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Saturday, May 5, 2012

Dressing for Your Career

I'm having another I love my job week. To recap, last weekend I got to interview shoe designers Donald and Lisa Pliner, host the "Go Red For Women" fashion show for the American Heart Association at the Southern Women's Show, and host a "What's New" event at Macy's Triangle Town Center. I also had a wonderful and fulfilling experience this week. Do my various events keep me on my toes, heck yes! 

This week I had the opportunity to consult with the University of North Carolina on a project with their Career Counseling services. There is a stipend program called "Style For Success" that assists students with limited economic resources with purchasing professional attire in the hopes that they will get a job upon graduation. They asked me to work with two students, and teach them what and how to buy well fitting professional dress, as well as offer grooming and style tips. As part of this campaign, UNC wanted to update their website and You Tube account with videos about shopping for and wearing professional attire. 

Most students begin the interview and job seeking process with little knowledge about the importance of their initial presentation. When UNC asked me to do this, I decided that I needed to work with a store that offered both quality and value so that both students could begin to understand the process of building a working lifestyle wardrobe over time. With the allotted stipend, I knew value was important. I have been very fortunate in my over 21 years in the business to build some lasting friendships with many retail merchants. Travis Groome, who is now at Macy's, has always been a retailer who believes in paying things forward. Travis and I met and talked about the importance of teaching students how to put their best foot forward, making the right buying decisions, and how to go about it. We have worked together for so long that our views on dressing are always well suited for one another. Nice pun, huh?

Two students that were selected, one an economic engineering major and the other a communications major. Robert, the engineering student, had already attended an event where he was not adequately dressed for a meeting/seminar that he had attended a few months prior. He had arrived in jeans and a polo, only to find most others dressed in suits or a sports jackets. That alone can make anyone feel at a slight disadvantage. And there are some adults out there (you know who you are), who either don't care what you wear to any event or feel like you can't afford the appropriate clothing. And to be fair, business casual can be a tad confusing sometimes. Robert is trying to get his foot in the door at a time when a lot of graduates are having a tough time finding their first job, and making a first impression and looking like you will fit in to a company culture is important. 

Robert and Suzanne
As I have always told clients, it is that initial impression within the first three moments of introduction that can often make or break an opportunity. For Robert, he needed clothing that would be appropriate for an interview or business function, as well as an evening networking event. Teaching Robert how to purchase  suit separates, including a jacket, a few paris of pants, and a couple of shirts and ties would give him the option of mixing and matching for any job or business occasion. We also discussed if you don't know what the dress is for a particular function, that being overdressed is better than being underdressed. It is much easier to take off jacket and tie, and just have a crisp button down and dress slack on, versus wearing a polo and jeans. I was quick to notice the extra confidence that Robert had once he was dressed in a suit and tie. It also probably helped that we all told him how "dapper" he looked. Boy, I sound like a mother whose own son is graduating from UNC Law this coming week! Dapper he was! Between the new black shoe and belt, and few basic grooming tips and caring for his clothes, Robert was ready for his next business opportunity. He will be a man I will enjoy tracking his success!

Sam and Suzanne
Sam is a senior who is interested in working in all aspects of theatre. She is interviewing for a job with a small family owned theatre company that will involve working anywhere from behind the scenes of a production to handling the marketing or ticket sales. Sam's own wardrobe consisted of what most college students own. A short black skirt, stilettos, jeans, tanks tops, and a few dressy tops. My first job was to discuss with with her that although her job is not considered corporate, and therefore not really requiring a corporate wardrobe, that it was still important to dress more conservatively for the initial interview. If Sam is then asked back for a second interview, a less structured outfit would work. More importantly, cleavage and stilettos would not work to her advantage and should be regarded as something to not do. There were so many tips and tricks to offer Sam, here are just a few we discussed:

1. Hosiery is not needed unless interviewing for corporate companies.
2. Skirts and dresses should not be shorter than 2 inches above the knee. Believe it or not, many corporate HR departments have policies about your skirt being longer, and those policies generally put your skirt just above the knee.
3. No sleeveless tops or dresses. Plan to wear a jacket, simple shrug or sweater if you are wearing a sleeveless dress or top.
4. Blush color is an alternative to black pumps. Avoid open toed shoes and sandals, and no higher than two and a half inches tall.
5. Make sure your nails are well groomed without a statement color, and avoid perfumes or too much makeup.

Katherine, Travis and Suzanne
It was a long but wonderful five plus hours of filming, with many bloopers and many surprises about what was appropriate! I really commend UNC on recognizing the importance of dressing for an interview. I like what someone once said to me about dressing for the job you hope to have in years to come and not for the one you are actually interviewing for. Both Robert and Sam were terrific, and I wish them much success.

For more information on the "Style for Success" stipend program offered at UNC, check out  http://careers.unc.edu/students/job-search/styled-success-stipend.htmlIn the meantime, special thanks to Katherine Nobles, the Career Counselor at UNC, and of course my buddy Travis at Macy's Triangle Town Center. I will be posting the videos on my YouTube channel as soon as they are made available.

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