ll have graphics support for the effort. You’ll get a good sense for what sort of look they’ll expect or be going for with your work. You also can use this to steal slides from previous presentations (note: make sure that this is OK, particularly when dealing with external clients). I’ll bet you $12,000 internet dollars that that’s where some of those fancy slides that your coworkers are whipping up are coming from ;-)
    – Start with an agenda/outline and structure your presentation around that, and consider using that for place-keeping throughout the deck, highlighting the section that you’re on
    – Craft the word-based deck first, and then talk through outloud. You’ll see how/where/what slide transitions are required and where you might be able to use an idea for a graphic, a chart, a table, etc., and note that on the slide.
    – Ask a peer to review your deck and comment on improvements
    – Use the same font (size, color, and text) and bullets (and bullet spacing) consistently
    – If you’re using shapes (like a process flow) – use the same shapes, with the same-sized font, in the same place on the page.
    – Center / align everything – text boxes, etc.
    – Make sure that the titles and text start/appear in the same logical place on every slide to avoid the appearance of jumping all over the place (which can be done via SlideMaster, or, if you have to clean someone else’s work up manually, display the guides and line them up). I had to do this to a 300 page (!! YES !!) proposal at 2 AM one night. This is still a hang-up for me, 18 years later.
    – Don’t use animation or sounds or fades or whatever unless it’s absolutely critical to the message and even then, consider using a separate slide (e.g., a map of the US displaying facility locations before and after consolidations, for example). I have seen animation get jacked up or not work correctly so many times that I never take the risk.
    – Be consistent with bullets, either a period at the end of the statement or not (I favor NOT), each and every time. Start the bullet with the same tense of verb or similar noun (but not the same one). e.g, “Facilitates, Presents, and Organizes” but not “Facilitates…Presenting…and Organized.”
    – Spell check and review it again and again (I also used to work for a government contractor. You DON’T want to misspell “public.” TRUST.)
    – Print the deck out and read it on paper (not eco-friendly). I have found SO MANY mistakes that way. Plus – you might be asked at the last minute to print the deck by the client and you want to be positive on how it will appear (e.g., sometimes the text boxes appear with a border, spelling mistakes jump out at you, etc.).
    – Double check that there are/aren’t notes on each of the slides before sending out as templates and slides are often re-used.

    Note: I totally suck at graphics and fancy-ness. I’m now on the client side, and my most complicated visuals are tables (Excel), timelines, or maps that I use to place locations of facilities. I never have been a fancy-PPT user, but I get the job done. Your willingness to step up to the plate rocks here, but I think that if you down get some of the basics preliminary work (e.g., structuring the deck and laying out content, formatting, etc.) that you’re likely to encounter/be asked to do, I think that you’re in a good spot. Good luck!!

    I feel like I just had a major flashback. Hope it helps. :-)

    1. nofelix

      “Center / align everything – text boxes, etc.”

      Presumably not including text itself? Center aligned text is really hard to read.

      1. Steph the PM

        Oh, absolutely. You’re right. I was thinking more like align 2 different text boxes on the same page so they’re lined up similarly.

    2. animaniactoo

      “– Spell check and review it again and again (I also used to work for a government contractor. You DON’T want to misspell “public.” TRUST.)”

      Lmao. I think you had the same problem we had back when I was a typesetter and was working on “The Encyclopedia of Victoriana”.

      I’ve never forgotten this particular typo: The line was supposed to read “These parks were now places for (public) pleasure.” Amazingly it went through 3 reviews on their side and 4 on ours before it was caught. But fortunately before print! Because man – of all places for that particular typo to happen, in a book on Victoriana was going to be particularly ironic.

      1. TootsNYC

        I believe that NO spellcheck dictionary should include the word “pubic.” That word should always be flagged as a misspelling. You can always add it to the temporary dictionary when you’re working on a piece of writing about reproductive health.

        When I run for Congress, that is going to be my platform.

        1. Not the Droid You are Looking For

          A major university in my town misprinted the name of the school of Public Affairs in the commencement program a few years ago :/

      2. Applesauced

        I’m an architect – it’s very embarrassing to present kitchen drawings with a “Chef’s Panty”

    3. OP #2

      Thanks an awful lot!

      Animation is banned in the office ;) first thing they told us in our introduction to PowerPoint course.

