Ensuring Your Professional Dress Materials are Inclusive: How do gender, race, age, class, ability, body type and culture intersect with professional dress?

Melena Postolowski – Director of Internships and Employer Relations, Eckerd College
Winner of the highest rated session from our 2016 Annual Conference 

I first entered the field of career coaching while I was in the process of completing my graduate degree in Counseling Psychology. At the same time that I was learning about the potential detriments of cultural assimilation in class, I was figuring out how to navigate conversations about professional dress with the clients I was working with on job search preparation. There was some obvious in-congruencemelena-photo between what I was learning to be “right” in the classroom versus what I was learning in my professional realm. This always caused internal tension for me.

One of my most memorable experiences was working work a bright, kind, highly competent international student from India. This particular student was a career coach’s dream: she always showed up to appointments with the utmost preparedness and followed all suggestions surrounding networking, following up and tailoring her resume to each job she applied to. The candidate had substantial past work experience, including running her own business, and an incredible transferable skill set. However, she continued to struggle with finding a job.

When it was time for the career fair, the student asked to meet with me to show me what she planned on wearing to the event. She arrived at my office in a beautiful, exquisite saree and I didn’t know what to say. The conversation ultimately resulted in encouraging the student’s freedom to choose for herself, but acknowledging that recruiters at the event would be expecting candidates to wear western style business suits. I went through all of the components of the outfit with her and even helped identify local shops where she could find something affordable. Days later she showed up to my office in the most typical, grey two-piece suit and my heart broke. I told her she looked great and wished her the best at the fair. Sure enough, she got a job offer almost immediately after the event and is one of the international students who was successful in remaining in the U.S. after graduation.

Was this candidate’s job search success solely based on whether or not she put on that grey suit? No one could ever be sure. But this experience, and my experience working with a variety of other students from different walks of life, really made me think about the concept of “professional dress.” Where do these ideals come from? Who are we helping by maintaining these ideals? Who are we hurting?

Obviously the student’s goal was to find employment and by those means, she was successful. I just wonder if her heart broke as much as mine did when she had to hang up the saree.

This past year I decided to start discussions on the topic of professional dress as it relates to diversity and inclusion. I wanted something to change in the way that we approach these conversations and the most obvious fix (to me) was beginning by removing the gender binary that is so often associated with this concept. Traditionally and typically in career services, professional dress is taught in a way that separates out what is considered appropriate male and female dress. Nonbinary students seeking career advice may feel limited by these explanations. Because research has shown that feelings of acceptance and belonging have a large effect on student learning, engagement and retention, updating professional dress materials to be more gender inclusive will allow for more students to be engaged in the professional development process. In turn, students will become more likely to benefit from career services offerings.

I presented on how to include the gender spectrum within professional dress educational materials at the 2016 FloridaACE Annual Conference and was blown away by my audience’s response. After the formal presentation, everyone in the room came together to discuss other ways in which diversity and inclusion are affected by professional dress standards and there was a call for a 2.0 version of the presentation. I had the opportunity to present again during the FloridaACE Drive-in Conference in the fall and included a variety of other recommendations based on the feedback I received from my industry peers over the summer.

Some of these additional diversity-related considerations are as follows:

  • Within your professional dress educational materials, do you have variety in racial representation? It is important to feature models that reflect your student body, not just one particular type of student.
  • Age may be less relevant for more traditional campuses, but there are plenty of blended campuses in which age diversity would be important to think about. Ensuring your veterans, for example, are feeling included as well as your more traditional graduate is something to keep in mind. Also, on the flip side – you can’t just have pictures of “adults” at work because younger students will not resonate with that.
  • In regards to socioeconomic class, are you also offering tips on finding affordable professional dress options within your community? Some schools offer consignment clothing that students can borrow for an interview.
  • Are you representing people with physical differences? Do students in wheelchairs have an example to look to? Also, in regards to body type, do all of your images depict GQ models? If so… you may want to rethink that.
  • Have you ever thought of including professional dress images with someone wearing a hijab? How about a yarmulke? If not, it may be worth reflecting on why this decision was made.

