Smart Works is a UK charity that provides high quality interview clothes and interview training to unemployed women in need.
Clare caught up with Director of Partnerships, Communications & Events Charlie Collins to talk about everything that makes this charity so incredible – and necessary.
Talk me through what an average day looks like for you?
I joined Smart Works last November, and one of the first things I learnt was that there is no average day at this fun and brilliantly fast-paced charity. My role is to ensure our brand is safe guarded across all our partnerships, events and communications and that our story is constantly being told in creative ways across our platforms. We have 7 centres dotted across the UK, so it’s really important that we communicate regularly with all of the Smart Works family to inspire them from HQ with learnings, guidance and support.
Do you have a particular dress code that you like to stick to for the office?
I absolutely love fashion and for me it’s always been about sharing your personality through your outfits and having a moment to be creative every morning by putting together something that makes you happy. Life is simply too short to ignore what makes your heart sing.
Although I can have fun with fashion at work, it’s also important that we look smart at the office. We greet clients every day who we’re encouraging to look and feel their best in the workplace, so it’s important we set the right example. I will often take something bolder like a printed silk skirt and balance it with a simple jumper and a black blazer. I am a huge fan of suits and two pieces, of which I have many.
You have a lot of experience working in fashion. Has that proved important in your role at Smart Works?
Before Smart Works I spent 6 years at fashion resale site, Vestiaire Collective and it was here that I grew to feel passionately about sustainability within the fashion industry. I would say 90% of my wardrobe has been bought second hand and I’m very proud of that.
There is so much waste in the world and I believe passionately in extending the life cycle of an item. It’s a joy to work at Smart Works where we can provide a happy home for the industry’s excess fashion stock, either for our clients or at our amazing fashion sales which generate vital fundraising for our charity. It’s wonderful to see how fashion is being used as a true force for good. The suit that one of our clients walks out with, that she’ll go on to get her interview in, could have been worn by you or me when we went to our interview and got the job. It’s this idea of using fashion as a vehicle for passing on good luck that I find so engaging. I’ve always loved the stories behind items of clothing, and we see these play out every day at Smart Works.
How do you go about rebuilding a women’s confidence to help restart her career?
In order to come to a Smart Works, you have to have a job interview lined up and you need to be referred to us. Our referral partners include the job centre, homeless charities, drug addiction centres and prison charities. The women who come to see us are vulnerable and they could have been turned down for over 50 jobs before finding us, so it is our job to make them feel safe and secure during their two-hour appointment with us. The most important thing we do is allow our clients to be heard and sometimes it’s the first time they’ve been listened to in a very long time.
First, she’ll have a one-hour styling session where two volunteer stylists will help her find a winning look for her interview. Then she’ll move into the coaching room where a trained interview coach will work with her around the upcoming interview. We want every woman who walks out of a Smart Works centre to believe she has the power to succeed.
There’s a particular emphasis on making sure the women you work with feel confident in their clothing. Why focus on that in particular? What’s the impact that clothing can have on a women’s professional confidence?
At Smart Works, we talk about “the mirror moment.” This is the magic moment that we see every day, where a client studies herself in the mirror after putting on an outfit and thinks, “I can do this.” Often our clients will gasp or take a second look, not believing how brilliant they look. The power of fashion should never be underestimated.
However, we also believe that it’s clothing plus self-belief that will allow a woman to be her best at work and this is why we offer the interview coaching. The outfit is just a catalyst for the power within each of our clients. It unlocks her ability to believe in herself and once she does, there is no stopping her.
Do you find that your wardrobe has had an impact on your own confidence in the workplace?
I have always used fashion to help me colour my mood. I find colour is incredibly uplifting and it can have a real impact on the way you feel. Dressing creatively is also a conversation starter and I love the idea that fashion can forge human connection – I have forged meaningful business relationships that started off by giving someone a compliment on an amazing pair of earrings. When you believe you look good, you feel good and this translates into confidence that has every right to be there at work.
What advice would you give to women for dressing for an interview, particularly for those who might be returning to work after a break?
Returning to work after a break – indeed any interview at all – can feel incredibly daunting. You need to feel comfortable and you need to feel like you, but sometimes it’s important to try something new in order to break out of those old cycles of thinking. Our volunteer stylists are brilliant at allowing our clients to be the best versions of themselves, while encouraging them to try a new shape or print. Never underestimate the power of a quirky accessory that might catch someone’s eye and make them smile.
What are your top 3 tips for a successful interview?
My number one tip for a successful interview would be to work on your self-belief. There’s a difference between knowing your strengths and truly believing them, and it’s that real belief in your unique value that will allow you to share it effectively with the interviewer.
I am a big believer in breathing properly. Every person gets nervous in an interview and sometimes it’s about accepting this and trying to channel those nerves into excitement instead. So instead of thinking “I’m so nervous”, you could try thinking “I’m so excited” – the mind is a very powerful tool.
Lastly, wear that thing that makes you feel like you deep down, whether it’s a piece of jewellery for good luck or a pair of magenta heels – if it makes you smile, it will have a knock-on effect on your interview.