Dress for Success: Advice for women re-entering the job market

There has been unprecedented employment loss across Canada due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to Statistics Canada, the country has lost 858,000 jobs since March 2020.  The highest decline was in Ontario and Quebec and concentrated among women aged 25-54. Many of these jobs were in retail and service industries, which closures hit the hardest due to public health restrictions.

Women have also left their jobs for caretaking roles for sick relatives, providing childcare and helping with online schooling. 

Now that vaccination rates are increasing and infections are decreasing, women across Canada are re-entering the workforce. While the job search may seem intimidating, there are resources to help.

Women Quest spoke with Dress for Success Ottawa executive director Mary Tersigni-Paltrinieri to hear her advice on re-entering the job market.

Dress for Success is a non-profit that helps women find work. They have suiting services where women are matched with a stylist who provides a personalized professional outfit. They also provide job search support and career coaching.

Dress for Success has 13 locations across Canada. In case you’re not in their service area, we’ve compiled the expert’s tips here.

Knowing and finding the job you want

Sometimes knowing where to start can be the hardest part. Maybe you were laid off due to COVID-19 or maybe you’re a newcomer to Canada. Perhaps you’re looking for your first job. Whatever the reason you’re looking for work, start with an idea of what interests you.

Photo by Yan Krukov

Tersigni-Paltrinieri said Dress for Success focuses on finding meaningful employment. 

“We not only try to help women find jobs,” she said. “We want them to find meaningful employment and find the career path that’s going to take them down the road.”

Take the time to find a job that suits you 

If you’re not sure what field you want to enter, you may need to search within yourself first. Ask yourself questions: What do you enjoy doing? What are tasks you don’t enjoy? What are you hoping to get out of a job? What path do you want to go down?

Don’t put a resume together until you know what jobs you want to apply to.

When you have a clearer idea of jobs you’d like to pursue, it’s time to start the search. Websites like Indeed and LinkedIn are great resources. Employers post open job applications and you can search using keywords that are relevant to your search. You can also filter by location, duration, and even salary.

Create a document or spreadsheet to save the job posting links you’re interested in. Make note of the application deadlines so you don’t miss out.

Preparing your application

Once you see a job posting you’re interested in, it’s time to get your application ready.

Make sure you read the posting closely and carefully to note what the application requires. Some employers just want a resume, while others may require a cover letter, writing sample or references up front.

When it comes to putting together a resume, Tersigni-Paltrinieri suggests that you tailor it to the job. Different jobs have different relevant past experiences that you’ll want to include.

The resume isn’t just about what’s typed on a page — aesthetics matter. Check out free templates on Canva to format your resume. Stick with a coherent style of text in traditional fonts like Times New Roman, Arial or Garamond. Avoid photos and keep everything in grayscale.

For your cover letter, expand and build on experiences listed in your resume. Make sure everything you include is relevant to the job you’re applying to. Try to find some key words in the job posting and show how you’ve used those skills. Write about a time you succeeded in problem-solving or showed your knack for interpersonal communication.

Have someone else edit your resume and cover letter. You could miss a few simple mistakes that someone else will catch. It all makes a difference in the employer’s eye. 

Preparing for your interview

Find out if the interview will be in-person or virtual. If it’s virtual, find an appropriate background in your home to use for the video call. Make sure there is good lighting and minimal background noise and distractions. Avoid sitting with your back to a window.

If a child or pet does end up making noise in the background, don’t panic. People have been working from home for a while now and we’re all human.

Photo by cottonbro

To avoid any technological mishaps, make sure you have a strong WiFi signal and clear audio. You can even do a mock virtual interview with a family member to ensure you have the proper setup.

Dress for Success’s flagship initiative is helping women find the perfect outfit for their interview. Tersigni-Paltrinieri said the biggest transformation is seeing someone’s appearance bring out their inner confidence. 

“There’s something behind the first impression, there’s something behind putting something on that you feel really confident in,” she said. “Sometimes it feels a bit frivolous, the clothing aspect of things, but it really transforms people the most.”

For people dressing for success on their own at home, Tersigni-Paltrinieri’s advice is to  know the industry you’re interviewing for.

“We always make sure that we understand the industry that the person has an interview in. This is to make sure that they’re dressing appropriately for the industry,” she said. “If you’re going for a job at a law firm, you’re going to be dressing differently than if you’re going for a job at any creative space like a tech company or a marketing space.” 

Think about first impressions at the interview. Be mindful of your body language, whether you’re in-person or virtual. People want to work with others who are personable.

Stay focused on the person interviewing you. Listen to what they’re saying and to their questions. Be in the moment. If you’re nervous, fake the confidence until you make it. Smile and believe in your abilities. You have worked hard for this position and are deserving of success.

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