K+BB Collective | The Designers' Corner

Nov 18 2013

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How Presence and Presentability Helped Me Find Employment (Twice)

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By Monica Aur

Part 1: Preparing to Meet Prospective Employers

While completing an associate’s degree in kitchen & bath design, I was assigned to explore local kitchen and bath shops and firms and interview designers, owners, etc. The thought of returning soon afterward to these same places (to seek?) employment made me nervous, to say the least. Even the most confident people would have undertaken this task with some level of trepidation.

The backstory: I was a non-traditional student (code for older), this course of study was not available at any of the local universities, and I was completing my degree online. This caused further uneasiness because of the possible skepticism that I was actually a student and not competition, but there were less than a handful of these businesses locally, and it was the height of the recession. Researching options and planning precisely where to go and what to say was essential.

So on the morning I went to go look for a job, I dressed carefully, trying to look casual yet serious and designer-like all at once. The look was to convey creative good taste with a level of restraint. With questions in hand and lump in throat, off I went to the designated kitchen and bath shops.

Part 2: The Meetings

The first business was a high-end, full-service firm with the most beautiful showroom I had ever seen. The brands of cabinetry were custom and the appliances high end. It was the type of shop that had to buzz you in.

The designer who greeted me was very helpful; even though I felt – by the way she eyed me throughout the interview – that she did not completely believe I was a student. (Glad I looked presentable.) She answered my questions, gave me a tour and a stack of brochures, nonetheless.

I then went to the second business on my list. This shop was small, had stock-to-custom cabinetry, but no appliances. The only employee present was the cabinetry installer. He was very attentive and helpful, showed me the lines and explained the differences to me. We then sat in the showroom and talked, hoping that the owner would soon arrive. That did not happen, but the installer took my name and number.

Part 3: The Hire

A few months later, with another research paper due, l made a call to the owner of that second shop, the owner I had not met. After answering my questions, he asked if I needed to complete an internship and would I like to intern there. Thrilled, I said yes.

The first week of my internship went really well, and he offered me a position as kitchen and bath designer ASAP. I happily accepted, and that was when the installer with whom I had interviewed told me he never believed I was a student, but that I was spying for the competition. What a conspiracy theorist! Anyway, it seems I made a good impression on him and he had spoken to the owner about me.

Part 4: The Repeat

After graduating and working for this company a couple of years, I decided to make a life change. This meant leaving the city where I had lived for most of my life, taking a leap of faith and moving to a completely new place knowing no one. This was really done on a whim.

The week after the move, while dining in a local pub and reading the free local weekly paper, I saw the annual Tri-State Home Show was coming soon. I became really excited with the idea that I could use this home show as a means of finding employment. (Did I mention I moved before getting a job?) The show was immediately put on my calendar.

So, once again on the morning of the home show came the planning of the wardrobe: something casual with creativity and color. This time, with old business cards in hand and lump in throat, off I went to the home show.

This move felt so right. Receptive and helpful folks greeted me at every turn. I simply said to perspective employers at their booths, “I came to the show for the sole purpose of finding employment.” I handed out my old business cards and was asked by four businesses to email my resume. That was how I found a job where I knew no one.

Part 5: The Message

1.) Prepare.

2.) Show up. Be present.

3.) Present yourself as well as possible.

4.) Be authentic.

– Monica Aur is a kitchen and bath designer at Southern Cabinets & Lighting in Chattanooga, Tenn.

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