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My First Job: Barbara Dell

Barbara Dell, founder and CEO of Dress for Success, reflects on her first job.




It was 1968 and I had just turned 16 years old. I knew that as soon as school was out for the summer I was ready to get my first part-time job. I lived in Rochester, New York, and remember taking the bus downtown by myself. I knew I wanted to work in retail, so my plan was to go from place to place and put in applications. The first place I went to was Sibley’s department store. It was very prestigious and similar to what Bloomingdale’s is today. I remember getting all dressed up and going in and being very nervous. There was a line of other young girls waiting to be interviewed ahead of me. The woman in charge of hiring called my name and I went into her office. She had a Rolodex of job openings on her desk and was asking me questions about my interests. Then she said, “I got just the job for you.” It was working in the cosmetics department, which was something very glamorous and exciting for me. I was thrilled; I couldn’t believe it! I remember running to the pay phone and calling my mom and telling her I got a job and that I did it all by myself. I felt so happy and self-sufficient; it was such a grand start for me.

I went through training, and once I started the job, I was just a kid working with women of all ages and doing makeovers on them. It didn’t intimidate me—I absolutely loved it. This job taught me how to connect with people regardless of age. I also learned customer service and sales, which tie into the fundraising I do today as founder and CEO of Dress for Success. I also learned the importance of image and projecting confidence, which is something we help women with when they come to us. The whole premise of Dress for Success is to prepare women who have been referred to us from organizations like Salvation Army and Goodwill by connecting them with personal shoppers who work with them in selecting an out- fit for job interviews. I learned at a very early age the importance of image. If you look good and feel good, it comes through from the outside in, and that’s what we try to convey with the women we help. 

—as told to Jennifer Nalewicki

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