TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — It’s hard to pin down the origin of the phrase, “dress for the job you want,” but it’s one of the more common pieces of advice for those pursuing a professional career.
The idea is simple – if you look the part, you’ll feel the part, and you’ll exude confidence in interviews and networking settings.
As nearly 1,400 University of Alabama students prepare to receive their diplomas this weekend, many will soon begin their first job. Some will continue navigating the job market. All, at some point, will have experienced the last-hour decisions of what to wear. But, looking the part isn’t always easy, and it can be expensive.
Adora Hicks, who will receive her doctoral degree in counselor education and supervision Saturday, spent three years as a graduate assistant in UA’s Career Center. There, she noticed students wouldn’t engage in career-related activities because they lacked the professional attire. To ease the financial burden on students, she, with the support of Melinda King, executive director of the Career Center, created the Crimson Career Closet, a service that allows students to borrow up to four items of professional attire for up to a week at a time, free of charge.
Hicks said students typically are uncomfortable or lack career confidence when they enter the Career Closet in the Ferguson Center, but their body language changes almost instantly once they’re outfitted.
“I had a student recently who’d always come back for his ‘special shoes,’” Hicks said. “The other day, he took a picture during the first day at his new job and sent me a message that said, ‘I finally got my shoes.’ We’re not the only aspect in our students reaching their career goals, but just knowing I played a part in them being successful in their career journey makes me happy. That’s what counselors are here for – we eliminate barriers and provide communities we serve with tools to be successful.”
Hicks inherited “The Closet” from the Student Government Association in 2017. Then, it was a small space with a low inventory. In a little over a year, it had served roughly 50 students, Hicks said. In spring 2017, Hicks applied for and received a $4,000 grant from the Division of Student Life to renovate space in the Career Center and increase its inventory. Now, the shelves are stocked with everything from men’s and women’s suits, to ties and shoes. In just one year, the Crimson Career Closet has served more than 800 students.
“We put the ‘career’ component in it because I also serve as a career consultant,” Hicks said, “and I didn’t want the visit to simply be about what you’re wearing. We want to learn more about the students, what their goals are, and ensure they’re completely ready for their interview, networking opportunity or presentation.”
Building relationships with UA students through the Career Center and Crimson Career Closet has shifted Hicks’ own career focus from working in elementary schools to creating effective career programming in higher education.
“When you enter the Career Center, it’s a one-stop shop,” Hicks said. “The process is very task oriented, but I enjoy the career counseling aspect of it. I just had students come back and tell me they got their dream job in Colorado, and another one is now at Mercedes. Building those relationships and seeing people fulfill their career dreams has reminded me that higher education is where I want to be.”
The University of Alabama, the state’s oldest and largest public institution of higher education, is a student-centered research university that draws the best and brightest to an academic community committed to providing a premier undergraduate and graduate education. UA is dedicated to achieving excellence in scholarship, collaboration and intellectual engagement; providing public outreach and service to the state of Alabama and the nation; and nurturing a campus environment that fosters collegiality, respect and inclusivity.