    4. Observer

      Another good reason to print is that if you are using colors and you print to black and white, you will very quickly see what elements don’t have good contrast.

  22. MeridaAnn

    From #1 – “After two days of not hearing from her, we called the police to conduct a welfare check. They told us that it appeared that she was at home, but she wouldn’t answer the door.”

    I don’t have any experience with welfare checks, but this sounds like the definition of a failed one to me. If the police go to do a check, it looks like the person should be home, but they don’t answer, doesn’t that give them permission to take the next step and force their way in? Or at least to follow up with an emergency contact or something? Apparently it wasn’t the case in this instance, but my first thought when reading that line was that the employee really was dead or dying inside, since they wouldn’t answer for the police. Doesn’t “she’s not answering” mean “something must be wrong and she needs help”? Isn’t that the point of a welfare check? Or am I misunderstanding this somehow?

    1. Rusty Shackelford

      Unless it means she hollered “I’m fine, go away!” through the closed door. Which only proves there is a person in there who’s alive and capable of speaking, but doesn’t prove she’s not under duress. So, yeah. Weird.

      1. sunny-dee

        A welfare check doesn’t mean “I think Jane was kidnapped.” It only means that no one can reach Jane and so the police check to make sure that she is not dead or injured or ill enough to require assistance. If she’s alive and okay enough, then the welfare check is over.

        It’s mainly for the elderly or people who live alone or have a medical condition and may not be able to assist themselves if something bad happened.

        The only way the police could break in (going by my old criminology course) is in exigent circumstances (someone is screaming for help or they hear moans or see blood or something) or if they have probable cause to believe a crime is in progress.

        1. Temperance

          And IF you are seen by the police, but you won’t open the door, and then they can hear you running around or flushing something … they have probable cause to enter your home.

      2. Creag an Tuire

        It’s the cost of a society where the police aren’t allowed to break into your house whenever they feel like it because “some dude told us they were worried about you”.

    2. Lady Kelvin

      If the police are requested to perform a welfare check, they have legal right to enter the premises if there is no response when they knock/ring the doorbell. That way if someone is dead/dying, they enter and find them. I’m assuming that since the OP says the police went and were refused entrance, then the person they were checking on answered the door well enough to tell them not to enter.

      1. Bookworm

        Right. I don’t think it’s the police’s job to report back the whereabouts or condition of the employee. So if, say, her sister answered and said “oh, she quit and headed out of town” I think they would shrug and be on their way. There must be some privacy issues with how much info they can give back to whoever called in the check.

    3. Brett

      “If the police go to do a check, it looks like the person should be home, but they don’t answer, doesn’t that give them permission to take the next step and force their way in?”
      There has to be exigent circumstances. (e.g. seeing a person in the house unconscious). Not answering the door/doorbell, or even having newspapers and mail piled up, is not enough for exigent circumstances.

      What normally happens in that situation is that someone who knows the person and has implied consent to enter (e.g. a neighbor or family member with a key) enters the house and if they find an exigent circumstance, the police can enter.

    4. Observer

      No, and for good reason. As others have noted, a welfare check doesn’t mean that you think someone was kidnapped but that they might be disabled and in need of assistance. Under any other circumstances, the police cannot be allowed to force their way into someone’s home. It’s just way to easy to abuse.

        1. Observer

          Yes, I was think9ing about the swatting. But also, too much leeway for abuse in terms of house searches without a warrant.

    5. MeridaAnn

      Okay, thanks for some of the explanations, everyone. I definitely wouldn’t want the police barging through the door if there’s just clearly no one home, or if someone audibly answered, but didn’t want to open the door, that just wasn’t the impression I had from the brief description in the letter. I was picturing more of the police arriving to find her car in the driveway and lights on inside, but there’s no sign of any movement or noise from inside and no one has seen her come in or out for a few days. That’s where, at least if it was me, I would definitely want another step taken, whether that’s seeking out an emergency contact or something else to confirm I’m not dying on the floor.

    6. Jeanne

      I had something like a welfare check a few weeks ago. 3am, cops pounding on the door. I did let them in. They said someone called 911 and hung up. They said they called back and no one answered. They asked me questions and left. Happened again at 10am. Something wrong with my phone. They were persistent. I’m not sure what I could have said to make them go away without opening the door. But they did not search the house. They were in my foyer.

