Successful, Yet Simple Business Attire

30 11 2010

I recently had someone ask me to write a post about basic business attire for both men and women.  While this topic is not necessarily my specialty, I can certainly offer my own opinion on what I’ve seen and experienced over the years.  Please note:  This is simply my opinion.  Take it with a grain of salt.  I haven’t been asked by Clinton Kelly and Stacy London to serve as a consultant to their show, What Not to Wear, on TLC.  I do recommend checking it out – it couldn’t hurt!  🙂

Before you go out shopping or make up your mind on what you should wear during the interview, on your first day of the job or beyond, I would suggest doing a little research.  Observe what the other employees are wearing day to day.  Keep in mind that just because they’re wearing polo shirts and khakis daily doesn’t mean that’s what you should wear to the interview!  But, it could certainly help you make your decisions on business attire going forward.  I’ll be splitting this topic into two sections: men and women.  I don’t want to shortchange either as the goal is to get you hired, help you become more successful and more confident in your job search and career!

Since I have personal experience with men’s attire, I’ll start there.  Here are some basics every guy should have in his closet:

Nice dress pants. Black or brown dress pants that fit nicely (pleated or flat – your preference) are a must have in any guy’s closet.  If you’re prone to spilling things in your lap at meals, go for the stain resistant, wrinkle-free options.  You’ll be glad you did.

A sport coat or blazer. Think versatility.  A sport coat or blazer can dress up a nice pair of jeans when going “snappy-casual” or add the finishing touches to a nice pair of slacks and a dress shirt when you need to dress up a little more.  Black is always in style, but there are many choices.  Pay attention to what others are wearing in the business world.  That will give you an idea as to what’s in style, what looks good, etc.

Solid colored dress shirt.  Most people would opt for a white dress shirt, but I’ve seen lots of colors emerge over the years.  Just remember to keep this simple.  A solid white, blue, or light pink are my recommendations.

Polished shoes. This is a must. I’ve seen a pair of $25 shoes shined up nicely that made a better impression than $200 scuffed ones.  Buy a can of shoe polish, or better yet, one of those nifty cloths that are pre-treated.  If you’re feeling indulgent, have it done by a professional in the airport, on the sidewalk or at the mall for a couple of bucks.  The key is polished shoes.  If you take the time to do this, the impression it makes is that you care about your professional appearance.

Ties. I’d recommend a solid color or something with subtle stripes.  I wouldn’t suggest decorations such as smiley-faces, Snoopy or cartoon-themes, your favorite sports team, etc.  Keep it simple and professional.  Save the “cool” ties for parties, Halloween, and Tacky Tie Day.

Belt. – A nice dress belt with a simple buckle is best.  Some are even reversible these days, doubling as both a black and brown belt.  Choose a belt that blends in well.  This is not a time to make a statement by wearing your Superman buckle.  Save that for another time. Depending on your style, you may opt to not wear a belt.  It’s a personal (or fundamental) choice.

A tailored dark suit (black or navy). A tailored suit is something that everyone should own.  This goes for women as well.  Even if it’s just one, you’ll find yourself needing to wear it more than you think.  Keep it simple.  Some of the department stores and outlets will even tailor it for free when you purchase (additional charges may apply for future alterations).

Headed to the mall?  Check out JC Penney for some good deals on nice suits.  Hate the mall or on a tighter budget?  You’d be surprised at the quality of Walmart’s George line for men.  I buy all my dress slacks and most of my shirts (even have purchased a suit) there.  It’s not about name-brand – it’s about what fits, looks professional, and is affordable.  If you can afford Banana Republic, Ralph Lauren, or Express, then go for it.  I’m not saying you have to go cheap.  I’m just saying there’s no sense in running up the credit card bill before your first paycheck can cover it!

For those of you that have a limited budget that does not include buying a new suit, find a nice pair of dress slacks (these are easily found at most stores from $20), a dress shirt (could start at $10), tie (ask a friend or family member for one to borrow if you don’t want to buy), and polish up those old dress shoes.

