First Impressions Matter

Career Gear Helps Fulfill Student Need - by Dana R. Suter, job location and development coordinator.
Photos by Cindy Meixel, except as credited.

Many students lack the resources to obtain professional clothing when it comes time to interview for employment.

You've probably heard it a thousand times: You don't get a second chance to make a first impression.

This is especially true when interviewing for employment. The amount of effort, or lack thereof, one puts into his or her attire speaks volumes, and prospective employers listen carefully to each and every “word.” For instance, appearance can communicate messages prospective employers may interpret as indicators of one’s maturity, work ethic and professionalism.

Many Pennsylvania College of Technology students, however, do not own and lack the resources to obtain professional clothing when it comes time to interview for employment. In Fall 2008, Career Services opened Career Gear to address this need. Career Gear is a closet of professional dress clothing donated by Penn College faculty and staff. The purpose of Career Gear is to empower students preparing to enter the workforce with professional attire, free of charge, that they can use to project the professional image employers are seeking.

Student Anika A. Stewart, who helps with Career Gear, models a selection of donated items. Photo by Larry Kauffman.

If you’re like the typical American, you throw away 67.9 pounds of used clothing and rags each year, according to statistics from the Secondary Materials and Recycled Textiles Association. The good news is that 95 percent of used clothing is reusable or recyclable, and indeed, millions of pounds of clothing are spared from landfills each year as people pass along items to other family members or donate their used clothing to nonprofit groups that help the less fortunate. Such organizations include The Salvation Army, Goodwill, homeless shelters and thousands of religious and service-based organizations.

Career Gear was created in the same service-oriented spirit. The goal is to address a student need that many are simply unable to address on their own. This need intensified rapidly when the economy nosedived at the tail end of 2008, and employers had no choice but to downsize and adapt to a tighter budgetary environment. As the news all too often reminds us, the greatest impact of our troubled economy has been within America’s workforce. As a result, the competition for open jobs has increased.

Employers are forced to make tough decisions about how they do business. With regard to human resources, many employers have had no option but to consider quality over quantity. Having fewer but more productive employees is simply more cost-effective than having a greater number of individuals who are less productive.

For those seeking employment, such as students on the cusp of graduation from Penn College, “survival of the fittest” has therefore become the vocational battle cry. Demonstrating that one is the proverbial fittest among a group of applicants vying for the same job is a competitive process in a good economy, let alone in the challenging work environment our graduating students are now facing. This heightened competition only made the development of Career Gear all the more timely.

Imagine being the best candidate for an open position, maybe even your dream job, and failing to be considered because your inability to project a professional image left you unable to compete with less-qualified candidates. None of us would wish this experience for anyone and certainly not for the students we serve.

While it may be unfair to judge a book by its cover, the reality our graduating students will face involves just that. Judgments based upon appearance are inherent anytime someone is interviewing. Think about the idea of going on a date or attending a class reunion. Some assessments will invariably be made based upon appearance. The same is especially true when interviewing for employment. While the candidate in jeans may be as competent and intelligent as the one wearing the formal suit, or more so, the fact remains that some vocational attributes will be assumed based on appearance.

The mission of Career Gear is to complement the host of services offered in the Career Services Office. Career Services offers a network of support and career-development tools to enable our students to thrive in school, in work and in their independent young adulthood following graduation. Competencies such as the ability to interview well and present a dynamite résumé may be all for naught, however, if a student is judged a poor candidate because he or she isn’t dressed well for the interview. This dynamic becomes all the more heartbreaking when the student’s interview attire, while unimpressive to the potential employer, comprised the very best professional clothing the student owned.

Career Gear was developed to level the playing field in this regard and give our graduating students the edge they’ll need in today’s competitive economic environment. Our students deserve a fair chance, and Career Gear was developed to make sure they receive it.

Anika A. Stewart, a work-study student in the Career Services Office, has assisted in the operation of Career Gear.

“Working with the staff in the Career Services Office on the Career Gear project has been a wonderful and exciting experience,” Stewart said. “The donations received were phenomenal. I am very honored and proud to be a part of something so wonderful for Penn College students.”

If you are interested in donating professional clothing to Career Gear, please call the Career Services Office at 570-327-4502. Your donation may constitute the little extra that a graduating student needs to represent the true caliber of employee that he or she is poised to become.

Our students have invested time and money for degrees that work. With your assistance, we can make sure that they get the chance they deserve to show what they, and their degrees, are made of. In today’s tough economy, our students can use any edge they can get. ■

Dana R. Suter, coordinator of the Job Location & Development Program, is an alumna of Penn College. She has been employed with the college for 22 years, and prior to transferring to Career Services, she worked 18 years in the Financial Aid Office.