The reality is that there are industry expectations and business suits are not going out of style anytime soon, but there are ways in which we can handle the concept with some more flexibility. I don’t have all the answers and I know that it would be a difficult task to ensure that everyone feels included, but I also know that we can all be better at making sure more people feel included. Regardless of our own personal belief systems, political affiliation or culture of origin, we work in an industry that serves people and each day we show up to work we act as role models for the next generation entering the workforce.

So, what message are you sending about professional dress? Make sure it’s one you’re proud of.

#TBT…4 Surefire Ways to Optimize Your Career Center

Val Matta, CareerShift

Think of your career centers as hidden gold mines: Although they’re there at your disposal, few college students are aware of their advantages. A National Association of College and Employers (NACE) survey showed only 36 percent of students frequently take advantage of career center services. What’s more: 27 percent of graduating  seniors who plan on entering the workforce do not make use of their college career centers services. So while many students and young professionals may be aware of their career centers, not all use it as much as they could.

What are some ways to optimize your career center, especially during the job search? Check out these tips:

Find an advisor who understands you

First things first: You have to find a career center advisor who gets you. This is important for a few reasons. First, an advisor who understands your major, your personality, and your career path will be able to steer you in the right direction more efficiently. In addition, when you feel comfortable around these kinds of advisors, you’ll likely be inclined to seek and later take their advice.

Tip: Before you meet with an advisor, research their history and professional background. Then, try to see if your professional interests and values align with theirs, ensuring you find the right match.

Get resume help

About 71.3 percent of those who use career centers take advantage of resume services. Think about it: You have experts at your disposal ready and willing to optimize your application materials. In particular, your resume is usually what a hiring manager or recruiter sees first, so it needs to be at its best.

Tip: The best way to get resume help from a career center to come as prepared as possible. Have a rough draft ready to go, even if you know it may be edited. That way, there’s a solid foundation for you and the advisor to go through.

Practice, practice, practice

The NACE survey also indicated that about 42.8 percent of career services users go there for mock interview sessions. This is great way to learn and understand the best interview methods, such as how to answer questions appropriately or the best ways to follow-up. You may also learn how to dress professionally or how to conduct your body language in a way that shows you’re professional, enthusiastic and eager to get the job.

Tip: Don’t be nervous! Your career center advisor is there to help you. Ask for feedback on what you’re doing right and what you need to improve upon. This way, you’ll get the bad out of the way and be able to emphasize the good.

Find those hidden opportunities

After all your proactive work is complete, it’s time to utilize your career center’s best asset: Hidden job opportunities. Eighty percent of open jobs are never advertised, which means members of your network, including your career center, may be aware of jobs you would never see listed. So it’s vital that you use this resource to your advantage.

Tip: Be sure to jump on those hidden internship and job opportunities. Just because they aren’t advertised, it doesn’t mean others haven’t gotten wind — they may be applying for the positions as well. In addition, if your advisor has a connection or can give you a reference, you may have an easier time getting into the organization.

Visiting your career center is an absolute necessity, whether you just started school or are about to graduate. Be sure to take advantage of this resource and use it to its full potential.

This article was originally published at http://www.businessinsider.com/4-surefire-ways-to-optimize-your-career-center-2013-6 and may be re-published with permission from the author.

 

#TBT…Career Counselors Orchestrating Insight

Tom Broussard, Ph.D.

Insight (what some call the “Aha!” moment) comes to people in many ways, and not necessarily when they learn something new as much as when they see something that they know (or thought they knew) in a new way.  SO, what we try to do is create the conditions under which the individual (in even the smallest of ways) can be led to actually “see” something differently.

Of course, in order to do this the conversation must start with a discussion of seeing and how one learns “to see” anything…especially, how one learns to see things that they have never seen before but which have been right before their eyes all along.

