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No PJs allowed in real world

By STACI STURROCK
COX NEWS SERVICE

When Lynn University professor Lisa Dandeo held mock job interviews with her business administration seniors this spring, the students tripped themselves up with an obvious wardrobe gaffe.

“Open-toed shoes!” Dandeo says. “They all wore these 5-inch heels with open toes.”

Strappy sandals are more suitable to the dance floor than the sales floor, but some members of Generation Y don’t make that distinction.

“There’s something that’s definitely happening with the younger generation now,” says Joseph Rosenfeld, an image consultant based in San Jose, Calif. “There’s a lot of ‘Accept me now, accept me for who and what I am, and give me whatever I want right now.’ ”

For those students, the real world provides a harsh wake-up call. If someone’s accustomed to wearing PJs to poli-sci, is it any wonder she’d be equally laid-back at a job interview?

Denise Bober, director of human resources at a Palm Beach resort, says she’s amazed by the number of young women who show up for job interviews showing way too much skin.

“If you look in the mirror, and you look sexy,” she says, “change.”

Alas, inappropriate beach attire isn’t limited to the beach.

“We’ve had applicants come in with bare midriffs or flip-flops,” says Jennifer Loyless, spokeswoman for a public defender’s office. “This does not give us the impression that they respect the work that we do.”

And communicating respect and professionalism, through both attire and demeanor, is one of the most important components in scoring a new job.

“Grads should never delude themselves into thinking that grades trump attitude,” says Carey O’Donnell of the Carey O’Donnell PR Group.

“How you dress speaks volumes about your attitude toward life and your job. Sloppy attire says you are sloppy, even if that’s really not the case,” O’Donnell says. “Visible tattoos, flip-flops, chewing gum (oh yes, I’ve had people interview while blowing bubbles,) and too-booby cleavage are deal killers in a company like mine, where employees need to dress in a manner that’s acceptable and professional in any Fortune 500 company.

“We represent blue-chip clients in law, banking, real estate, government and consumer products. We’re not working with emerging rock groups or sandwich shops, where the culture would clearly be very casual.”

According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers’ Job Outlook 2006 report, recent graduates will enjoy the best job market in four years.

Almost 47 percent of employers responding to the survey rated the job market for new college graduates as very good or excellent, compared with just over 29 percent in 2005.

That doesn’t mean students can be slack about dress.

“You don’t want them to say, ‘She’s the one with the tattoo or the thing in her ear,’ ” says Carole Martin, president of InterviewCoach.com. “Anything that will make them remember you in a negative way is a no-no.”

Many candidates may have similar credentials, “and that begs the question: What makes you stand out?” Rosenfeld says.

WHAT TO WEAR

Job applicants obviously want to be remembered by potential employers, but for the right reasons.

Image consultant Joseph Rosenfeld offers these interview attire tips for the Gen Y crowd:

  • Look for clues beforehand. What are the recruiters at job fairs wearing? “Observe the way they look, what they are wearing, how formally or informally they are communicating,” he says.
  • Do your homework. Learn about the corporate culture of the potential employers.
  • Suit yourself. “If your parents insist on buying you a ‘rite of passage’ suit, let them. It’s always good to have a suit.”
  • Up trumps down … “Dressing up is better than the alternative.”
  • and dark trumps light. “Lighter colors can be beautiful, but can connote a little bit more of a casual tone. … A darker color signifies a readiness to do business.” And for shoes, play it safe: black, dark brown or navy.

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