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…E-Mail Communication…It Works!

Sarabeth Varriano & Rex Wade, University of West Florida Career Services

Higher Education institutions are under the microscope to demonstrate students’ return on investment for their  attained degrees. Included in that assessment is student success in realizing their career goals. Career Services offices rightfully focus on career education and job search strategies and preparations with their constituent students. The authors of this monograph rightfully remind us of the importance of strategic employer development that results in meaningful partnerships, sponsorships, and effective talent recruitment.

A helpful review of employer relations history and evolution over the past several decades provides a context for developing a comprehensive and effective employer development strategies that aligns with an ever changing world of work and economy that is in flux. A thoughtful treatment is provided for approaches, programs, marketing strategies, event coordination, fundraising, technological support, and program assessment no matter what the number of staff or size of the institution.

In just a few pages, the authors provide not just a approach to employer relations but practical examples that include sample job descriptions, event checklists, report charts, staff performance review forms, employer evaluation examples, miscellaneous printed and electronic ads, and much more that are a part of an information packed Appendix.

The authors stress the importance of having a dynamic program with a final chapter that provides insight into future employment relations issues and trends including topics such as accountability, internships, distance learning, recruiting trends and social media.

This monograph is a must for any new Career Services professional. As a veteran of over 20 years of Career Services experience, I also found it thought provoking and inspiring for new ideas, approaches, and strategies. As I add this book to my library, I am confident that I will often refer to it’s practical resources while developing and assessing an effective employer relations program.

We are looking forward to growing this communication process and are excited to explore new ways to measure its success.



#TBT…Email Etiquette: The Art of Writing in the 21st Century

Jairo R. Ledesma, Florida International University

For centuries the art of writing a letter was just that: an art.  Writing was reserved for scribes, whose job it was to draft carefully edited letters and books that would be read by the elite. Over time, with the advent of technology the scribe was replaced and the production of books and letters was accessible to many. That was a good thing I guess. The drawback, we could surmise, has been that we no longer pay attention to detail and the power that the written word has. Take for example the manner in which we communicate today. Electronic mail, or email, is perhaps the number one way we communicate (I do believe this is changing, and how you communicate has to do with the age bracket you fall under) and it is perhaps the only way we have to get our point across in great detail, since the days of actually writing a letter by hand are all but gone.

Email in its purest form is a representation of who we are. It allows the reader to infer our character, mood and overall mental well being. IF I WRITE TO YOU IN ALL CAPITAL LETTERS, you will assume that I am either very angry at you or that I simply forgot to let go of the Caps Lock button. if i rite to u like this, u may think that i am younger and hip, or maybe you will think I am your friend or something. Or if I write to you like one my students did recently “Yo Ledesma,  I uploaded my resume go ahead and approve it because I needed ASAP” you may think I was a bit rude.

So, where have all the etiquette and manners gone? Over the course of my almost 13 years in higher education, I have noticed that etiquette as it pertains to writing has diminished and seems to be spiraling downwards. Gone are the days of paying attention to detail, to the tone and to our audience.

The internet/information revolution perhaps has made us go a bit faster than we were previously accustomed to. In our haste to keep up, perhaps we have neglected the details, or is it that in our early educational experience, the emphasis on writing and grammar has shifted? Could it be perhaps that these deficiencies were always there, but is it only now when the written word is more important than ever, that we notice this? Whatever the case may be I find myself having an internal battle of whether or not I should take the time to “school” a student on proper email etiquette. I think about whether the student will actually take into consideration what I just wrote to them. I contemplate whether I now will get into a back and forth with a student who may take offense to a “teaching moment.” In the end, the educator in me always wins out. In my line of work, every moment is a teaching moment, an opportunity to share information and/or an opportunity to make students reflect and think.

Alas, there is hope; I think, I hope. Just browsing the Linkedin website, I come across hundreds of professionals who profess knowledge of email decorum. A quick Google search finds a plethora of articles on the subject. But in the end, I am convinced that it will be the educator in all of us to let our students, our future professionals, know how important communication is and how vital email etiquette is to their professional development and future. I usually do my best in the most polite fashion to let the   student know first what the mistakes were, and then next how it can be done better. More importantly, I let them know why it matters so much that they get this figured out before they reach the professional world. I sometimes provide links to articles (such as this one from inc.com) so that students do not just hear it from me. Lastly, remember that as Career Services professionals, if we don’t take the time then someone else may.  BECAUSE if u dont…some1 will,  butt it May be 2 LATE!!!!!!!

