When starting your career journey, you typically start at the bottom.
In most cases, you are attempting to get your foot in the door and your first opportunity toward your long-term career goal. As I was graduating from East Carolina University, where I studied Communications, I was on the 4+ year plan due to some mistakes I made when I started looking at internships. We had a presentation in one of my classes where someone from the Co-op office explained we could get college credits for an internship or work. This caught my interest, as I realized I could complete my degree with training that could lead to employment. I also learned that I could be paid while getting credit, and I thought that was amazing.
It was time to contact various professional teams, public relations firms, and other prominent businesses. I may have contacted around 125 companies. Hearing back from many, and I landed four interviews. I was excited. All four were in the New York City / New Jersey area. I landed interviews with pro hockey and basketball teams and a sports marketing / public relations firm.
My twin brother helped me pick some clothing: a sport coat, slacks, a shirt, and tie. At the time, I had very long hair, like six inches past my shoulders, so I thought it might be time for a haircut. Many friends told me I didn’t need to cut my hair; I could wear it in a ponytail for interviews. I thought the haircut was a good idea because I was starting. I wanted to look the part; I went to a salon where they cut my hair: it was long enough to donate it.
Confident I looked every inch the part of a successful young intern, I set out for my interviews. At one particular interview that went very well, we got to the end of the interview, and the executive speaking with me reached out and handed me a big thick book. I bent forward from my chair and took the book from him. He said, “I see a beaded necklace under your collar.”
So, it might be time to mention that this organization was conservative. Both the owner and the president served in the military. I saw this as a great fit because I had served as well. The executive took the time to give me some important advice: “I see that necklace under your collar, and if I’d seen it in the beginning, this interview would have ended quickly.”
He continued, “If you had come into this interview with long hair, I would have met with you for 30 minutes and put your resume in the garbage. We are a conservative organization, and you are just starting. You never know what will turn someone off on hiring you. Luckily, I didn’t see it, and we spent all of this time together. We connected in many areas, and I would like to offer you the opportunity to work for us. I would suggest you walk out and cut that necklace off.”
Well, after goodbyes and a thank you, I walked out the door and cut the necklace off. I also didn’t take that position. But I learned a lot from that interview. I learned that making a good first impression really does matter during a job search. You never know what little thing could be the difference between being offered a job and your resume going in the trash. This experience also taught me the importance of investigating a business’ mission, culture, and values before interviewing.
Over the years, I have grown my hair out many times and trimmed it from time to time to fit a business’ culture. I have also worked my way up in my field, and my hair has become part of my brand. Coming out of college, I chose to cut my hair because, at that point in my life, landing a job was more important than my hair. I have made numerous other sacrifices and compromises for different positions. When planning your job search, you must decide what is important to you and then learn how that fits a potential employer’s goals, values, and mission. This early experience taught me to do that research before my interviews.
APH CareerConnect offers resources about the employment process for individuals who are blind or low vision. You can explore the APH Connect Center blogs and articles for more information about preparing for your job interview, including dressing for success.