The key to all of this, whether you buy new clothes from a designer and tailor or simply “off the rack”, is IRONING!  Nothing looks worse than a wrinkled up mess in the interview.  If you don’t know how to properly iron, ask someone.  If you’re a college student and no one knows how, take your clothes to the dry cleaner.  Most will press your clothes for a couple of bucks per item.

What do you think?  Anything to add?  Feel free to leave a comment below.  I would love to hear your thoughts!  As always, thanks for reading.


My Thanksgiving Top 10

25 11 2010

I wanted to take the opportunity to give thanks for a lot of things this week.  Instead of making it a long blog post, I’ve decided to model this after David Letterman’s Top 10 lists.  The numbers are in no particular order – I can honestly say that I’m equally thankful for each item on the list.  So, please don’t view the list as it’s ordered by rank.

10.  People who challenge me. It’s not easy to like them sometimes, but I’ve learned to find the positive in the challenge I’m facing.  The next time someone challenges you, don’t take offense.  Instead, ask yourself, “What can I learn?”

9. Freedom. Thanks to our founding fathers and the great men and women that keep our country safe, I’ve been fortunate to grow up exercising the freedoms of speech, religion and many others that we sometimes take for granted.  I’m reminded that freedom isn’t free.

8.  Books. Read any good books lately?  I have.  Whether it’s for personal/professional development or pure entertainment, I’m thankful for the gift of literacy.  My imagination is so vivid thanks to my exposure to reading at an early age.  And yes, I’m a firm believer that the book is always better than the movie.

7.  Pets. Dogs, cats, hamsters, fish, sugar gliders, horses, cows, even opossums have taught me a few things in life.  1.) Responsibility and 2.) Compassion.  No matter how horrible my day is, I know that I have a little furry brown monster at home that is always happy to see their best friend.  Having a few jerky treats in my pocket also helps.  🙂

6.  My Job. I can identify with Confucius’ quote: “Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.”  The work I’m fortunate to be doing as Director of Career Connections for SIFE USA is not only challenging, but just as rewarding.  What I do has meaning and I’m making a difference in people’s lives.  Want to get involved?  Send me an email ( or go to

5.  Laughter. I’ve been blessed with a sense of humor.  Sometimes that sense of humor is a little weird, but I can typically find something to laugh about every day.  How many people can say that?  Life is too short to be grumpy.  You’ll be amazed at how good it feels to bring a smile to someone else’s face.

4.  Music. I’m thankful for music.  I don’t discriminate in my music preferences – from classical to heavy metal, pop to country, Latin to alternative grunge, my music library keeps me going every day.  Life has a soundtrack.  What’s yours?

3.  Mentors and role models. Mentors have inspired me to be the person I am today.  Even though some of these mentors have since passed, I’m still going forward because of their commitment to my success.  Curious who’s on my list?  My Granddad, Jack Shewmaker (here’s a link to one of his last speeches), Christopher Reeve, my parents, and wonderful wife are a few mentors that I’ve learned a lot from over the years.  Do you have a mentor?

2.  Friends. Friends come and go over the years, but some stick by you through the toughest times in your life.  I have several of those friends and am thankful for their understanding, motivation, and their willingness to listen to me as I’ve poured my heart out over the years.  We’ve had some bad times together, but more importantly, we’ve had a LOT of great times.  So, here’s to many more of those good times ahead.

1.  Family. I really wouldn’t be here today without the love and support of my family.  I’ve learned many life lessons along the way and they’ve instilled in me the values and beliefs I still uphold today.  Family always comes first.  This is something that continues to ring true as my wife and I begin to think about starting our own family.

One last (but not least) thing that I’m thankful for: YOU!  Thanks for reading my blog, commenting and sharing content with your network and helping out job seekers of all kinds.  It’s all about paying it forward and I’m happy to see you participating!

That’s it!  What are the things you’re thankful for?  I’d love to hear them.  Happy Thanksgiving!

Thanksgiving & the Job Search: Don’t Be a Turkey!

23 11 2010

Career advice:  It’s something that I’m sure you’ve received from many sources over the years.  You’ve been given advice from mentors, friends, co-workers, from coaches, the internet, and yes, family when it comes to your job search.

