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Dressing for success: Looking the part for getting that job

High-flying Rathcoole mum, Ruth McKeown, has hit on a novel approach to help other women get lift-off into the world of work, as Stephanie Bell reports.

Ruth McKeown has a wardrobe full of smart ladies wear along with boxes of stylish shoes and handbags - and now she is looking for worthy candidates to give them to.

The local mum is on a mission to help women get on the career ladder and providing them with the right outfit for interview is just part of it.

Ruth, from Rathcoole, has a natural talent for dealing with people which has seen her own career soar and now she wants to share her expertise to help other women to secure their dream jobs.

In fact Ruth, who works in the British Airways lounge in the George Best Airport, has raised standards of customer care to such heights that she was recently invited by the company to share her unique approach to other staff throughout the UK.

Now, she is taking her skills out of the corporate world to devote her spare time to helping other women to ditch the dole queue and fulfil their true potentials.

Ruth (38), who has a 13-year-old son James, grew up in Rathcoole and left school at 16 with no qualifications - but her natural ability to present herself well and connect with people has seen her enjoy a superb career holding numerous top management positions.

She thinks her working-class roots have influenced her decision to launch her free new service, through which she plans to give certified half day training classes in customer services as well as coaching women on how to sparkle at interviews.

As a working single parent she knows that money for smart business wear is not something everyone can put their hands on easily, which is why she recently launched an appeal for donations of clothes on Facebook and has been staggered by the response.

Her own career began by complete accident when she went into a local shop to treat herself to a new top and instead was stunned to find herself behind the counter serving customers.

She recalls: "My love for customer service started when I got a job in Kookai at 16.

"I went in one day to buy a t-shirt at £9.99.

"Everything else was so expensive, it was the only thing I could afford.

"When I was paying for it, the manager commented that I was a lovely girl and asked me there and then if I would like a job.

"I asked what the wage was and it was £1.80 an hour and the deal was done. Five minutes later I was dressed in an £80 jumper as my uniform and was serving customers.

"Looking back, the team of girls that worked there - who to this day are all still my best friends - were up there with providing the best service that I have ever seen being delivered."

She left Kookai after three years and started what was meant to be a summer job with the Seacat ferry Sea Containers Ferries Scotland in the Isle of Man. However, she made such a good impression she was asked to stay on for the winter on the conventional ship and return to the Seacat the following summer as manager. She stayed with the company - Sea Containers Ferries Scotland - for nine years during which time she helped with recruitment.

She says: "The uniform policy was very strict and I learnt so much from that. To this day I still adhere to that policy in any position I've been in."

After a few more years with other passenger ferry companies, she started working two years ago for Baxter Storey as a supervisor in the British Airways lounge at Belfast City Airport. Another lovely story sees her special ability to deal with customers recognised almost immediately.

She says: "One day a customer I had met a few times handed me a small card that said Golden Ticket on it and he explained that it was sent to him once a year from BA to give to the person he felt had delivered the best service to him out of all BA staff.

"Only BA Gold card holders could present them.

"I received seven in that month which apparently was a big deal so BA sent me to London for an awards night which was amazing - that was a year ago and I now have 27 cards."

BA was so impressed they invited Tina to London to record a corporate video explaining just what it was her team in Belfast was doing that was putting the lounge at the top of the score board on customer service feedback.

"I told them the simple truth which was that we make people feel welcome and look after their every need with a smile on our face," she says.

"I was asked to take up the position of customer service trainer, which I did and I enjoy sharing my experience during the training."

The idea to share her experience and expertise as a sideline was already beginning to form and after she got the chance to help a girl working as a cleaner in the airport recently to secure a job in the BA lounge, she made up her mind to launch her new service.

She says: "A few months back I was doing interviews for our lounge and one morning a girl called me to ask could she attend an interview.

"I had met her a few times and thought she had the loveliest personality. I told her I could fit her in and she asked me what she should wear. I told her if she was serious about wanting this job she would have to be suited and booted, hair in a doughnut, stud earrings, court shoes, knee length skirt or trousers and make-up.

"She explained she didn't have a suit and asked would a dress do. I said yes if it was black with a little blazer but she only had a bright coloured dress but said she would sort something out.

"It was at that point I realised the service which I had been thinking of launching would have helped her out so much.

"She came to the interview and I couldn't believe just how well she presented herself. She had listened to every part of what I had said to her and she looked beautiful.

"Her confidence was shining. During the interview, her personality won everyone over and she got the job. Within one week she had a golden ticket. I was so proud of her."

Ruth remembered how just two years earlier she had struggled to find the right outfit when was going for her interview for a job in the lounge. She knew how she needed to present herself but couldn't afford to buy a smart suit

The idea to create a wardrobe from which women could borrow clothes for interviews was reinforced by her talk with the former cleaner who is now a new colleague and that spurred her to launch an appeal on Facebook.

"I thought if I could get women I know via Facebook to donate old work suits, shoes, bags etc then I could put on a session where I could offer women customer service training followed by showing them how to properly present themselves at interviews to make them feel confident and stand out from the rest," she says.

"The response to the Facebook appeal was amazing and I've had clothes sent from all over the place, including the Isle of Man and England.

"I have so many clothes here that I have filled an entire wardrobe and I have boxes and boxes of shoes and handbags.

"I hope to use facilities local to where I live and then hold sessions in different parts of the city, as I want it to be open for women from all areas and backgrounds."

Drawing on her own working-class background has made her more aware of the struggles ordinary women face simply securing an interview for a job.

She hopes her sessions will help give them the confidence they need to make the most of any opportunity that comes their way, as well as give them a customer service training certificate to put on their CV.

She says: "Especially where I live, a lot of girls would love to be working but many don't even get to the interview stage and when they do, they have no experience of how to present themselves and that makes me really sad.

"It is about helping them to have a better understanding of what customer service is all about and I want to show them how to put their hair up and to properly present themselves at interview.

"I feel I have been fortunate and I am really sad that so many women just don't get a shot at doing what they want. I know so many women who would love to be out working. I grew up in an estate and I know what it is like to struggle. I consider myself so lucky to be in the post I am in and if I can help any girl to get her dream job then why not?"

She adds: "Everyone has a dream and if I can help anyone to make that dream come true well that for me would be the best feeling in the world."

Ruth has set up a Facebook page and will be posting details of her first half day training session which she hopes to run later this month.

  • Full details can be found at Facebook/interview wardrobe, presentation and customer service training

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