  23. Elizabeth West

    #3–Gah ,I hate when people try to push stuff onto other people like that. Especially when they obviously don’t know what they’re talking about!!

    I get it a lot when I talk about writing with non-writers. When I hear the phrase, “You know what you should do?” I automatically stick my fingers in my ears.

    –“You know what you should do? You should write a children’s book.” No way. I like to write about sex, murder, and explosions.

    –“You know what you should do? You should self-publish.” A potential career killer at this point, not to mention expensive, but thanks.

    –“You know what you should do? You should tell agents your sister read this book and really liked it.” Because my sister’s opinion matters to industry professionals?

    –“You know what you should do? You should write something that sells.” OMG really?! Why didn’t I think of that!

    I don’t talk about it with certain people anymore. OP should just shut down this line of conversation with Jane the ignorant coworker.

    1. Megs

      If someone says they don’t want to talk about something any more, of course that’s totally time to shut one’s mouth. That said, if this person is in the US (and barring some unforseen circumstance I’m having a hard time imagining), this really is not like a non-writer giving a writer friend bad/unsolicited advice. I’m a lawyer. Undergraduate law degrees, standing alone, are not a good idea for anyone looking to advance their career and they’re not even a good idea for someone looking to go to law school. This is more like someone saying “I read about one of those for-profit universities and decided to go enroll in their criminal justice program! They promise you’ll get a job as a cop right away!”

      1. Elizabeth West

        Well your first sentence is kind of my point–it’s annoying when they won’t shut up about it.

        But regardless of what the advice is, the OP said she knows Jane the coworker does not have the expertise or experience to dispense said advice. So really the only thing she can do is to ask her to stop bringing it up.

        1. Megs

          You’re right, I just think that the only reason that AAM said something about it (and the reason I did) is because these degrees are so badly viewed in the US that one doesn’t need much of any expertise or experience to dispense advice to avoid them. See again for-profit universities. I really would be interested to hear the OP chime in one this one, because I do feel bad about backing the coworker. It’s just one of those things where, if the OP is in the United States, I am having a very hard time imagining any circumstance in which this degree would be a good idea.

    2. Cath in Canada

      “–“You know what you should do? You should write a children’s book.” No way. I like to write about sex, murder, and explosions. “

      Thanks for the chuckle!

      My friends’ daughter actually has an alphabet picture book from Nova Scotia where E is for Explosion, as in The Halifax Explosion. I have a photo of it somewhere – I thought it was hilarious!

  24. Courtney in Canada

    Re: #1 – Am I the only one whose thoughts ran a completely different direction on this one? A (presumably) good/adequate employee suddenly doesn’t show up one day, won’t answer her door to police and then has a male ‘friend’ call in to ask for money… this appears to be the definition of an abusive relationship of sorts. Yes, it could perhaps be drugs but an estranged/hyper-controlling partner or even a trafficker/pimp are just as likely. And yes, people living apparently normal lives are still often the victims of human trafficking and forced prostitution. It happens all the time. It would explain why she’s desperate for money that she has no reason to be entitled to.
    Too bad the police weren’t a little more thorough in that welfare check…

    1. Elizabeth West

      This is a good point; however, without a valid reason to force entry and search the premises (for which they would need a warrant), they can’t go in the house. “Please check to see if my employee is alive” isn’t good enough. Yes, we checked; yes, she’s alive and appears okay–or told us she was. They would need more to go on than just that.

    2. Sarah

      You are not. It was the first thing I thought of as well. Thought I don’t know that the employer can do anything anyway.

    3. Mephyle

      In fact, drugs and abuse wouldn’t be mutually exclusive.

      If the police did a check and didn’t get even visual confirmation that the person who answered through the door and told them to go away was the person they are checking on, how would the employer know? Apparently the police told them “She was there but she wouldn’t let us in.” All they know is that somebody was there.

    4. Observer

      It’s certainly possible. But, still not something the OP / employer can really do anything about.

    5. motherofdragons

      Hmm, that’s an interesting take on what happened. I was actually pretty stuck on the fact that the employer even shared any information about the bonus to this “friend.” It seems like best practice there would be to respond that information like that is only to be discussed with the employee herself.