Everyone has their own opinion.  Some advice will conflict with what you’ve already heard.  Some will be so radical that you’ll change how you do things in the future.

How do you cope with all this during the already stressful family get-togethers around the holidays?

Here are a few tips to make the most of any situation during your holiday:

Stay cool. Chances are that you’re going to be asked something like “have you found a job yet?” or even worse, “what’s the deal with you not finding a job?”  The automatic reflex is to take offense or to fire back with a snarky comment.  Don’t.  Instead, remember that most likely, this person is simply trying to help.  As a family member, this may be hard to recognize (you may be used to being pushed around by your older siblings, cousins, etc.).  They do want to help – they just may have a funny way of showing it.

Share your story. Take this opportunity to explain to them your situation and how they could help you.  Don’t take for granted that they already know you’re in the job search.  Ask them who they know, what they could help with, and hold them accountable.  You’ll earn some respect and the turkey will taste a little better.

Bring a side dish – your sense of humor. When you’re inclined to fire back with that snarky comment, remember your sense of humor.  People love to laugh.  Laugh with them and keep them from laughing at you.  They may not understand your situation.  Explain this to them.  Remember to keep a positive outlook – no one likes a Debbie Downer, especially during the holidays.  Again, if they understand your situation, they may be able to help.  If they don’t know you need help, they can’t help you!!

Get some fresh air. With all the family, friends, food and football (I call it the 4 F’s) of Thanksgiving, there may be a time where it’s too much to handle.  Take a breather.  Go outside for a walk.  Take a nap.  Watch a movie.  Whatever it takes for you to relax, just do it.  You’ll be glad you did.  Also, this is a time for wonderful food, but too much can put a person in a bad mood, especially if you’re watching your weight.  Don’t forget to exercise.  A little treadmill action can help clear your head and reinvigorate you!

What are your holiday job search tips?  Any pointers for dealing with those that make it more difficult while trying to help??  Feel free to add your tips in the comment section below.  I’m thankful to have you as a reader.  Have a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday!

As always, thanks for reading and Happy Thanksgiving!!

It’s All In the Network

16 11 2010

By: Jessica Malnik

To go about finding a mentor, it’s all about networking. Up until 5 years ago, networking could only really take place face-to-face. Today, we have a great equalizing tool. It’s called social media.

Think about it. Social media allows us to chat and network with people all around the globe. All we need is a laptop. LinkedIn and Facebook are good ways to network online. But for this post, I’m going to stick with Twitter, which is arguably the most effective way to start networking with experienced pros. 

Unlike LinkedIn and Facebook, Twitter is a predominantly open network. You don’t need a friend request or a Linkedin connection request to start following the vast majority of people. The only exception being people who protect their tweets. I’ve compiled several tips for how college students and younger professionals can get the most out of Twitter when it comes to networking.

Start following influential thought leaders in your industry

Use tools like Twellow and Twitter Search to search for professionals in your industry. Start following them. Create Twitter lists to sort and organize your followers.

Actively Participate in Twitter Chats

A great way to follow and get-to-know industry leaders is to participate in Twitter chats. You name it, there’s a chat for it. If you are in the marketing, public relations or journalism fields, there’s tons of chats. For starters, I’d recommend #journchat, #pr20chat, #prstudchat, and #cmgrchat.

But, there’s also an ample amount of chats for other industries and hobbies. For a full list of Twitter chats, check out this Google Document.

Be A Part of The Conversation

Once you begin following some new folks, start listening to what they are tweeting about. Then, get to it and start engaging. If they tweet about an article, tweet @ them with a follow up question or an insightful comment.

Pay attention to see if their account is strictly professional or if they also add personal tweets. Do you share the same hobby as one of your “new followers?” Tweet them about it. It’s all about starting a conversation and building a RELATIONSHIP with that person. Become a real person in their eyes, and not just an avatar.

Once you have that rapport, try and take that online connection off Twitter. Start with a phone call or a Skype video chat. If permitting, treat them to a cup of coffee for a “pick your brain” session.