#TBT…Employee-Crafted Goals Pay Off

Robert Liddell, Saint Leo University

Goal setting and performance management are often cited as supervisors’ least preferred responsibilities. Cascading performance goals down through a large division or organization is a complex undertaking.

Coordinating everyone’s goals around activities that contribute to productivity requires communication, planning, rewards and support.

To create strategic alignment among the organization’s direction, the manager’s performance expectations and an employee’s annual objectives, consider having employees design their own goals. This practice provides rewarding opportunities for employees to assume responsibility for their contributions and development.

In some cases, it makes sense to assign an annual objective to the individuals or small groups most capable of delivering the desired work product. However, companies in which employees have a say in how they make contributions benefit from increased job satisfaction and reduced turnover.


Employees who are aware of top-level objectives and how their department supports those objectives are better prepared for this process. As manager, your first step is to review top-level objectives and understand how your team’s goals contribute. Then, consider what goals need to be delegated.

Next, clarify employees’ key responsibilities and begin to anticipate the goals you might expect them to achieve. Having already set your annual goals and ensured that they fit into the company’s direction, ask employees to do the same.

Prior to a goal-setting meeting with a subordinate, share relevant information and clarify expectations. Define the resources required. As your direct reports draft performance goals, have them include at least one measure for each goal to specify the results expected or the level of performance required.


Emphasize that employees are writing their goals, but, as their manager, you are responsible for ensuring the relevance of their tasks and how they fit into the organization’s plans.

At a minimum, employees’ goals should represent key responsibilities of their positions. Consider if it is appropriate to delegate a specific goal or pieces of the goal to another employee. Break large goals into smaller components.

Stretch goals should advance your goals and those of the organization. As a manager, you must oversee the efforts of others to produce these results. If their tasks don’t fit into your tasks, you will be wasting effort. Question whether such tasks need to be reassigned to another department or discarded.


After reviewing the drafts, meet again with each employee to agree on final goals. Those who are part of the goal-setting process are able to articulate how their work directly contributes to annual goals.

As their manager, you will see ultimate rewards such as higher job satisfaction and employee engagement. Managers who consistently achieve this alignment and engagement are often given the opportunity to contribute to strategic initiatives and, perhaps, be rewarded with a promotion and career advancement.

This article was published on July 1, 2013 in HR Magazine and has been reprinted with permission from the author.  



#TBT…How to Integrate Millennials into a Multi-Generational Workforce

by Jacqueline Brito, Director, Full-Time MBA Program and Career Management, Rollins College

A recent poll by the Society for Human Resource Management asked 400 people, “To what extent is intergenerational conflict an issue in your workplace?” A staggering 72 percent responded either “to a large degree,” “to some degree” or “to a slight degree.”In today’s workplace, where there can be as many as four generations working together, the reality is that managing a multi-generational workforce does pose challenges. A lack of understanding regarding generational differences can create conflict within working relationships, lower productivity and increase turnover. More seasoned staff can become frustrated by a seemingly aloof and entitled younger generation. Younger staff can become disenfranchised by entrenched hierarchal structures that have been encouraged or embraced by senior staff.

Generations can be defined as a group of individuals of the same approximate age who share similar ideas, problems and attitudes. Each generation’s attitudes are influenced by childhood experiences. Whether they grew up during wartime or relative peace, in times of economic growth or uncertainty, or during periods of profound social change such as the civil rights era or the Internet age — all of these factors help define a generation’s characteristics. It is my experience that while each generation has certain characteristics that help describe it, there are no absolutes.

The first key in integrating generations is to understand what makes each “tick.” Some may call this stereotyping, as it involves making assumptions about the generations. But I believe, in this case, generalizing can be more helpful than assuming everyone brings the same perspective to the workplace.

It’s easy and even natural to assume all employees want the same things, but each generation has its own unique way of viewing the world, from how it defines success to how it judges other generations. Better understanding of each generation can help us prepare employees for effective multi-generational environments.

The key to thriving within this blended workforce is taking the time to better understand the differing needs and motivations of the other generations. With a little education and understanding, these differences can actually lead to increased creativity and productivity.