      1. Courtney in Canada

        As above I repeat,
        You may feel that way but I’m not sure it’s accurate. I’m not as familiar with the numbers in the States but a quick Google search shows that ‘nearly half of all women and men in the United States have experienced psychological aggression by an intimate partner in their lifetime’ (The National Domestic Violence Hotline), not to mention the proliferation of physical violence. Whereas only 6.6% of women have used an illicit substance in the past month (Office of National Drug Control Policy). These aren’t perfect examples of course, but if I spent more than 5 minutes searching I feel confident further evidence would present itself. Is there some particular reason you feel this isn’t a likely possibility?
        http://www.thehotline.org/resources/statistics/
        https://www.whitehouse.gov/ondcp/women-children-families

        1. Observer

          You are aware that their stats are highly questionable? Whenever stats are cited with no source, that’s a question mark. In this case, there are a lot of reasons to question this particular stat.

          It’s not that I think that abuse is not possible here or that it’s more or less probable than the employee being on drugs etc. But, the citation of a stat like this does nothing to really further the discussion.

  25. animaniactoo

    OP#2 – From reading through, I think I can give you some pointers that might help. I’m currently a furniture designer (mostly using licensed artwork, so lots of artwork layout involved), and have been a typesetter and catalog layout executor/creator.

    BASICS

    Fonts: In general, serif fonts are easier to read for smaller copy type. They’re more distinguishable. But you still want one that is fairly clean and easy. I tend to like semi-serif fonts or fonts with small serifs, but if you’re truly only writing a few lines, a sans serif font is fine. Headline fonts should NEVER be used for body copy, I don’t care how cool looking they are, they are designed to be display fonts and only do their job when used as such.

    Focal Point & Consistency: What’s the focal point of your slide? Everything else, you want to build around that. Whether it’s the picture attached, the graphic, or the copy. If several slides are addressing the same area of your presentation, you want all of them to have the same focal point position on the slide – even if you’re putting a different thing in that area.

    You want your typesetting to be consistent throughout. The headline font is always the headline font, copy font is always a copy font, and so on. Sizing for each of those categories should remain relatively consistent throughout. If you would have to squish to get stuff on to a slide, break it out into another slide. It’s better to have a half empty slide than an overly full one. If you need to keep stuff together on one slide, think about how you can more concisely convey the idea and reduce the number of words.

    Visually you can use bold or italic typefaces, or caps/initial caps or underlining to help break up or “code” your text. Do not use more than 2 of these selections on a word/phrase, and be consistent about doing the same thing to convey the same overall category throughout (I.e., main idea, sub idea, picture description, etc.). It would be a very rare occasion that you would need or do all of them on the same slide.

    Breaks: If you have different areas your project is covering, you’re going to want to break up the info into digestible identifiable chunks. On a project level this means that you use some transition slides (basically a “cover page”) for the different sections. Make it clear this is a break from the previous category and a new area you’re moving into. On a slide level, this means giving the type or image room to breath. Leading (the space between lines) is your friend. You want the space between lines, paragraphs and headings to help do two things. 1) Create enough space to be readable and avoid being a wall of text. 2) Consolidate areas together.

    Rule of thumb until you have a better feel for spacing: Headline font, bold, clean, no more than 6 words. Additional 1/2 line of leading in between that and the copy block below (go to “Format > Paragraph”, you’ll find an option to add spacing after, use that). If you have 2 paragraphs under one heading (the most you should have on a slide and rarely at that), use the additional half line there also. Paragraphs no longer than 3 lines, no more than 3 total paragraphs per slide. You can use double leading (an additional full line) between Each heading & paragraph grouping.

    Also think about subheadings. That would look like Headline, additional half leading, Subhead, no additional leading, Paragraph, additional full leading, Subhead, no additional leading, Paragraph. You can continue additional subhead/paragraphs onto a 2nd slide if you need to, but try not to do 3 or more. If you need to do that, you need to go back and re-outline and breakdown your info so that you separate out into another “header”

    Graphics Any graphics on the page should support the text/overall presentation and be simple and clean. If you’re doing several slides on “Current Trends”, you can have a “footer” color or gradient border across the bottom that has “Current Trends” written in it. If you’re using the subhead layout, you can put your heading into a color block, but in general you don’t want a color block that would be that large that goes all the way across the page because it takes up too much of the visual room. So think about if you want to let’s say have a header/subhead/paragraph on the left side and a supporting image on the right, and then another subhead and paragraph below all of that (which would go all the way across the page). This is the kind of idea that you would then have to carry out across several slides, so think about whether it really works for the info you’re trying to convey.

