Thomas Trgovac remembers the day 27 years ago when he went to apply for his first job at a Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant.
Trgovac had attained the ripe old age of 17. After he told his dad that he was going for a job, the elder Trgovac sized him up and said, "First things first: We're going to the barbershop."
Exactly one haircut and one application later, Trgovac had his first gig. He remembers the lesson about how young people should look and act when seeking employment.
Trgovac was born and raised in Ohio. He became a judge advocate general's officer while in the Army and, after his discharge in 1994, worked as a lawyer in private practice and for the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. in Washington. He lived in Elkridge before moving to Chambersburg, Pa., where he had another private practice before he co-founded an information-technology consulting company with one of his former clients.
The company is called Global Data Consultants LLC. Its customers are businesses looking to improve or develop their information-technology infrastructure - what Trgovac calls "IT infrastructure" - and software development. GDC provides its customers with a call center to handle software problems. Positions at the call center, Trgovac said, are entry-level and mainly filled by young people.
"If you come in there and excel, you can work your way up in the company," Trgovac said. But to work your way up, young people first need the job. Trgovac has some advice for youngsters entering the job market: Avoid, at all costs, what he calls "AFIRs," or Artificial Future Income Reducers.
"We'll start with the visible tattoo," Trgovac said of the item that's No. 1 on his AFIR list. "The large visible tattoo. Our customers are professionals. They want to know that the company handling their business takes their business seriously."
Those customers won't get that impression from a consulting company whose employees are sporting tattoos more appropriate for members of the Bloods, Crips, Black Guerrilla Family, Aryan Brotherhood, Mexican Mafia - hey, just fill in the name of any gang here. Customers aren't likely to do business with a company whose employees look like Hells Angels either.
The companies "are going to question whether we're the right company to handle their IT infrastructure," Trgovac said. "IT infrastructure drives our customers. They need to know it's in good hands."
Trgovac made it clear that he's not against tattoos per se. There's nothing wrong, he insists, with tattoos that can be easily hidden. The key word in Trgovac's admonition about tattoos is the word visible - the tattoo that can't be hidden.
"I'm talking about the tattoo that's on the neck and up the cheek," Trgovac said. "Or the big bolt on the lower lip."
That "big bolt" is a body piercing, which is No. 2 on the list of Trgovac's AFIRs. I asked Trgovac if young people - some "fresh out of high school," according to Trgovac - looking for entry-level jobs really came to interviews with visible tattoos and body piercings.
"They did," Trgovac said. "They did not get the job. Generally speaking, if [applicants] don't blow us out of the water, [visible tattoos and body piercings] are going to prevent them from being considered."
Trgovac has four easy-to-remember rules that high-school graduates looking for entry-level jobs should heed when they go for interviews. The law according to Trgovac is:
1. "Take out your tongue stud."
2. "Remove your body piercing - a single earring is the most I will tolerate, but if it comes down to two equally qualified candidates, I am going to select the one who did not come to the interview with visible body piercings."
3. "Do not come to the interview with pink, blue, purple, red or green hair."
4. "Do not come to the interview with a punk-rock haircut. Again, all other things being equal, I am going to select the candidate with a tasteful haircut over the candidate with the spiked Mohawk."
All those have made it to Trgovac's AFIR list. And there's one other: speaking slang instead of standard English. Trgovac said GDC doesn't want employees who answer company phones "using a lot of slang or talking to our customers like he's one of your homeys."
"Our folks," Trgovac said, "for the most part will be on the phone talking to our customers." He looks for employees who "speak and write proper English, or at least make a good-faith attempt to do so."
Other positives Trgovac looks for in potential candidates are "those who finish their education and do something beyond high school. It does not have to be college. Acceptable alternatives include the military, a technical school, an apprenticeship - anything that shows me you are self-motivated and interested in bettering yourself. And volunteer work or an unpaid internship counts."
Trgovac stressed that job-seekers don't necessarily have to give up AFIRs to find work.
"If you have a tattoo, cover it up. If you have a piercing, take it out. And if you dye your hair pink for the weekend, wash it out."
Find Gregory Kane's column archive at baltimoresun.com/kane