In addition to a polished resume and a firm handshake, a suit jacket can make or break a potential employer’s first impressions. But for many college students, funding professional dress is close to impossible.
It was with this thought that Enterprise Rent-A-Car donated $1,000 to the Career and Leadership Development Center’s Career Closet in June. The Career Closet equips Ohio University students with second-hand professional clothing free-of-charge for job fairs, interviews, conferences and other professional events.
Ryan Dieter, talent acquisition manager for Enterprise Rent-A-Car, said that this need became apparent through his conversations with Aaron Sturgill, the CLDC’s associate director for employee relations.
“We talked a lot about how you can get students prepared for interviewing, and maybe a little bit of confidence through attire is helpful,” Dieter said. “We’re a business professional environment, and it’s tough to fund business professional sometimes – even just for an interview.”
Enterprise has been actively involved with the CLDC in the past, through participation in career fairs, mock interview days and an employer-led case study. Hoping to further the company’s impact, Dieter approached Sturgill about ways in which Enterprise could be more intimately involved with students and student programming.
The Career Closet was one of several funding opportunities that resulted from these discussions. In addition, Enterprise contributed $4,000 to the Women’s Mentoring Program Scholarship Application, which enables student mentees to attend professional development opportunities.
The University’s strong connection with Enterprise also serves as a pipeline for graduates. Last year, 75 percent of Enterprise’s branch managers in Southeast Columbus were OHIO alumni.
“They see great candidates within their organization that are Bobcats and they think, ‘Why not come back to OU and get some more?’” Sturgill said.
The Career Closet was initiated by a gift from OHIO alumna Cara Caven in 2015. As the CLDC accrued clothing, the need for a more permanent location became apparent. Last year, the CLDC transformed one of its interview rooms into a permanent space where students can peruse the racks and try on clothes.
“Utilizing the Career Closet is as simple as coming to the CLDC and requesting to use the service. Students are always surprised to see the set-up we have for the service and often note they will tell their friends as well,” said Zachary Graman, the graduate assistant charged with managing the closet operations.
To date, more than 38 students have utilized the closet, 35 of which left with professional attire. While financial donations are appreciated, gently used professional dress can be utilized right away.
“Professional dress is expensive and a donation would need to be sizeable for us to really fill that space. So having someone just clean out their closet regularly and send us a couple dress shirts and a suit – that in itself could be $400 to $500,” Sturgill said.
Clothes donations can be dropped off to the front desk of the CLDC on the fifth floor of Baker University Center during normal business hours.* Any clothing that is not displayed in the closet (due to excess staining or tears) is donated to Goodwill or My Sister’s Place.
One reason that the CLDC is constantly in need of donations is because the clothes stay with the students.
“We don’t require students to bring clothes back. In fact, we encourage them to keep it,” Sturgill said. “If they need to use it today, they are probably going to need to use it again. For example, if they wear it to Career Fair, they will probably need it for a future interview or orientation or whatever that might be.”
To date, closet hours have been limited to Graman’s work schedule. However the CLDC is in the process of hiring additional undergraduate student employees to expand the hours of operations. For a current schedule or to set up an appointment, email CLDC_CareerCloset@ohio.edu.
* Ohio University is unable to offer a charitable gift receipt for clothing donations.