As a precept of (much of) adult learning, adults already know what they need to know.  So effective adult education depends on creating the conditions under which the adult learner is led to see things in a new light.

The parable of the three stone masons is always a useful story:  three masons are approached by a  visitor while they are out cutting stone in the heat of the day.  They each are using a hammer and a  chisel and to all intents and purposes, they are performing identical tasks.  When the first stone mason is asked what he is doing, he replies, “You fool…can’t you see what I am doing?  I am slaving away in the hot sun cutting rocks!”

The second one answers the same question, “I am a stone cutter and this is what I do.  I cut rocks.”  The third one answers, “Why, I am building a cathedral!”  Nothing is different between the stone masons except what they see in their mind’s eye.

We all see things which we take for granted (and have taken for granted for so long) that often we can no longer see them in different (and exciting) ways.  Similar to the masons, work (the act of working) for many people has become narrowly described and discussed simply in terms of “what they do,” not “what they see.”

In today’s globally connected and service-dominated marketplace, more and more of work is defined by how people see a thing and less by the thing itself.   Successful builders of any edifice in this new world are the ones with the vision to see in different ways and help create the conditions under which others may share that new vision—that new way of seeing.

21st century career development (most of which must be self-directed—an even more challenging task!) must focus first on the act of seeing (and our capacity to change how we see things) as a necessary precursor to raising the cathedrals demanded in every modern organizational realm.  While we may all be stone cutters, the “Aha!” moment graces those who learn to see what others are late (or loath) to consider as part of their reality.

In a similar way, career counselors are (or try to be) adept at creating the conditions under which the “Aha!”  moment will be a more likely outcome of the encounter because they focus first on how their client sees anything–the world, themselves, their strengths, their weaknesses, etc. before turning to what they might do in the future.

These “castles in the clouds” rise from our experience, our education and the inner nature of things that construct knowledge as well as constructing cathedrals.  Great career counselors are particularly good at orchestrating what they have seen in the past and integrating it with the future.

 

#TBT…6 Ways to Use Your School’s Alumni Network to Land a Job

Val Matta, CareerShift

As graduation draws near, college students become stressed about employment. After spending the majority of their lives studying, they suddenly have a new, often unfamiliar task: the post college job search.ace1

But many college students don’t realize the bounty of resources available to them for the job search. Beyond employment agencies and company websites, college alumni networks are a great resource for potential job opportunities and employment ideas.

But just how can college students tap into the power of alumni networks? What are the proper routes to take, and what’s the right etiquette for approaching a potential networking contact? Here are six ways college students can use their college alumni network to land a job:

1. Start early. Don’t wait until the minute you need a job to start tapping into your school’s alumni network. While it’s never too late to get started, you should try to make networking connections throughout your entire college career so you have a good database of personal networking contacts to tap into after graduation.

2. Find contacts. Talk to your career services center to see if they keep a database of alumni willing to talk to students about their professional careers. Many colleges and universities do this. Most schools also have alumni relations offices that can put you in contact with professional alumni in your industry or field, or those that have relationships with employment agencies.

3. Get involved. Joining campus organizations–or even off-campus organizations–can help you to connect with current students and gain access to alumni who have participated in the same groups. Consider student clubs, volunteer groups, community centers, political organizations, student newspapers or blogs, theatre groups, or other organizations that pique your interest. Not only will you gain a great addition to your skill set and resume, but you’ll glean direct access to a large pool of alumni with similar career goals.

4. Tap into social media. In today’s technological landscape, the power of social media — sites like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn — is unmatched when it comes to connecting professionals across time and place. Brand yourself on your personal social media accounts by ensuring your image remains professional and focused on your industry, but don’t forget to showcase your interests, unique traits, and personality as well. Once you’ve established a professional personal brand on social media, you’ll feel more comfortable reaching out to alumni contacts. Alumni and employment agencies often reach out to students with completed LinkedIn profiles.

