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Queens Chronicle

Nonprofit helps women ‘dress for success’

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Posted: Thursday, May 6, 2010 12:00 am

As many average job seekers can attest: the current employment market isn’t just tough; it’s a jungle of Amazonian proportions.

But suppose you are competing against thousands of other candidates for the same position and your self-authored resume fails to mention how you would be ideal for the job, or you lack basic interview etiquette — or even a suit and decent shoes.

Dress for Success is a nonprofit organization with 104 affiliates nationwide that provides free training for women who are unprepared for the job market so they can become self-sufficient, strong applicants for careers they may have previously lacked the confidence to pursue. Out of the 80 women who have gone through the Queens program since it started in Jamaica five years ago, 50 are employed.

Its expanded site, now located in Richmond Hill, is a self-contained hub that features private work stations with computers and fax machines that the women can utilize to research job openings and send out resumes, a small library of self-help books and career resource manuals and racks upon racks of suits, shirts, blazers, shoes and purses that women can borrow gratis for interviews and their first week at a new job.

“Some women have never owned a suit before,” said Shandeeyaky Shabazz, Queens branch manager of Dress for Success. “When they look in the mirror they marvel at themselves. They say, ‘I look like I can now get a job.’”

Appearances are crucial, but the organization also stresses career training and interview preparation. Each Thursday morning approximately 23 women ranging in age from 16 to 67 meet for a session of the “Breakfast Club,” where small groups learn computer skills, financial planning, how to balance family and career and even health tips. One of the vital ways they learn to differentiate themselves from the pack is by practicing “elevator pitches”: 30-second opportunities to tell an employer who they are and why they would be an ideal match for a company.

“At job fairs, thousands come in to apply for one job,” Shabazz said. “You have to catch their attention and be memorable. It’s like a 30-second commercial.”

Dress for Success’ roster is rich and includes new immigrants, women who have served time in prison, domestic abuse victims, recent graduates and older

professionals who lost their jobs when the economy crashed and are having trouble re-inventing themselves. The nonprofit partners with outside organizations that refer the women to their site.

Once part of the Dress for Success family, women don’t just learn how to answer commonly asked interview questions; they get a crash course in nontraditional and unorthodox hiring practices that many employers have turned to in competitive times. Bosses may choose to conduct interviews by phone or request that candidates complete a project, take a writing test or even agree to a credit check.

One of the more common mistakes job seekers, and especially women, make is not selling themselves on their resumes, Shabazz said. The organization encourages women to schedule individual appointments with career counselers and other specialists so they can receive assistance putting their resumes together — even if that just means finding another way to phrase the skill “answering phones.”

And, while social networking can be a job seeker’s best friend, Shabazz cautions it can also be an embarrasing, destructive enemy. “Your employers are looking at Facebook, too. If you friend someone who posts pictures of herself in a bikini at Spring Break, they’re going to see them.”

Dress for Success is located at 114-14 Jamaica Ave. To learn more call (718) 805-2488 or visit dressforsuccess.org.

To donate clothing call Suits to Go at (718) 832-6201.

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