    I may come back to say something more about page balance, but right now this is getting long and I’ve got a piece of packaging I need to go finish, and most of this should help with your overall page balance, so see if you find any of this useful.

    1. OP #2

      THANK YOU!

      This is SO helpful.

      I’m putting together a document with all the advice I got in this thread to have for easy reference when I need it.

      1. Granite

        I know I’m late, but I wonder… Has your supervisor told you you’re bad at powerpoint, or are you thinking that because of all the edits? My first job out of school my boss made a point of telling me that the I shouldn’t expect the final report to look anything like the draft she was having me write. It was just a starting point and would go through many edits. Similarly, you will never prepare a client presentation that gets all the way through review with no changes. It just doesn’t happen.

        And at the other end of the career spectrum, in my current job, I was putting together a meeting package. The Controller wrote a document to update the group on a project. When the CFO reviewed it, he scrapped the page and had someone else write it with a completely different focus. He scrapped the very experienced and very competent Controller’s work. Not because it was bad, but because it wasn’t what he wanted to say.

        1. OP #2

          I have gotten the feedback that I need to improve, yes. Not in a mean way, just brought up as part of a normal feedback session.

          And I’m also realistic, I can see that I’m not as good as a lot of my colleagues, and that it takes me a lot longer to put together a presentation.
          I don’t mind edits, they’re part of the process but I want to be able to present a decent draft.

  26. bemo12

    You NEED to tell your employer that you are going back to school. I am someone who worked full time while I was in undergrad (I managed to squeeze a full course load each semester into two days a week) and even then I was still very upfront about me still attending school.

    In this day and age, many people need to work while they are in school and if I was your manager I would be really, really angry that you did not disclose that you would only be working until the semester started again.

    You NEED to do this immediately!

  27. boop

    #5 Wait what, schools CARE about that? The uni I went to sends out cute little online questionnaires asking if we have been working and what for. We’ll tell them that we’ve got the same minimum wage fastfood or whatever jobs we had when we started, and then they’ll use that information to state on their website that __% of all graduates have found work. Not relevant work, just work. As long as they can make their statistics look promising and the money keep flowing, schools are happy.

    1. Snazzy Hat

      I got a “give us money, you presumably successful alumnus” call a few days ago. Man, was it satisfying to tell the caller I am unemployed, have not found work in my degree field, am living off savings, and have a very limited budget. I mean, the situation stinks and I’m not proud of it, but the timing was so bad it was funny.

      I do hope someday they’ll call and my response will be, “I’m pretty sure my degree in X had nothing to do with my being hired in Y, but hey, Y pays well enough for me to be charitable, so yeah, here’s $10.”

  28. I am #5

    Wow! I was not expecting so many people to chime in. Thank you all for your advice! Thank you Allison for putting up my letter! I will think about everything that was said. I’ll let yall know what happens! Thanks again!

  29. Sarah

    Regarding #1, I don’t disagree with the advice Allison gave at all. However, I can’t help but suspect something deeply sinister is going on.

    The letter writer doesn’t say if the employee in question was diligent before, but let’s assume she was. A diligent employee stops showing up with no explanation and won’t admit the police for a welfare check. Then a man claiming to speak for the employee attempts to extort their employer. All subsequent contact between the employee and the employer is conducted via email – which could mean the employer is speaking with anyone – and carries with it the threat of physical intimidation – again, I’ll give the employee the benefit of the doubt that they weren’t violent and antagonistic. Lastly, the extortion itself is predicated on a policy the employee knows full well the company doesn’t have, that of automatic bonuses.

    It really sounds to me, at the very least, that the employer has no way of verifying if any of these actions – the absenteeism, the refusal to admit the police, the proxy contact, the emails – were performed voluntarily by the employee. That could – again, not definitely does, but at least could – mean a range of things. It could mean she flaked out, or it could mean she is in real danger – any and all of these characteristics are often seen in situations of abuse, domestic violence, addiction, even abduction.

    I’m not a legal expert, but it definitely sounds to me like the employer has done due diligence, and does not have to engage in this situation further beyond what Allison recommended. But if the employee had any friends at the company, they might want to keep trying to get in touch – at least to visually confirm that the employee is actually the one engaging in this behavior.