5. Start a conversation first. Approaching someone by saying “I need a job” isn’t going to get you anywhere. You’ll just look desperate and, even worse, inconsiderate. Whether you’re talking to alumni contacts via email, phone, or social media, always start a conversation first, and talk job opportunities later. Find a common point of interest with your new networking contact–it’s easy with social media–and go from there. Reply to their tweets, comment on a blog post, or send an email with a news article or online video you think they may like.

6. Set up an informational interview. Informational interviews are a great way to pick the brains of professionals you admire. Informational interviews can often lead to advice, job openings, or introductions to more networking connections. To set up an informational interview, simply ask your networking contact to meet you for lunch or coffee. Bring a copy of your resume and a few questions you want to ask. Keep the conversation short–less than 30 minutes–and follow up afterward via email or phone to thank them for their time.

Tapping into the power of an alumni network doesn’t have to be difficult. If college students are proactive about the networking process, they’ll have no problems establishing themselves in entry-level positions after college.

Val Matta is the vice president of business development at CareerShift, a comprehensive job hunting and career management solution for university career centers that gives students and alumni complete control over their job search. Connect with Val and CareerShift on LinkedIn.

#TBT…African-American Male Students and Career Decision-Making Behavior: Tools for Success

Sunday, April 29, 2012 06:59 PM
L. Felix Daniels, Ed.D., University of Central Florida

“I have no idea of what I’m good at.” “I just want to make a decent amount of money.”  “If I can find a stable job with enough money to take care of a family, I will be happy.”  “I just want to help people, but I have no idea how.”  Reminiscing about my work as a career counseling practitioner over past 8 years, I find that these are just a few of the revelations that surface during my sessions with undecided students.  I’m sure many of you may be able to attest to this precarious predicament by virtue of the work you’ve done or by your own personal experiences during your undergraduate days.  Even after graduating from a local community college years ago, I too found myself undecided about my career choice once I arrived at my four-year institution.

Today, more than ever, it appears that career indecision is on the rise amongst college students.  According to a survey of freshmen students, approximately 75% cited getting a better job while 73% noted making more money, as the most important reasons for attending college.  Due to the data revealed from this survey, as well as my sometimes intense encounters with students, it appears that family, a forever fluctuating economy, and more often than not television shows also influence the career decision-making process of today’s millennial students.  Although relevant, these influences don’t always make for “ideal” sessions with our undecided students. As such, it is necessary for career counseling practitioners and administrators to continue gathering information to assist our undecided (and often decided) students.

In order to gain more insight into the experiences of our students, I chose to embark upon an intense information gathering exercise.  In other words, I began working on my dissertation.  From the lens of Social Cognitive Career Theory, I chose to examine the experiences that impact the career decision-making behavior of African-American male transfer students.  According to recent statistics, these students are facing serious challenges with retention in our systems of higher education.  As a seasoned career counseling professional, one may assume that career indecision plays a significant role in the matriculation of these students.  Guess what?  It does!

The participants revealed insightful information that may aid us in our quest to help students make sound decisions about their careers.  Participants noted that experiencing less than desirable job salaries, academic  ability, and gender also played significant roles in the process of selecting a major.  Of the experiences that led to the development of career decision-making self-efficacy: choosing a major consistent with self, engagement in practical experiences, working independently and solving problems, meeting with advisors, and being involved in extracurricular activities were all imperative to the retention of this group.

What does it all mean?  Although this study alone does not solve the problem of the declining number of African-American male students, it does offer some insight into what we can do as practitioners and administrators to address the issue.  Engaging students in various forms of self-assessment, career research that includes practical experiences, making students aware of academic resources and challenging them to utilize them are all strategies that can enhance career decision-making behavior.  Along with these strategies, we may also want to make concerted efforts to reach out to this population as students tend to visit Career Services when they need a job or at graduation.  However for many of our students, that may be too late!