Networking is the stepping stone for finding a great mentor. Follow these three steps and really get to know some thought leaders and you won’t even need that formal awkward mentor introduction. It will just happen naturally, like a friendship.

About Jessica:  Jessica Malnik is an Interactive Marketing Coordinator by day. Generation Y blogger, videographer, social media enthusiast and web designer by night.  For her social media, technology, and workplace ramblings, please visit her blog.

Interested in guest blogging? Email Kirk your pitch!

When I Grow Up…

9 11 2010

I wanted to be a cowboy!

I was asked to answer the question:  What do I wish I knew before I started working?  Here’s my response…

We’ve all spoken and heard the words.  “When I grow up, I want to be a cowboy, an astronaut, veterinarian, doctor, fireman, etc.”  As I grew up, I had many friends that wanted to be a marine biologist.  In our minds, that was someone who worked with dolphins, exploring the deep seas, and helping loveable creatures like penguins, and killer whales (Free Willy was a big movie in my day – Flipper was still in reruns).

The funny thing is, hardly any of us ended up doing what it was that we were so set on as a child.  One friend that I grew up with did end up becoming a marine biologist, helping companies reduce their environmental footprint on streams, rivers, and the oceans.

That brings me to a very good point.  We don’t always end up doing what we think we’ll do in our careers.  This is one of the “if I knew then what I know now” examples that truly shows how people change over time, whether it’s by choice or not.  What do I wish I would have known about the real world before I started working?  I wish I’d known that my major applied to so many DIFFERENT fields, not just the obvious jobs.  A colleague and good friend, Cindy Billington, said it best in this:

So, are you thinking about what you want to DO?  Most students have no idea what that degree in Business Administration, Business Management or Communication actually means as it relates to the real world.  No one is hiring for a Business Administrator or Communicator.  Instead, they’re hiring people with the skills and experience gained through real-world implementation of what you learned in college.

Here are a few tips for you as you’re thinking about selecting your major and some tips that relate directly to your chosen field:

Work with an academic advisor.  This is one of the perks to being a student – you have someone dedicated to your success!  As a freshman, even sophomore, you may not know exactly what your focused major will be.  That’s ok.  Use this time to get the basics out of the way.  I’d encourage you to take a few classes that are outside of the norm.  You might just find something you’re interested that you wouldn’t have discovered otherwise.  Ask your advisor what they think would be good for you.

Research the fields of study.  Know what it takes to be a doctor, lawyer, even marine biologist.  I found out very quickly that while the field of science was attractive, I simply wasn’t as excited about the math that it required.  Plus, I get squeamish at the sight of blood!  But, I dabbled in a class or two, and actually found something I was interested in pursuing: Communication and Leadership.  With the help of some very supportive teachers and family, I’m working in a field that I love to be in every day.

Intern, job shadow, and conduct informational interviews!  Internships are the best way to take a career for a test drive.  These days, internships are way more than getting coffee and picking up dry-cleaning.   Interns have opportunities that range from projects that truly impact the business’ bottom line to presentations to the corporation’s executive leaders.  If you can’t officially take part in an internship, try job shadowing.  Ask someone who is in a job that you’re interested in if you could sit in with them for “a day in the life of” experience.  Or, you could ask for an informational interview.  Info interviews huge opportunities that many people simply overlook.  Take the time to ask, “do you have 30 minutes to discuss your job over coffee?”  You buy – what you gain will be more valuable than that $4 cup of Starbucks.

Find your passion.  This may not happen overnight.  It took me several years (out of college) to actually find what I’m most passionate about.  It all goes back to Cindy’s advice above – it’s not what you want to BE, it’s about what you want to DO.  If you’re not really passionate about what you do, the company you work for, or the people you work with, what’s keeping you there?  As the economy bounces back, you may find yourself jumping ship if passion isn’t something that drives you.

This isn’t an exclusive list of to-do’s as you look to find that perfect major, ideal job and career that you’re truly passionate about.  Please feel free to add to the list by commenting on this post below.  I’m certainly open to feedback and look forward to growing with you as you search (and find) the career of your dreams!