    1. Analyst

      This. I think your employee might be in trouble, OP. Is there anyone with more than a coworker-acquaintance relationship in your office that can reach out on a personal level? Or perhaps you can tell the police what’s happened since the wellness check and let them make the call if it’s something they need to investigate further to make sure the ex-employee is OK?

  30. Master Bean Counter

    #3–Unless your coworker is offering to pay for your degree, it’s well past being their business now. They’ve offered their perspective and advice. I’d tell them if they are willing to pick-up the tuition payment then you’ll put more weight behind their opinion.

    1. motherofdragons

      Ha! I would totally say this, in a “haha-funny-but-seriously-knock-it-off” way.

  31. Consultant Liz

    OP #2… I have spent 10 years in consulting and the specific style / structure / tone vary dramatically between teams let alone firms.

    Some general advice (that I give to my teams):
    1) before building anything from scratch ask your manager for an example slide in terms of look and feel – some like graphics, some like text only, so much of this is about preference
    2) as soon as you put anything on a slide the desire to nitpick comes out in all of us – try to whiteboard with manager or team or even client
    3) consistency and attention to detail are most important – alignment, standard font size, limited set of colors, consistent placement of objects
    4) if you have multiple slides with tables make sure placement and row sizing are consistent – nothing should “jump” when you turn the page
    5) I don’t care that you are not a graphic designer- if you can get to clean and consistent that is great – typos, inconsistent formatting draw the focus away from the idea – consultants are obsessed with “perfect” PPT because it is a tool to convey ideas
    6) do not sacrifice consistent format to make room for text – you can say an idea in 3 words or in 30 but you should never have text crammed into a box or changing between 10 pt and 11.6 pt just to fit it in (doesn’t apply to headers, etc)
    P.S. doom to transitions, animations, clip art

  32. Jade

    #5- This is why I encourage people to look at graduation reports for their chosen school program before signing up. Graduation reports show things like how many people in each graduating class are now employed, whether they’re employed FT or PT, and most importantly, it shows what title they have. I want to able to see that 90% of last year’s graduating class is now gainfully employed in positions that you would expect them to be in after getting X degree. If the graduation reports show a lot of people are still unemployed or employed in unrelated roles, that’s a red flag either about your school, your chosen degree, or both.

    1. Searching

      A lot of technical and for-profit schools have been getting in trouble lately for faking/ fudging those.

      1. Jade

        Oh yeah and they’ve been paying big time for that. That’s a good point though- pick a reputable school!

  33. De Minimis

    At one of my first jobs, we had a couple of cases of no-call, no-show where it went either way…

    One person decided to quit but apparently didn’t want to deal with management people at that job ever again, so she just quit coming to work, and didn’t respond to further communication. I think other coworkers who knew her eventually brought the news that she wasn’t coming back. It was weird.

    Another time, the person lived alone and had passed away of a heart attack. I can’t remember if the police had found him or someone else. It happened from time to time, the job had a lot of single people there with few social connections.

  34. FrenchMacroon

    2 Slide master and align are your friends. In my experience when everything is automatically
    aligned it looks much more polished. Also be sure you are making items the same size you present them in. This is crucial. If you make a 3 by 5 chart in excel and then paste it in a 4 by 6 box in ppt it will look weird.

  35. HR Healthcare

    #5 – After all the above have failed (career center, social networks for “foot in the door” medical jobs, etc), call and visit community clinics or doctors offices and offer to volunteer in billing. Even if it’s just one day a week, it will show recruiters that your billing skills are not rusted, give you real world expertise, and could be a foot in the door. As someone who frequently hires entry level medical candidates fresh out of tech school, I know that tech diplomas are a dime a dozen, but finding the truly sharp go getters who will excel in the position is more difficult. If you volunteer and then prove your worth to me, the decision to hire becomes easy. It also looks bad if your resume had a tech diploma from 2 years ago but you haven’t worked in the field at all since then, so having volunteer experience with strong references to put on there next to your non medical day job is valuable for where you’re at. Not sure whether others agree but I know that as a recruiter, this is what I like to see.

    1. Tracy

      Just curious, but why do you assume taking a “foot in the door” job will fail? After I completed school and certification, I used a front desk job at a medical practice to spring board to a coding position and have been working in that field for ten years. Am I an anomaly? I thought that mine was a rather common route.

