THE BLOG
02/24/2014 11:14 am ET | Updated Apr 26, 2014

Dressed the Skill, Not the Part

By Rae Pagliarulo, Development Manager

For years, I made my living in the service industry -- coffee shops, to be exact. Even though the frequent 12-hour days I worked were fun, challenging, and no two were ever the same (and I had all the free coffee I could drink), I eventually started to feel like I wanted to make a jump to something different, maybe harder -- or hard in a different way. My wardrobe at the time? Totally atrocious. Everything had bleach stains, and the smell of bacon grease, coffee oil, and mustard seemed impossible to wash out. Whenever I bought something new, I made sure it was low-quality and cheap -- why buy something nice, only to have it ruined by the end of the week?

Eventually, with the help of some smart friends and regulars at the coffee shop, I realized my outgoing nature and wealth of experience in customer service could get me where I really wanted to be -- the nonprofit world. I really wanted to work in a nice office where I could use my brain to do good work for the community. Maybe I could even get national holidays off, instead of having to work double shifts to serve all the day-off coffee drinkers and brunch eaters! But every time I looked in my closet, that dream seemed further away -- how could I make a jump like that, all decked out in ratty food-stained clothes? Every time I put on my coffee shop uniform, the jeans not fitting quite right, the t-shirt starting to fray around the middle where I leaned against the counters and sinks, I felt like I wasn't ready for nice things, or a new job. Like I wasn't worthy.

At the time, I didn't know about Career Wardrobe, or its resale location, The Wardrobe Boutique, but I did know I needed some nicer duds if I was going to start interviewing in professional offices. Luckily, I had some well-dressed girlfriends who invited me to a big clothing swap. In the massive pile of clothes the girls had collected, I found my very first pair of dress pants, and a really cute tank top/cardigan combo that was bright, fun, and totally reflected my outgoing personality! I looked in the mirror, and just like that, I could see WHO I was -- a motivated, social, and hardworking girl -- and not just WHAT I was -- a barista and short-order cooking who was hoping for a break.

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When I started interviewing, I felt this new confidence starting to emerge. Knowing that I looked the part meant that I could really be myself and focus on my skills, my personality, all the stuff I did have, instead of the one thing I was missing: job experience. When I eventually got hired, it was because of my spunk and my attitude -- months later, the woman who hired me had become a close friend, and confessed that I edged out a candidate who had years of experience, but lacked a "spark." At that point, I knew it -- without that professional image taken care of, I never would have been able to let myself be who I really was.

I am so lucky that in the world of coffee and sandwiches, without my even knowing it, I got everything I needed to start my career. But it wasn't until those girlfriends of mine dressed my plain old customer service and outgoing nature up in different outfits that I saw them for what they really were -- essential work skills like interpersonal communication, attention to detail, and a strong team mentality. Today, I'm fortunate to work for an organization that understands the relationship between how we look on the outside and how we feel on the inside. Every day, I work so that women who are struggling to make the jump to a successful career can put on a fabulous pair of slacks and a colorful blouse, and look in the mirror to see somebody who is motivated, social, hardworking, and most of all -- somebody who is worthy.