First impressions are never more crucial than during job interviews. An employer makes quick assessments about how someone walks, talks and looks.

But what happens if you don't know how to prepare for the interview, and send the right signals on the day?

Nicki was just 16 when she arrived at the free interview preparation and outfitting service of not-for-profit Fitted for Work. Homeless after fighting with her stepfather and being asked to move out by her mum, Nicki had a simple goal: find work and a safe place to live.

Like many women, Nicki’s lack of confidence and self-esteem, plus a limited support network, was a huge barrier to her finding employment, explained Fitted for Work’s National Development Manager, Anne Lennon. 

“You might have the best CV in the world, and the best experience, but without confidence it’s very difficult to succeed in an interview and very difficult to maintain work,” she said.

Since 2005, Fitted for Work has helped over 14,500 women in New South Wales and Victoria find work and keep it through the interview preparation and outfitting, transition to work and staying in work programs.

Fitted for Work is focussed on building up the confidence of their clients, who like Nicki are referred to the service at a time in their lives when they're experiencing disadvantage.

They might be homeless, exiting a domestic violence situation, or a newly arrived refugee, or an early school leaver, or they might be someone who has been recently widowed and their husband was the main bread winner in the family,” said Anne.

Clients like Nicki are greeted by two volunteers who help choose an outfit from the high quality work clothes – suits, bags, shoes and accessories – which are donated by companies and individuals, to the tune of $600,000 a year. “The generosity of people is just incredible,” said Anne.

“I can’t overstate the profound effect it has on a woman to know that another woman has valued her enough to provide her with clothing to go to an interview.”

When Nicki swapped her tracksuit pants and thongs for the donated work clothes, her demeanour dramatically changed, said Anne. “It’s a physical thing, the shoulders go back.”

Fitted for Work receives no recurrent government funding to support its work with more than 3,500 women each year. Instead it relies on the invaluable contribution of volunteers, plus donations from individuals, businesses and foundations.  

A Coca-Cola Australia Foundation grant is funding a new program to help 250 young women aged from 16 to 25 find work. “It’s a really practical program in that it focuses on helping young women to develop skills and knowledge to get work and again that confidence and self-esteem,” said Anne.

The four-step program features interview preparation, a personalised fitting appointment, a career workshop that includes the opportunity for each client to shadow someone in the workplace for half a day, and one-on-one interview coaching with a mentor.

When 16-year-old Nicki finished her interview training, she left Fitted for Work feeling confident about the next steps in her quest for financial independence.

“Nicki eventually went back into education, which is wonderful,” said Anne. “That’s what we wanted for her, because she was so young and education is so important in terms of getting sustainable work.”