    2. Chameleon

      This might be okay if you approach low-income non-profit type clinics, but I would give serious side-eye at any other type of medical office that would allow this work on a volunteer basis.

    3. Temperance

      This is not good advice unless the LW specifically sticks to nonprofits. You can’t work at a for-profit business for free under most circumstances, unless you are receiving academic credit etc. as an intern. It worries me that a professional recruiter would give this advice. It’s a violation of FLSA.

  36. The Alias Gloria Has Been Living Under

    #5 – Just wanted to thank everyone who posted about this, and for the OP for writing in. I’ve been seriously considering taking classes in this area. My local community college offers a program, and I was thinking of doing that. But… I know people have a hard time finding work, so I hadn’t pulled the trigger yet. I didn’t want to throw good money after bad and end up with (another) useless degree. So, this solves that and I feel better about moving on.

    Side note: I have a friend that became a medical transcriptionist. Another hard field to break into with just education. But she found a company that would hire people with no experience and had benefits, so not as a contractor. And it’s a terrible company. She got no paid holidays for 2 years, very little PTO, health insurance was terrible, and while she was required to maintain certain hours, she got paid by line, so if they ran out of work, her pay went down. Luckily after two years she found a new job with a well known national hospital and is much happier, but there’s no way I’d be willing to go through that for something similar.

    1. Mimmy

      I considered going into medical transcription years ago but didn’t go through with it when I realized how difficult it would likely be for me to hear and keep up with the recordings, as well as the reasons you mentioned, like being paid by the line (ugh!).

      It would behoove these schools to partner with local hospitals to give students a chance at a job once their done with their program.

    2. Temperance

      It’s very easy to get a job as a medical assistant/tech or nurse of any kind, if you’re looking to break into healthcare.

  37. Janie

    OP #1, odd as this is, I had a VERY similar experience at an old job. Our assistant was chronically late for the one month she was employed (yes, one month). One day she just did not show up, no text, no email, no phone call. Our office did not have the police do a welfare check, but instead the manager sent her an email telling her that her employment was terminated and that her final check would be mailed to her. Two days later, a male friend of hers called our office to say that she had been in “a minor accident” and to ask that we give her another chance. To my knowledge he did not request a bonus on her behalf, but reading your story makes me wonder if this is some new get-rich-quick scheme (seems like you’d get richer if you kept showing up to work, though) or just a bizarre coincidence.

    1. Temperance

      I doubt it. Something similar happened at my last workplace, except the person (who was very likely a drug addict, and whose “husband” was also likely an addict) had her “husband” ask for her last TWO checks, for her to be paid for work time after she had walked out.

  38. Florida

    #2 My local library has classes on Powerpoint. They have about 4-5 levels. The classes are free to library card holders. The classes are about an hour each. They are pretty decent classes. Your library might have something like that. They also might have subscriptions to the paid online classes. Of course, they always have books on PP.

    Good luck with it.

  39. ancolie

    OP 4 — I think that, deep-down, you know your dad has a point. And the issue is, if he’s right and you’re wrong, you have a problem on your hands that you MUST deal with and it potentially might not go well. If you REALLY and truly believed they knew you would leave after the summer, it wouldn’t be a big deal at ALL to double check that they do, right? But if they don’t know, they could get really upset. And deep down, you know that’s a real possibility.

    That’s why it’s so tempting to pretend it isn’t a problem at all, to try to tamp down that anxiety and fear that’s bubbling up. But lemme tell you as someone who tends to (want to) do the same thing: it doesn’t work.

  40. Searching

    OP2:
    Define bad at Powerpoint? If you mean working with the program, there are classes on basics on how to use new programs and make your powerpoints/ presentations better. Check your local library or community center for continuing education classes for this angle. Also, I bet youtube has powerpoint walk throughs. I know it does for nearly every Excel question I have ever had.
    If its that your Powerpoints don’t look polished, templates- both on Powerpoint and online- are your friend. They give it a polished, consistent look. Then you just have to not put too many words on a slide. Also, are there other junior consultants who make good looking Powerpoints? Ask them! See if you can’t borrow/steal a template from them or get some tips.

