October 26, 2011

Job seekers suit up
for that first impression

The annual National Suit Drive gives ‘gently used’ business suits to men looking for employment.

By J. Hemmerdinger jhemmerdinger@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

PORTLAND — The men at the Maine CareerCenter on Tuesday knew the importance of first impressions.

click image to enlarge

Aaron Dalpe, right, looks for a suit coat for John Corsa during the National Suit Drive at the Career Center in Portland on Tuesday.

Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

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Matt Young checks out a suit in the mirror at the Career Center in Portland Tuesday. Young, a Portland musician, is seeking full-time work at an environmental nonprofit. He went home with a tweed jacket, slacks and tie.

Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

They came to be fitted for used business suits, which were donated to disadvantaged job seekers as part of the annual Southern Maine National Suit Drive.

Among them was Matt Young, 46, a Portland musician who is seeking full-time work at an environmental nonprofit.

“You never know when (a suit) may come in handy, whether you are looking for a job, playing a show or going out on a date with a young lady,” said Young, who took home a tweed jacket, slacks and a tie.

“I take pride in my appearance. You never know who you are going to meet,” said Clif Gray, 44, of Portland, who left the center with a suit that he plans to wear to job interviews.

“First impressions are very important,” he said.

Tuesday’s drive was part of the National Suit Drive, an effort by the Men’s Wearhouse retail chain to donate business clothes to job seekers who might not otherwise be able to afford them.

Nationwide, Men’s Wearhouse collected 100,000 items of “gently used professional clothing,” which it is distributing to job seekers throughout the United States with help from nonprofit groups.

The event in Portland is a partnership between Men’s Wearhouse, the career center, Creative Work Systems and Maine’s Division of Vocational Rehabilitation.

Janet Dutson, marketing and communications manager for Creative Work Systems, said 63 suits were donated Tuesday to job seekers who were cleared by the groups that organized the event.

“This is like a blessing. When you are out of work, you don’t have a lot of money,” said John Corsa, 83, who learned about the suit drive through the Unemployed Professionals Networking Group, which he attends weekly.

Corsa has been looking for work since he lost his job at Sprague Energy in August.

Multiple job seekers said that losing work and being forced back into the job market creates emotional challenges. Some get angry, others get depressed.

“When you are unemployed, there are ups and downs,” said Kevin Collier, 53, a laid-off information technology worker who was waiting to be fitted. “A new suit helps.”

As luck would have it, Collier was offered a job Tuesday morning with Falmouth-based Tyler Technologies. He plans to wear his suit Monday, his first day on the job.

Dutson said a business suit can transform a job seeker’s self-image. “The person wearing the suit gets an immediate boost of confidence,” she said.

But she said the suit drive does more than help people land jobs.

“This is lifting people out of poverty. This is giving people a way out,” she said.

The workers who showed up Tuesday were seeking work in a variety of industries and coming from varied backgrounds.

Clif Gray moved to Portland from Colorado and is seeking work in the hospitality industry, possibly in customer service at a hotel.

Mahad Ali came to the United States 10 years ago from Somalia and has been looking for an administrative-assistant position for five months. He left the career center Tuesday with a jacket, a tie and slacks, which he plans to wear to a job interview today.

Jeff Kinsley also showed up for a suit. The 45-year-old Denmark resident recently started his own company, New England Alternative Energy Inc., and needed clothes to wear on sales calls.

“I can’t sell a $60,000 wind turbine in jeans and sneakers,” Kinsley said.

Staff Writer Jonathan Hemmerdinger can be contacted at 791-6316 or at: jhemmerdinger@mainetoday.com

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