When I think about some of the outfits I wore to my earliest job interviews, I cringe a little on the inside. For example, the get up I wore for my first job interview–a baby pink turtleneck, sparkly flared jeans with pink on the sides and pink sneakers–oy! I was in high school at the time and didn’t start college until I was 22, so there were years where I had no real professional mentors or a university career center to seek out.
I’m grateful to have the opportunity to discuss topics like dressing appropriately for job interviews with students, but knowledge can only take one so far. Dressing professionally is not always feasible for everyone–specifically people who don’t have extra income, single parents, those on a fixed income, or students who don’t have their families’ financial support for one reason or another.
For example, my partner AJ works with LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer) whose families have sometimes withdrawn financial (not to mention emotional) support after learning of their child’s sexuality. These are college students who are working to educate themselves and find the careers they want who face significant challenges when it comes to dressing professionally for a job or internship interview.
Additionally, there are people (often women) who are leaving violent or unhappy relationships and getting back into the job world. Starting over is difficult no matter what, but not having the tools to do so–proper work clothing, interview skills, etc., makes it feel near impossible.
As someone who didn’t have a lot of money growing up who has had to learn important skills–like how to dress professionally, business etiquette, etc., as an adult, I ask you to consider giving back. Do you have clothes that you no longer wear just sitting in your closet? Consider donating them. Do you have the time to take on a student once every few months who could shadow you at work? Consider reaching out to your local college’s career center about offering job shadowing (or even internship!) opportunities. Are you a great presenter who knows what it takes to succeed in a specific career field? Give presentations to local women’s shelters or university career centers.
Giving back doesn’t always mean donating money to a specific cause or volunteering for hours each week. For students, new professionals, and people with low incomes, an outfit could change their outlook on life in some small way.
If you don’t know where to donate time or clothing, here are a few resources:
1. Contact your local colleges and universities’ LGBTQ and women’s centers about holding a clothing drive or simply donating some of your own pieces.
2. Contact local women’s shelters and Dress for Success centers.
3. Contact homeless shelters–in many cities there are shelters specifically for homeless men where your old suits/business casual clothes would be greatly appreciated.
4. Ask your young colleagues and interns if they’d be interested in some of your clothing.
5. Contact local university career centers and workforce readiness programs to find out if you could talk with students about your experiences or invite them to your workplace to job shadow.
6. Contact local non-profits such as food banks and soup kitchens to see how you can help.
7. Ask churches, synagogues and other houses of worship in your area if there’s anyway you can help their members professionally.
No matter who you are, or what fields you’ve worked in, you have the ability to help someone else. Meet with a student interested in your career, donate some clothes to women getting back on their feet, or come up with your own ideas of how to help. Most of us have had some help along the way–an interested teacher or professor, a good boss or mentor, or a cool aunt who bought us our first interview outfit. Perhaps its time to pay it forward.