Career closets at CSU: Helping students show what they can do
You finally got it: the call inviting you to an interview for the job – that one you’ve been lying awake at night thinking about. You sit up the night before practicing your introductions, wondering how best to keep your cool when you get nervous, and making sure your resume is up-to-date before you print out a new one just in case. But do you stop and think about what to wear?
Everything above is an important part of professionalism. Professionalism is one of the most important attributes in any job because it can mean many things. How you introduce yourself, the ability to be polite and considerate of coworkers and clients and having preparedness for any potential problem in a job setting are all a part of professionalism. However, a greater part of professionalism that employers are really starting to see a decrease in is what a person wears. Especially to an interview.
What you wear on an interview is the first thing employers see about you, so it’s the first real impression that they get from you. Taking the time to consider what you wear – and not just grabbing the first clean t-shirt and pants you find – is something employers value. It shows that the potential employee has an eye for detail and is considerate of policies that may be in place at the company. Dressing professionally also shows that the potential employee likely is well-rounded in other areas of professionalism. But what do you do if you don’t own any clothes that would be deemed professional?
If you’re a Charleston Southern student, you’re in a great place to get some help with this. CSU offers a service through its Career Closets. This service loans clothing out to any student in need of professional clothing for job interviews, presentations, or any other event where they may need professional, formal attire. CSU’s Career Closet is located in the Student Center and all a student needs to do to get access is talk to the Career Center staff. The Career Center will help outfit students in anything from shirt to shoes – so long as it’s returned to the closet after use.
This service has been available at CSU for many years. However, when current Director of the Career Center Shallon T. Mims joined in 2018, she says there was nothing in the closet. As she and her team began receiving donations from alumni in 2019, it became a constant moving process to find space for the closet – as there’s not any space available in the Career Center for such a service. The Career Closet finally found its home in the Student Center and is currently undergoing a small remodel to make it more spacious to any new donations the closet may receive.
The Career Closet is a student-only service at the moment, but Mims believes that with enough donations, it can expand to alumni of the CSU community. She also hopes to be able to expand so that the service can be a giveaway program rather than a loan, so that any student who truly does need the clothes can keep them.
There’s also a service available through the Hans A. Nielsen College of Business. Unlike the Career Center’s closet, this business major-only service is a giveaway program, meaning students are able to keep the clothes if needed. This service is located in Jones Hall and those looking for clothes must be referred by a business professor to Dr. Maxwell Rollins, the director of graduate programs and the founder of this service he calls The Professional Touch Clothing Bank.
The bank was founded after a miraculous find at a thrift store turned into a “treasure hunt” for good quality items from professional, established brands. After many trips for himself and even friends, Rollins would pick up items and think, “Maybe one of my students could use this.” He began the project in early 2020 – spending time during the pandemic quarantine to clean the College of Business storage closet out to use for this service. The clothes are all either something Rollins purchased himself or a very carefully considered donation from anyone who reaches out to Rollins.
Being a small, largely self-funded project, Rollins is also looking to expand. More room is currently being made by clearing out of old filing cabinets for many more clothing racks – enough to include more than a handful of name-brands. Rollins is also hoping with this expansion to be able to add women’s clothing to his service’s closet. When asked about not previously having women’s clothes, Rollins says it’s a difficulty he faces with any donation – he feels he’s only able to take a percentage of the donations because he doesn’t want students to wear anything out-of-date. This is something that is especially hard when it comes to women’s clothing, leading to a lack of them in the closet currently.
Mims expresses a similar sympathy in difficulty in getting interview outfits for women for the Career Closet. Most alumni and trustees who are making donations are men, when the current gender demographics of CSU are 64% female. This automatically creates an issue with having more than a handful of options, let alone being able to maintain a whole collection for the student body. The Career Closet currently has extra-small and small women’s clothing. Donations of medium and up sizes are needed. This can include business casual dresses, suit sets, pants, etc.
For both employees, the idea of the career closet is something very important to them. Mims says the clothes we wear are not only a representation of ourselves, but one of our greatest tools for confidence in an interview. If we’re confident about what we wear during an interview, we’re less likely to reflect on “Why did I pick these shoes?” or “Why did I wear my hair this way?” and we’re able to give an interview our full attention. Being fully present during an interview allows for focus on actions and better answers to questions, which is a better show of professional behavior to future employers. She believes being able to provide students with this is a true show of CSU’s mission to prepare students in any way they may need.
For Rollins, it’s about being prepared for what’s to come in a business professional setting – and this is something Mims also agrees with. Students’ dress needs for interviews and the job itself vary depending on the field and the company. Individuals could wear anything from jeans and a t-shirt in a startup company to full suit and loafers or heels in an environment like an attorney’s office. In the case of business majors, these students are going into a traditional office setting where button-ups and slacks are the norm. This is something many students may not be capable of attaining themselves or even know is necessary, and this is where Rollins’ closet is especially effective. He aims to prepare students with whatever they may need for the real world, even if it’s learning something like how to tie a tie.
The Career Closet service is not something that many other campuses offer – or haven’t considered until recent years. There are many reasons why this may be the case (especially as the reason may be different from school to school). One of the biggest reasons, as Mims pointed out, is that creating and maintaining such a service “is no small feat.” Everything from location to staffing can be an issue. On larger campuses – even those who weren’t aiming to outfit half the school – it may require an entire staff to operate the service.
Rollins discussed two individual reasons why this may be the case. The first reason was that funding can be an issue. Some schools are lucky enough to receive grants for such a service at the school, but most schools, like CSU, have to rely on trustees and donations for the Career Closet. This can be a real discourager to schools that implement the service.
Another reason may be that some schools make the assumption that students already understand professionalism concepts. He says overall we make assumptions based on the community we grow up in. For older generations, this would mean professional dress is assumed and other professional behaviors are already exhibited simply because it’s what was expected. Nothing more or less was accepted. In younger generations where there is a wider variety of acceptance and rules aren’t as strict, this brings into question all these topics and creates these expectations that fall short of what employers look for.
This is why something like a Career Closet is such an important thing to have on campus, Rollins said. “We need to model for our students the expectations they will need to meet. We need to be able to help students create these expectations on their own so that they are able to show what they are capable of without being limited by something like what they’re wearing.”
Mims agrees with the sentiment, saying on a campus like CSU we’re truly striving to do better by our students by preparing them in every way imaginable. “I don’t want it ever said that we prepared students well [in the mind] but not in any other way” she says. “I believe this is something we can’t fail in. I want to make sure that professionalism and job preparedness is the one thing we don’t fail in.”
Both The Career Closet and The Professional Touch Clothing Bank are always looking for more clothing donations. For anyone looking to donate to The Career Closet, contact the Career Center at firstname.lastname@example.org or contact Shallon T. Mims at email@example.com or call 843-863-8019. The Career Center is also planning to hold a clothing drive sometime in March, where they’ll accept anything from suit pieces for men to jewelry for women. For anyone who’d like to donate to The Professional Touch Clothing Bank, contact Dr. Maxwell Rollins at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Hanah Kerrigan is a junior English major and is a spring 2023 intern with the Office of Marketing & Communication.