Connection, Spring 2012 Edition

5 Reasons Why Blogging Will Make You A Better Career Counselor

Val Matta, Vice President of Business Development, CareerShift

Career counselors, you’re probably wondering, “How can a newsfeed of gifs and memes possibly make me better at giving career advice?” Well, if you use your professional blog that way, it probably won’t.

cloud of words or tags related to blogging and blog design on a

Image Courtsey of PixelsAway

Sixty percent of businesses use a business or company blog to communicate with the information-seekers of the world, and these blogs receive 528,000,000 page views each month. That’s a lot of exposure for a brand. Why aren’t all career counselors doing the same?

Blogging offers professionals and students a unique way to network with others on a global scale. Here are a few reasons you should blog to connect with your job-seeking audience: Continue reading

3 Ways to Effectively Assist Military and Veteran Students in Writing a Resume

by Lindsey Walk, Career Planning Coordinator, University of West Florida

The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are coming to a close, and Congress has unveiled a plan to drastically reduce the number of troops on active duty. With this reduction in force, we can expect to see an increase in the number of veterans pursuing a college education and subsequently utilizing Career Services. It is important for career professionals to understand this unique population and the types of positions they are seeking so we can effectively assist them in writing their resumes.

Speak Their Language

Each branch of the military has its own acronyms and nuances, which can make it difficult for a career coach to assist in translating military experience into a resume. For example, in the Army, a soldier’s job is referred to as a Military Occupational Specialty (MOS).  However, in the Navy, a sailor’s job is known as a Rating. If you are not sure what an acronym or a word means, an employer probably will not understand either. Go through the service member’s resume and identify any words you do not believe all employers would understand. Ask the service member to explain or use a search engine to look up the term. It may not be apparent to the service member that the terminology may not be understood by an employer because he or she has been using these words for his or her entire career. Since the resume is likely the most important document in the job search process, ensuring all military jargon is translated to understandable terms is critical.

Have Service Members Review Their Performance Evaluations for Useful Content

Service members have learned many skills through deployments, military training, and other experiences. These experiences are normally well-documented through the service member’s annual performance evaluations. The bullets on the performance evaluations almost always begin with an action verb and typically quantify, both of which are important traits for bullets in the experience section of a resume. They may also be divided into sections such as Competence, Physical Fitness/Military Bearing, Leadership, Training, and Responsibility/Accountability, which could assist in writing a functional resume. Take the time to discuss the experiences from their performance evaluations with them and see how they fit into the type of positions they are currently seeking. Stress to the service member that he or she does not have to show the performance evaluation to you. The performance evaluation can be reviewed privately by the service member, and he or she can choose the relevant bullets and discuss those with you.

Understand the Federal Resume

Many service members are interested in continuing to serve the United States government after leaving the service. To assist service members in this goal, career professionals must have an in-depth understanding of the USAJOBS website. The majority of federal positions are posted through USAJOBS with few exceptions. Career professionals must be aware of the drastic difference between a federal and private sector resume.

Some differences between a private sector and a federal resume include the following:

  • A private sector resume is typically 1-2 pages while it is common for a federal resume to be 3-5 pages in length
  • Federal resumes should be written in paragraph format while bullets are preferred for the private sector
  • Keywords should be capitalized on a federal resume to call the attention of the Human Resources professional reviewing the document while this would not be appropriate on a private sector resume
  • A private sector resume does not require the applicant’s social security number, supervisor’s name, and contact information, salary, veterans’ preference status, and other personal details while these are requirements of a federal resume
  • Federal resumes include a combination of details and accomplishments for all positions the applicant has ever held while private sector resumes typically require less position detail and focus more on accomplishments

It is recommended that applicants use USAJOBS resume format instead of uploading their own versions of a federal resume. Using the USAJOBS format presents the information in a clear, organized, and uniform way making it easier for Human Resource professionals to review. All career professionals should create and build a USAJOBS resume as this will make the process easier to explain to those you are assisting.

Remember that many service members join the military right out of high school and may not have written a resume previously. This is a population that has much to offer employers, and your assistance will be instrumental in helping them meet their career goals.