My First Week at Dress for Success New Orleans

Niharika Vattikonda
Jun 19 · 3 min read

This story was originally published on the Dress for Success New Orleans website.

One of our clients from this past weekend wrote to us in an email, “Thank you for the moment when I looked up and I saw me again.” And it is that moment, the moment when a woman realizes she has all she needed to succeed already inside of her, for which Dress for Success New Orleans operates, I’ve learned. On the surface level, providing professional attire and helping someone create a resume will undoubtedly help restore her confidence in her ability to get a job and create a career. However, confidence is truly restored not just with the clothes, but in a woman’s ability to look at herself in the mirror and see herself crushing the interview, getting that job offer, and advancing her career. And confidence is restored when a woman who might be headed to an interview soon comes to the career center to make a resume and leaves with an incredibly professional-looking resume.

In school, we may learn about different systems that have drained this confidence from the women we work with — the criminal justice system, the addiction treatment system, among others — and often point to policy changes as the right answer. Last week, I worked with several clients ranging from students in college to women making a career change later in their lives. In my first week, I’ve learned that confidence can’t be restored through those top-level solutions — it can only be restored by members of the community working with each other to provide that support and “hand up” for women who are truly determined to become economically empowered, lifting themselves and their families along with them.

And that “hand up” is what gets many women through the increasingly complex job search process, where women and especially women of color face many obstacles in even getting to the point of being considered by a hiring manager for a job. We hear that women often apply for jobs only when they meet every single requirement, whereas men may not; we hear that recruiters spend 30 seconds or a generous minute on reviewing someone’s resume, and ultimately that leaves a lot of variable room for women who may be depending on this job to come through so that they can support their families this month. So, our job is to narrow that window of “randomness” — to make sure that the resume is clear, concise and highlights the best information in the first half of the page, to help our clients choose an outfit that is both professional and comfortable to wear.

And that randomness often takes a hit on our clients’ confidence — can anyone point to a specific reason the same resume submitted to two similar jobs resulted in a rejection email from one and a job offer from the other? By empowering a client to pick out an outfit for an interview or customize her own resume, we hopefully are able to restore a little bit of her confidence. We can’t remove those obstacles, but we can make sure that every woman who comes in for a suiting walks out ready to crush her interview or first day of work and that every woman who comes into the career center leaves with a gorgeous, professional-looking resume that is sure to catch the manager’s eye. And that’s the mission that drives us to provide every woman we interact with a much-needed boost of confidence that will carry her throughout her career.

Niharika Vattikonda

Written by

Robertson Scholar at UNC & Duke, Founder of Teens Transforming Technology

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