Campus To Career

May 20, 1993|By Suzin Boddiford | Suzin Boddiford,Contributing Writer

Graduates, take note. The hour has arrived to put away th textbooks and pull out the resume. Time to shed that cozy, casual student shell and treat yourself to some professional polish. Those well-worn jeans and second-skin T-shirts that kept you going through endless rounds of finals will not prove much good now that you're heading out into the job market.

Unsure about how to create that first big impression once it's time to pound the pavement? Take a look at the winners of our makeover contest -- Nicole Graner and Ana Grant, two new graduates who wrote to us asking for help with their hair and wardrobes. Their appearances were transformed from college student to career woman with the help of a makeup artist (Nora Garver), hair stylist (Kevin Depew) and clothes stylist (me).

"A common mistake often assumed by recent graduates is that credentials alone will carry the interview, with no bearing on appearance," says Mary Kraft, owner of a recruitment company in Towson.

Another frequent error among young job candidates, says Karen Weatherholtz, vice president for human relations at McCormick & Co. Inc., is "dressing

too casually for a first interview, which raises questions in the interviewer's mind about that person's business judgment."

With so many graduates of equal status vying for the same entry-level positions, appearance usually ends up the determining factor in who gets hired. Fair or not, it's all part of the editing process, and dressing the part helps establish your credibility.

In such a tension-producing situation as a first interview, not feeling comfortable with the way you look can add to your anxiety. Best to take the time to dress appropriately so as to present a confident, dynamic impression when first entering the interviewer's office.

"The traits you are expected to bring to an interview are what you want your clothes to communicate," advises national image educator and author Judith Rasband. The message your appearance conveys upon first impression is interpreted at once. Therefore, the image you project must mirror the position you are seeking.

What's appropriate can vary

A local administrative recruiter told about a recent grad who was not called back for a second interview (even though she was the most qualified for the position) because the interviewer felt her skirt was too short, reflecting lack of judgment.

Dressing appropriately, of course, will vary according to the type of work and style of grooming and dress that's usually worn at the level job you're seeking within a company. After all, the whole point of the interview is to allow the interviewer to envision you in the job. If you are interviewing with a retail chain to join its in-house advertising department, you want to dress with a more creative flair -- perhaps touching on a fashion trend or wearing more color -- than if you were applying for a position in accounting.

"The best way to be prepared is by doing your homework," says Ms. Kraft.

How do you find out about a company's image? "Annual company reports that can be found at the library often have pictures of employees in them," says Ms. Kraft. "You can also get a feel for image by talking to other people within the company or even parking your car outside to observe employees going in and out of the building."

Details, details

Details count. Nordstrom's Personal Touch shopping service manager, Melissa Ford, who conducts corporate seminars, stresses the importance of the three-dimensional package when making that first big impression. "A person can be dressed and groomed impeccably, but the smallest details can signal someone who does not follow through," says Ms. Ford.

"Men are infamous for this," says national fashion consultant Tina Sutton, who has written and lectured on dressing appropriately for business. They often buy the finest suit, shirt and tie but forget to polish their shoes. Or they'll wear athletic instead of dress socks, she says.

When in doubt about investing in a good first-interview look, go dark -- particularly if you cannot afford the finest quality. Dark colors help mask not-so-fine tailoring, whereas light colors reveal every flaw, Ms. Sutton notes.

For women, a tailored navy or gray suit or coatdress in a tropical-weight fabric like wool gabardine, rayon or silk will take you year-round into any interview situation, provided you complete the package for the appropriate position.

Avoid linen, which never looks quite polished. Cheap rayons can be just as bad. Before buying, crumple a piece of the fabric in your hand. If it doesn't spring back and stays messy after you let it go, don't buy it -- chances are that's how you will look once you arrive at your interview.

Color is a good way to inject life into a ho-hum outfit. "Stick to strong hues in small doses," advises local image consultant Jane La Russa. "Men can introduce it with their choice in a tie and women with a solid color blouse or print scarf."

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