According to the World Health Organization, men and women who are healthy at 60 will be physically capable of working until they are 74 and 77, respectively. Going by these statistics, the newest employees entering the workforce might not be joining just their parents or grandparents; they might be joining their great-grandparents.

While there is no standard definition of where generational divisions occur, and some people may share characteristics of two generations, for the sake of this article I’ll break down the basic generational groups into the following:

  • Traditionalists (born before 1946)
  • Baby Boomers (1946 – 1965)
  • Generation X (1966 – 1980)
  • Millennials (1981 – 2000)


The traditionalists are 66 years or older and, while many have retired, there are still those who hold positions ranging from entry-level part-time to upper-management roles in which understanding the younger generations can be very useful. The perception is that this generation views work as an obligation; they respect authority, take rational approaches, and are self-driven to produce quality work.

Workers from this generation grew up in the wake of a worldwide economic depression. World War II was a defining event in their early lives. Their formative era was marked by a strong sense of commitment to families, soldiers, country and community. Members of the traditionalist generation tend to be conservative in dress and language. They see work as a privilege, whether it means bagging groceries at the local supermarket or managing multimillion dollar projects. Their strong work ethic, discipline, stability and experience can make them invaluable employees.

Traditionalists tend to be motivated when managers connect their actions to the overall good of the organization. They value tangible symbols of loyalty, commitment and service such as plaques and certificates. This group prefers formality in communication (e.g.memos, letters, personal notes) and does not view email or text messaging as favorably as subsequent generations.


Baby Boomers (or “Boomers”) range between the approximate ages of 46 and 65. The older members are beginning to retire from the labor force, but are healthier and expected to live longer than any generation before them. They will continue to make up a significant portion of the workforce until well beyond the traditional retirement age of 65. This generation holds most of the senior-level management roles and is often stereotyped as extremely focused on work. Boomers possess a strong work ethic and have mostly worked in an environment with expanding opportunities. This group is also referred to as the Sandwich Generation because they often have to care for aging parents along with their own children.

Raised in the post-World War II era by parents who had lived through global depression and world war, Boomers were taught that life would be better for the next—and largest ever—generation. This belief was so pervasive that Time magazine awarded its 1967 “Man of the Year”title to the Boomer generation.

The first generation ever to be graded on their report cards for “works well with others” and “shares materials with classmates,” Boomers learned to be good members of a team.

When the Boomers arrived on the job, they were committed to making a difference. They insisted on having a voice, being involved in decisions and influencing the direction of their organizations. They chose the workplace as a vehicle for proving their worth; as a result, they have tended to work evenings and weekends, always going the extra mile. With their strong team orientation, they have been the primary force behind such practices as participative management, employee involvement and team building.

Baby Boomers tend to be motivated by personal appreciation, promotion and recognition. Like Traditionalists, they put less value on email, text messaging and social media for communications, preferring phone calls and personal interaction.  For example imagine this situation, a Millennial student intern sharing a workspace with a Boomer staff member, decides to use email as his preferred method to ask a question.  The senior employee is likely to turn  around and ask, “Why couldn’t you just talk to me since I am sitting right next to you?!”


Generation X employees range from age 31 to 45. The oldest members may be moving into senior-level management roles, while the younger workers are approaching mid-career supervisory roles. Many members of Generation X embrace technology, diversity and entrepreneurship.

On the job, Generation Xers tend to be self-reliant. They enjoy achieving measurable results and streamlining systems and processes. Currently in their prime, they seek out and stay with flexible, results-driven organizations that adapt to their preferences. Rollins MBA students and alumni from this generation who I career-coach tend to have somewhat of a skeptical employment outlook, while at the same time seeking organizations that promote a healthy work-life balance.  I try to help them understand what Jack Welch once told an auditorium filled with hundreds of human resources professionals, “There is no work-life balance– only work-life choices.  And you make them, and they have consequences.”

Generation Xers have a reputation for getting the job done on their own schedules, rather than exhibiting the kind of employer loyalty exhibited by their parents.  They are motivated by benefits such as free time, upgraded resources, development opportunities and certifications to add to their resumes. This generation was the first to adopt email as itsprimary communication tool, yet it lags behind the Millennials in embracing the latest technologies for business communication.


Millennials are between the ages of 11 and 30. By 2015, this group will overtake the Boomers as the largest group in the workforce, eclipsing Generation X. This generation is known for being optimistic and goal-oriented, enjoying collaboration, and their penchant for multitasking. Millennials are comfortable embracing emerging technologies and value what they see as meaningful work.

