BENNINGTON — Interviewing can be one of the most stressful parts of job hunting, but Bennington job-seekers on Thursday learned some useful tricks for making the best of their first impressions.
The Vermont Department of Labor, Southern Vermont College, and Maurices teamed up to present "Dress for Success," which included the modelling of affordable, professional outfits job seekers could wear to improve their chances at interviews, as well as more general appearance and presentation advice. Following the presentation, guests got makeup advice and DOL staff were available for one-on-one meetings with those who needed further job-hunting advice.
The Dress for Success program debuted last fall at SVC, and was a great success, according to Career Development and Internships Coordinator Betsy Dunham. Dunham, who's duties at the college include advising students on interviewing skills, was one of the facilitators of Thursday's event, answering questions from audience members and providing interview advice while the models, students Jahanna Foreman and Ashley Madore, got changed. She was joined by Julie Lloyd, of Maurices, who talked about her own experiences as a businessperson, and talked about the clothes the models were wearing, all of which was provided by her store.
"We're communicating with our body language, our clothing, how we smell, everything we do," said Dunham, "You only get one chance to make a first impression." She said smells can ruin an interview, and not just smells that are generally considered bad, such as cigarette smoke and body odor, but overaggressive perfume as well. "We need to think about how we're communicating, and the effect it has on those we're communicating with."
She acknowledged that job interviews can be both exciting and anxiety-inducing, but said that interviewees should focus on letting the excitement show through more than the nervousness. She also suggesting knowing the job posting and company back to front before arriving for the interview. With her students, she said, many struggle in interviews because of the overuse of "um" and "like." A new one that is tripping up young people applying for jobs and internships, she said, is the incorrect use of the word "literally."
"No," she has said to her students, "You are not literally dying. If you were, I would probably have to be calling someone, preferably 911."
"One of the questions I always ask," said Lloyd, "is Why Maurices? Why do you want to work for us?" While she said there aren't really wrong answers to this question, an answer that shows knowledge of the customer-oriented atmosphere of the store or the community service the broader company is involved in shows her that the interviewee took the time to learn about her store, which she said goes a long way.
In terms of the fashion modelled, Lloyd showed that someone on a limited budget can create several professional outfits without breaking the bank. She recommended buying simple bottoms, that will go with anything, then a variety of tops that can go with the bottoms. "You don't want to go to an interview with a tank top, but if you throw a blazer over it, and a clunky necklace, it's a whole different look," she said. She advised the audience to research what people wear at the company you are interviewing with, and dress a step up from that for the interview.
Dunham also warned audience members to be cognizant of tattoos or jewelry that might give the employer a negative first impression. "If you are interviewing with Julie," she said, "a nose ring might be okay, but if you are interviewing upstairs in (State's Attorney Erica Marthage's) office, maybe you should take it out. If you're married to the idea of having your tattoo sleeves out in the open and on display all of the time, that's fine, but just know that it's going to limit your options."
This program was part of Career Week, a partnership between the Bennington County Industrial Corporation, local educators, businesses, and organizations.
Derek Carson can be reached for comment at 802-447-7567, ext. 122.