  41. Aparna

    Regarding #1: My impression when reading this was that the employee had a mental breakdown or something. Doesn’t sound like normal behavior to me.

  42. Searching

    #1 The employee needed to call in, but if this were legitimate I’d think their first thought would be asking for sick leave or benefits or to keep their job, not a bonus. I guess there could be a situation where someone else would have to call in on their behalf and they needed to remain incommunicado but I just don’t know where the bonus idea even came from. You don’t get a bonus for being sick. You get sick leave and maybe flowers from your employer. You get to be eligible for FMLA if its serious. But not a bonus? Was the person asking for charity from the company? I’m just really confused.

    1. Ruffingit

      Me too. I once had to do this for a friend who was hospitalized with pneumonia. She literally couldn’t speak because she had oxygen on for a good part of the day. Her employer at the time was awful as they kept telling me she had to call in herself and I was like “Well, she can’t really even speak so…” Of course, they also kept asking when she’d be returning and we didn’t know at the time. They got ugly about it and she quit because it wasn’t worth the hassle while she was trying to get well. Anyway, my point being that yeah, I immediately informed her employer just so they knew what was going on, I certainly wouldn’t have been asking about pay or whatever, not during that first phone call.

  43. Person of Interest

    #4 – unless the position announcement stated that this was seasonal work, you should assume it is a full time position, and the employer is expecting you to be full time. When I was doing grad school part time and applying for jobs I made this clear in my cover letter – “…looking for x work FT while I complete my PT masters program…” so employers would know up front that I was available FT, since I had a similar “expect to graduate” bit in my resume. It might help for your future applications to state your intentions and what kind of work you are looking for in you cover letter, so hiring managers know how to categorize you.

  44. Ruffingit

    #1 seems so bizarre to me. Were I in some kind of debilitating accident, my husband or a friend would call my employer and let them know as soon as possible and would send over documentation proving the situation. Just seems odd that a friend calls, asks for the bonus, comes up with this story and then nothing is heard again until previous employee calls demanding the bonus. So weird. Makes me wonder what really happened with her.

  45. stevenz

    Power Point: What does being “really good at it” mean? Lots of charts? Pretty backgrounds? Awesome animations? Well, if so, forget it. I’ve used PP a million times, have sat through three million PP presentations (all of about 11 were awful), have read research about it, etc. It’s a very useful and effective tool if used correctly but it is stultifying and worse than useless if not.

    First of all, PP is best for graphics – charts, pictures with a word or two as a title or description. Words should be kept to a minimum. If you have more than about 4 one-line bullet points on a slide, either rethink what you *have* to say (not what you *want* to say), or use an extra slide. If you can’t read it from the back of the room, don’t use it. Don’t ever read what’s on the slide. Ever.

    OK to have a pretty background and nice font, but don’t overdo it. First, it’s not a good use of prep time. Better to work on your own presentation, not the electronic one. Second it won’t make any difference to your audience. Third, well, there is no third. Those two are plenty.

    Don’t use any animation. If you need something that moves like an embedded video, fine. But squiggles and curtains and spinning things are distracting and sort of dumb. I know all the doodads are tempting but ignore them.

    Remember all those times you have been watching a PP in a meeting and something went wrong with the “technology?” In other words, it screwed up? Right. A disaster for maintaining flow, for communication, and for you even though we always blame the “technology.”

    Use PP only when you need it. Consider dropping the projector entirely and using it only for handouts. Keep it utterly simple. Use your own words to tell your story, not a jumbled mess on the screen. The PP backs up your presentation, it doesn’t substitute for it or duplicate it.

    If you follow these tips YOU will be the one who is really good at PP. And your audience will be the better for it.

  46. stevenz

    Law degree. A JD has loads of career options that can come from it. For some reason, in US culture, employers think lawyers can do anything. But if you’re interested in law, a BA in law would be more interesting than a BA in social sciences. But it’s entirely your call.

    However, what are the job prospects in operating fork lifts? It’s a high skill job and may pay as well as anything else you are thinking of. Just sayin’.

    1. Kate Nepveu

      As a practicing lawyer, I highly recommend that people NOT get a JD if they aren’t really sure they want to practice law and have looked hard at the career placement record of their potential law school and the market in their area of interest–and I’ve done so since before the job market tanked so badly, because law school is a terrible way to spend three years of your life and it’s expensive, to boot.

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