Millennials see the world as global, connected and 24/7. They grew up with a much more casual exposure to multiculturalism than any previous generation. For instance, if you ask a Millennial to define the word “diversity,” the answer you receive will likely have nothing to do with race.

Members of the Millennial generation tend to be goal-oriented. Many were required to volunteer in order to graduate from high school, and they exhibit high levels of social concern and responsibility. They arrive on the job with higher expectations than any previous generation and, with the click of a mouse, they can notify thousands of their cohorts about a company that falls short of their ideals. Companies with a one-size-fits-all strategy for attracting and retaining employees may have a very difficult time in the worldwide competition for critical Millennial talent.


With anestimated population as high as 70 million, Millennials are the fastest growing segment of today’s workforce. Millennials are smart, creative, optimistic, achievement-oriented and tech-savvy. They seek supervisors and mentors who are highly engaged in their professional development.

According to a 2010 Millennial Inc. survey conducted by marketing firm Mr. Youth and market research firm Intrepid, 75 percent of Millennials employed in the U.S. and U.K. have profiles on social networking sites. I help contribute to that number because I encourage all of our Rollins College Early Advantage MBA students to create LinkedIn profiles as part of their internship and job search strategy.  Furthermore, 54 percent prefer to make decisions by consensus, and that number shoots to 70 percent when they are among peers. Growing up “connected” has made Millennials excellent multi-taskers who prefer e-mail and text messaging over face-to-face interaction.

Having paid their dues, the two older generations desire respect from Generation X and Millennials.  However, the two younger generations believe that respect is earned by making a strong contribution, not by the passage of time. Millennials may believe that Baby Boomers are too rigid and tied to antiquated corporate rules, andargue that such rigidity stymies innovation. They may also feel that workers in the older generations have been too slow to adopt social media and other tools, and that they place too much value on tenure rather than knowledge and performance. All are valid points since perception is reality.


When working with or supervising Millennials, you must focus on performance and consistently provide constructive feedback, praise, recognition and rewards (they are used to receiving trophies—even if they didn’t compete). Managers must impose stability and cultivate a team-oriented environment with immediate feedback and praise —the key to motivating and reassuring this generation. It’s important to know that they prefer regular, real-time check-ins to a formal annual review process.

Millennials want regular communication, no matter how it’s delivered. Robert Half International and Yahoo! HotJobs polled more than 1,000 Millennials and found that over 60 percent wanted to hear from managers at least once a day. They view inflexible work hours as outdated and unproductive, but look to their managers to help them balance work and other commitments.

When communicating with Millennials, be positive and tie the message to their personal goals or the goals of the team. Given their outlook, it’s best to avoid cynicism and sarcasm.

Millennials want increased responsibility, but need coaching on time management. They are committed to the company “long term,” which they define as one to two years. To keep up with the Millennials’ need for increased responsibility, consider increasing the number of rungs on the ladder or having the ladder go sideways, even if the promotions or lateral movements don’t come with salary increases.  This is a generation of individuals ambitious and creative enough to go out and become entrepreneurs if they are unable to find challenging, meaningful work in someone else’s company.

Taking the time to engage in a dialogue with employees about generational differences and perspectives will provide huge benefits in terms of productivity and retention, especially as the ranks continue to expand and people of all ages find themselves working together for one company and one goal.

Separating Millennial Myths from Reality

The NACE Blog

Smedstad-HeadshotShannon Smedstad, employment brand director, Global Communications & Engagement Team, CEB
Twitter: @shannonsmedstad
LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/in/shannonsmedstad
Blogs from Shannon Smedstad.

As organizations manage employee populations with increasing numbers of retirement-eligible workers, they are investing in hiring the future of the work force. In doing so, most everyone has realized that there’s one group that is particularly important—millennials.

The competition for this demographic is stiff. Although millennials participate in the same number of job interviews as candidates from other generations, they receive 12.5 percent more offers. Organizations are using a variety of tactics to attract and recruit the millennial generation, but how can they sort the millennial myths from reality?

Understanding the millennial generation and their preferences is key. CEB recently researched the ways that millennials undertake a job search and found a few ways that they differ from other generations, and some ways in which they aren’t different at all.

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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