Programs loan professional attire for job interviews

First impressions matter — especially when searching for your next employment opportunity, according to local career counselors.

“Clothes convey messages,” said Nicole McCloskey, administrative support assistant at Penn State Altoona, whose responsibilities include the Career Services office Career Closet.

The closet is available to Penn State alumni and students who may borrow professional attire for job and internship interviews as well as class presentations.

“A job interview is not the time to express your personality right off the bat,” McCloskey said.

Unfortunately, recent layoffs at manufacturing businesses and at Norfolk Southern’s Juniata Locomotive Shop mean skilled craftsmen, electricians and laborers are unexpectedly back in the job hunt. The area has several services designed to make it easier for job seekers to approach an interview appropriately attired — even when their monetary means is limited.

Saint Vincent de Paul opened a new program earlier this month, specifically to help job seekers. Called Successful Threads, the program provides one professional-looking outfit to men and women who come into the store at 1215 Seventh Ave. and express their need — along with the name of the company they are interviewing with and the date of the interview.

While only available since Nov. 1, store manager Deb Wright-Adams said the concept grew out of clients’ consistent request for help. The program also includes medical scrubs and whites, health care shoes and black, non-skid shoes often required for restaurant staff and others who work in those industries.

“We get people who are in recovery just out of drug rehab or just released from prison; people who are trying to start over and make a fresh start,” Wright-Adams said, adding other shoppers are adults undergoing retraining.

One of the differences with the Successful Threads is that participants can select a complete outfit — shirt/blouse, slacks/skirt, blazer/jacket, shoes, plus an accessory, such as a wrist watch, earrings or necklace to polish the ensemble.

“A good rule of thumb,” said Gwen Fisher, site administrator for Pennsylvania CareerLink offices in Blair and Bedford counties, “is to find out what the dress code is at the company you want to join and then dress slightly dressier.”

In recent years, Wright-Adams has noticed more job applicants come to interviews more casually dressed, often in jeans and a shirt. For some job openings, such as in construction, jeans and a dress shirt are acceptable, provided they are clean.

For men, business attire means a suit jacket, light blue or white button down shirt, and dress pants. Ties are optional unless the applicant seeks to land an upper management or sales position, Fisher said. Although, McCloskey said they encourage men to wear a solid or striped tie that coordinates with their suit. She discourages men from wearing seasonally themed or cartoon character-themed ties.

For women, business attire means dress slacks or skirt, a blouse and coordinated jacket or blazer or a dress, McCloskey said.

Women should wear modest necklines and skirt lengths, Wright-Adams recommended.

“Let’s face it,” said Charlotte Airhart, assistant manager at Saint Vincent de Paul, Altoona, “What someone is wearing is the first thing you notice. Wearing properly fitted, professional attire also gives someone an ego boost. When you look good, you feel good.”

Penn State Altoona senior Mikayla Pratt said she discovered the university’s Career Closet her sophomore year when she needed professional attire to attend a career fair.

“It’s convenient with very nice clothing,” said Pratt of West Grove. “As a student, your wardrobe is limited. … I didn’t have the money to go out and spend on a suit. This really alleviates some stress.”

Pratt graduates in December with a degree in electromechanical engineering technology and starts a full-time position with a firm she met at that career fair where she landed an internship.

Being professionally attired helps make a positive first impression, Pratt said, but she also learned how to carry herself confidently and look people in the eye through Career Services.

Career Services also offers resume preparation and interview coaching.

The Career Closet also loans students accessories, such as professional padfolios so they can carry printed copies of their resumes, take notes and contain any printed material they receive during the interview process, McCloskey said. The service was established in 2014 by an anonymous benefactor who provided monetary support to purchase clothing and to support dry cleaning services when the clothing is returned. They also accept gently worn, almost new clothing donations of professional attire. The service offers clothing in sizes 0 to 16.

“Anyone of any size can find something here,” Pratt said.

Between May and December 2018, about 222 students used the university’s clothing closet, McCloskey said.

“Many students come here not realizing they will need a suit and other professional dress attire for class presentations as well as job fairs,” she said.

Students sign out the clothing for as long as they need, because students often go on more than one interview. Students faithfully return the borrowed clothing, McCloskey said, noting only one tie went missing since the closet was established.

John Dibert of Claysburg is a junior in communications and commutes to campus. When he had a class presentation, he sported a pair of pants and a button-down shirt from the closet paired with a dressy, zip-up sweater of his own.

“I’m very involved in activities and often go from class to events,” he explained. So, he’d either have to make the one-way, 45-minute trip home to change or bring dress clothes with him. “At one time I was carrying my closet in my car. I’ve saved myself a lot of time by using this service.”

Staff also help him select clothing items, especially ties. Minor alterations, such as hemming pants and shortening sleeves, are also provided, McCloskey said.

As Dibert looks ahead to a career in public relations, he said he’s learned that “First impressions are often lasting impressions. And I’m being hired not only to represent myself, but also the company I’m working for and who I represent.”

Mirror Staff Writer Patt Keith is at 949-7030.


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