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Dress for Success prepares students to ace job interviews

October 13, 2017

KOKOMO, Ind. — Micah Pier ambled into the room in a Madonna T-shirt and brightly-patterned shorts, mumbled a greeting to Diana TenBrook, and slouched into a chair.

Ten minutes after it was supposed to begin, he was ready (kind of) for his job interview.

It didn’t get better from there — he proceeded to do just about everything he shouldn’t in an interview, such as handing TenBrook, vice president of marketing at Solidary Community Federal Credit Union, a crumpled paper that passed as a résumé, and interrupting one of her questions to answer his cell phone.

“Do you think he got the job?” Tracy Springer, Indiana University Kokomo’s manager of career services, asked the audience of students watching the interview. Each held up a sign that said “no job,” like a judge on Dancing with the Stars.

Pier’s over-the-top antics were funny for a “what-not-to-do” demonstration, but would be disastrous in a real interview. The skit was part of the annual Dress for Success event, to prepare students to make a great first impression during a job interview.

“First impressions are everything,” Springer said. “It starts with what you are wearing to your interview. This is hilarious and exaggerated, but there are hidden points about what you should and should not do.”

Seven students modeled interview-appropriate ensembles, including black suits with either a skirt or dressy pants for women, and a blue or black suit for men, while campus staff volunteers donned more casual attire, such as a gray jacket with blue dress pants and a logo T-shirt with high tops. Mascot Kingston Cougar modeled his basketball uniform, and demonstrated his tear away candy striped pants over his shorts.

As each one strutted down the runway, a panel of career services staff members conferred, and audience members were invited to hold up signs reading “job” or “no job,” to indicate if the model was making a good first impression.

Senior Khoi Nguyen said he knew he needed to dress up for interviews, but the models gave him ideas for how he could put together an interview outfit. The interview skit provided valuable reminders, he added.

“It’s great to remember not to use your phone during an interview,” he said. “It also showed why eye contact is important, who to speak during an interview, and the non-verbal things you do that affect the impression you make.”

Freshman Kortany Hooper learned that it’s better to dress up than down for an interview, even though her career in radiology will likely require her to wear scrubs on the job.

“Now I’m not so freaked out thinking I will be overdressed,” she said. “It’s better to be overdressed than underdressed.”

Springer said students often think they should dress for the job they want, but it’s better to dress up — so nurses would wear suits, not scrubs, and someone interested in a coaching job would also wear a dressy suit, not a track suit, for an interview.

She noted that it’s OK for women to wear dress pants in the same color as their dress pants, and a colored blouse is also OK, as long as its subtle. High heels aren’t necessary either — especially if you can’t walk in them.

Some students honestly don’t know what appropriate attire is for an interview, and can walk in with a strike already against them. The goal of this program is to prepare them to make a good first impression.

“If you’ve never been to a professional interview, you might think khaki pants and a polo shirt is OK for a man to interview in, but it sets you apart in a negative way from someone who wears a suit,” she said. “You’re never not going to get a job because you’re overdressed. You’re not going to get a job if you’re underdressed.”

Indiana University Kokomo serves north central Indiana.

Last updated: 10/13/2017