HOW TO: Work with Recruiters

2 11 2010

This week, I’m going to miss one of my favorite Twitter chats, #careerchat due to my travel schedule.  Sometimes it works out, sometimes it doesn’t.   If you’re unfamiliar with what I’m referring to when I say “Twitter chat”, check out this great post from Avid Careerist: Top 3 Chats for Job Seekers.  There’s no need for me to reinvent the wheel when people like Donna Svei and Anne Messenger have already done a fantastic job explaining it all (I name-dropped because they’re providing great resources with blogs and Twitter.)  It’s all about paying it forward, right?  #careerchat is held every Tuesday from 12pm-1pm CST and is moderated by MyPath, Manpower’s career management site, and BizMe.Biz, an online magazine for young professionals. 

While I can’t be there to participate live, I can do two things:

1. Encourage your participation.

2. Contribute to the conversation with this week’s blog post. 

The topic is “HOW TO: Work with Recruiters”.  As a job seeker, this is your chance to ask recruiters questions and learn how to work with them best.  It’s also a great way to get the inside look into a recruiter’s mind! 

Here are my tips for working with recruiters: 

Make it easy.  In today’s economy, recruiters are commonly understaffed and overworked.  Help them out on the front end and make the process move easily.  Do your research on the company, know what the common entry-level positions are as well as some general information (their brands, what they do, etc.)  This will help you understand the company better and have a better idea as to where you would fit in.  Sometimes, you might even find that you’re not a fit.  You’ll be glad you did a little research before you went any further. 

Complete the application.  After you have done a little research, go ahead and apply to those positions you’re interested in.  In most cases, no matter how the conversation goes with the recruiter at the career fair or at another venue, they typically can’t do anything until you’ve officially applied online.  I’m not saying that you should apply to hundreds of jobs (believe me, some people do – it’s not a good impression), but rather that you should start the process for those positions that you’re most interested in.  Keep in mind that some companies and positions have an extensive application process. Set aside 90 minutes to 2 hours.  You may have to create a profile, upload your résumé, and depending on the position, there may be an assessment that you’ll need to complete.  The goal is to get a job, right?  Make the job search your full time job until then!

Tailor your resume.  I can’t say this enough.  Cookie-cutter résumés won’t get you very far.  Don’t just create one résumé and call it good.  Read the job description and know what the hiring manager is looking for in an employee.  Make sure your experience listed is relevant. If you use objective, make sure it doesn’t say “ABC Company” when you’re applying to “DEF Company”.  This may all sound basic, but you’d be surprised at how many people apply for one job at a company with their résumé that was used to apply at a competitor!  Tailoring yours to each position will show that not only are you paying attention, but also that you’re being respectful of the recruiter’s time (and care enough to put in a little extra effort). 

Follow up and be patient, persistent, and kind.  This is quite possibly the most important step and the most overlooked.  Let’s face it – you’re not the only person that has applied, the only person the recruiter has met at a career fair, the only résumé on their desk, or the only interview they have scheduled that week (or even that day).  Be patient.  It may seem like an eternity since the application to you, but to a recruiter, that eternity can seem like mere seconds.  With hundreds, even thousands of applicants for each open position, recruiters need a little time to work candidates through.  But, that doesn’t mean that you can’t follow up.  Just remember to be nice about it.  20 phone calls or emails asking if there’s a status update on your application makes you look desperate.  On the flip side, a follow up phone call or email (whatever the preference is) might remind them that you’re interested and bring you back to top of mind. 

Each recruiter operates a little differently.  Like résumés, there’s not a cookie-cutter solution that works for everyone.  All you can do is remain patient, persistent and kind.  Your qualifications, experience and leadership will show through on your résumé, cover letter, and in the interview. 

Recruiters, did I miss anything?  Job seekers, do you have any additional tips?  I’m all about collaboration, so please feel free to leave your comments below.  If you prefer your comments remain anonymous, please email me at or send me a DM me via Twitter. 

Now go out there and land your dream job!