Attire Matters

By Ernie Brown

I couldn't help but chuckle at a story I edited earlier this week involving an event at Youngstown State University.

YSU's Career Counseling Services had a fashion show at Kilcawley Center to show college students the proper way to dress for job interviews.

The 90-minute event was called "Your Guide to Dressing for Success," and students modeled what to wear and what not to wear when it's time to find a job.

I was laughing because I thought it was silly that you had to show and tell young people how to dress to work in a professional job setting or when going on an interview.

Don't young men wear suits and ties when looking for a job? Don't young women dress in fashionable pantsuits and skirts or dresses when seeking employment?

Apparently the answer, for many young folks, is no.

The fashion show was the third time YSU has put on the event to remind students seeking employment that their appearance is an important professional tool in an interview as well as the workplace.

At the show, the university's career and counseling service office passed out a primer that had guidelines for men's and women's attire. They even had a panel of professionals from various jobs to give critiques and tips on what to wear.

Here are some other tips included in the handout:

U Make sure your hair is clean, neat and professionally style.

U Remove facial and body piercing other than single ear jewelry.

Are you kidding me? You actually have to tell a person looking for a job that he shouldn't have a metal piece sticking through his nose with a chain attached?

Do you really need to tell a young man his blue Mohawk and wrinkled shirt probably won't land him a job in an accounting firm?

This is sad. It seems that many parents of children born in the mid- to late 1980s either forgot to explain some of these basics to their sons and daughters or were too lazy to do so.

Also, perhaps many of the children of that era, which made body piercing and tattoos the norm rather than the exception, were too busy downloading music, talking on their cell phones, or spending countless hours on their Facebook or My-Space pages to pay attention.

Whatever the disconnect, I applaud YSU for having this event to give students a real-world wake-up call. And I'm probably correct that other institutions of higher learning are doing likewise.

I've been the coordinator of the newspaper's summer reporting internship program for 22 years. Every summer, The Vindicator hires some college students interested in print journalism careers to give them practical experience working at a daily newspaper.

It is my task to interview, test, evaluate and recommend students for the summer jobs. I used to tell students that the attire necessary was professional without any further explanation. I had to change that.

Let me share a couple of stories with you on how two people came to this newspaper looking for internships.

About five or six years ago, a young man came here wearing a plaid shirt with a yellow tie, sneakers and blue jeans. He had a long ponytail that he had braided and stuffed down the back of the shirt. He had a tattoo of the sun on one side of his neck and a tattoo of a marijuana plant on the other side of his neck. He was shown the door.

In 2000, a nontraditional student — he was about 28 and had decided to change careers — came to try out for an internship. He had an unkempt mullet-style hairdo, hadn't shaved and wore a button-down shirt exposing his chest hair. A faded tweed sport jacket, faded blue jeans, sneakers and a buck knife and chain clamped on his belt completed his outfit.

I don't know what he was thinking, but I told him he had to leave. His attire was unsuitable for the interview. Surprisingly, he was stunned.

I have had to add this line to the overview of the paper's reporting internship requirements: "Dress: Professional attire is required. Suits and ties, or dress shirts, slacks and ties for men; dresses or pantsuits for women."

As one of the panelists said at the YSU event: "If I remember you because of the outfit you had on, it's probably not a good thing." Amen.

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