Black Enterprise — March 2012
Change Language:
Work Your Career Coach


The Perfect Fit

A former boutique owner finds a good look in a new company

Name: Tom Cooke

Job: Master Specialist, Brooks Brothers

Location: Philadelphia

Last Position: Cooke operated his own men’s boutique, Paris Europa, which specialized in luxury, high-end, and madeto- order lifestyle clothing and sportswear

Education: Studied communications and theater at Temple University As one of the few master specialists at Brooks Brothers Made-to-Measure, Cooke oversees a custom service to help high-net worth clientele design a wardrobe that complements their professional and lifestyle needs, as well as handles marketing for Brooks Brothers’ Philadelphia outpost. An average session with Cooke is a $2,000 to $5,000 retail experience with 1,500 options of fabric, styling, and fit for coordinates of suits, shirts, ties, sport coats, and footwear. His appointments, which take him from showroom to boardroom and homes, provide a broad range of professional power brokers an extensive, unique, and personalized shopping experience like none other.

How he got the job: Due to the change in consumer buying habits in the afermath of the economic downturn, Cooke took off a season to analyze his career options and to move closer to family in Philadelphia. Fortuitously, this break coincided with the company’s hiring needs. Cooke began his career at Brooks Brothers in 2010 as a specialized sales associate. He was promoted twice, first as a made-to-measure associate and in 2011 as a master specialist.

Training: Cooke brought to Brooks Brothers 25 years of experience in haberdashery and luxury clothing. “My initial training came from working in my own store.”

Talents: Because the role entails knowing and retaining personal and even intimate details of the client’s life and needs, listening and communicating skills, as well as discernment, are of utmost importance in getting customers to the level of satisfaction they expect. “Knowing how to maneuver around what they think is best and the image they have of themselves against what works best requires a dance of diplomacy and knowledge.” Trust and relationship building have also been very important to Cooke’s success and ability to service and increase his clientele. Having a strong expertise also provides a comfort and ease in his exchanges. “Self-confidence is very important in knowing how and when to engage clients. It is a delicate balance of knowing when to showcase the product, when to listen to the client’s needs, and when to cede to his or her desires.”

Skills: Cooke knows what looks good on men. He understands that proportion is the foundation of any garment, and how color and fabrication influence style. He can provide a detailed plan for how to coordinate the right look. Although not necessary for his position, Cooke is also proficient in taking measurements, a skill usually left to the tailor, but one that has served him well in assessing and ensuring an ideal cut. “I have a natural affinity for numbers. If a client has a wider girth and has a Fitzgerald silhouette suit, my experience tells me where to add more room while retaining a slimming fit. Or I know that the over-arm measurement is instrumental to a garment’s fitting well and comfortably, so I take care with both. These are specifics that clients appreciate.”

Execution: “The role comes with the lifestyle consultation that reveals when and where the clothing will be worn, as well as the image and impression they wish to present and represent. The customer is right initially, but after 15 minutes they defer to my expertise.” Cooke’s long-standing customers trust his knowledge of style and fabric. “For some clients, I order select merchandise pre-emptively, up to 90% of which is retained.” It’s invaluable for busy professionals who travel frequently. Cooke also serves as brand ambassador, focused on extensive aspects of customer service, including follow-up, which transforms patrons into lifelong clients

Learning Curve: Navigating the world of affluence and influence requires managing a range of professional and personal demands. “Know when to digress and even to concede when you cannot satisfy the customers’ desires in a manner that is helpful and not offensive.” Sometimes it requires recommending a competitor. In so doing, Cooke must safeguard both his professional reputation and that of the company.

Advice for Aspiring Specialists: Thoroughly study the details of the product. “This encompasses knowing the history of the brand, origin of the signature patterns, and silhouettes, fabric, style, color palettes, and measurements.” Best lesson learned: Cooke’s motto is “promise less and deliver more.”

—Denise Campbell


Family First

New study underlines the importance of paid leave to working families

It may be no surprise that many American children grow up in a home with two working parents, but it’s worth noting that the group continues to grow. In 2010, the number reached 72.3%, an increase of 13% since the mid-1980s, according to a study by Rutgers University’s Center for Women and Work. The report, Pay Matters: The Positive Economic Impacts of Paid Family Leave for Families, Businesses and the Public Changes, indicates the need for workplace and public policies that allow workers to better manage the demands of home without loss of compensation and job status, and that the U.S. lags behind many industrialized nations in acknowledging its importance. Here are some of the findings:

As of March 2011, a mere 11% of private sector workers and 17% of public sector workers report having access to paid family leave; among those earning in the bottom quarter of wages, those percentages drop to 5% and 14% respectively.

A recent U.S. Census Bureau report concludes that between 2006 and 2008, 50.8% of women who were employed during pregnancy used some form of paid leave after their child’s birth. The likelihood of reporting paid leave was higher for women in several categories: those 25 and over, white women, married women, and women with a college education. Only a third of working mothers without post–secondary education reported paid leave time.

Analysis of the data projects the likelihood of an average woman returning to her company at nine to 12 months postpartum at 76.6% for a woman with paid leave; 63% for a woman that takes no paid leave. —Sonia Alleyne


Where Is the Love ?

How the level of employee engagement can strengthen or damage your company’s brand

PROTECTING AND MANAGING HOW consumers and clients respond to a company’s brand are naturally top priorities for any organization. What some companies tend to overlook, however, is how employees feel about their place of employment. Those feelings and attitudes about work also affect a company’s brand—particularly in a tight economy, says Karen Stevens, director of client services at RiseSmart, a recruitment and outplacement firm. “What companies really need to understand is that a really strong employer brand—protecting that and having employees that are passionate about their job—is going to benefit the company’s bottom line,” says Stevens. Surveys continually show that companies with high employee satisfaction tend to benefit from increased returns in profitability. For example, in 2010, companies with employee engagement levels of 65% produced shareholder returns that were 22% higher than average, according to global human resource consultant Aon Hewitt.

“When you have engaged employees, they’re giving it their all because they feel that the company respects them,” Stevens explains. “At the same time, when you are an employer of choice you are able to attract and retain the best talent.” Stevens offers several considerations managers should take into account as they continue to require their teams to do more with less.

Don’t take your employees for granted. The mistake companies make is having the attitude that employees should just be happy to have a job. “In an environment where you’re doing more with less, you want to have an employee population that’s excited about their job, and is giving more and is willing to give more because they are engaged and emotionally connected to their job. Even in tough economic times, top talent is in demand.”

Ask for input and exercise trust. Employees want to feel like their contributions are needed. They also want the opportunity to deliver results. “Management tends to have more of a ‘command and control’ attitude over workers. But the companies that really flourish are the ones that let go of that command and control and say, ‘I trust you. I hired you because you’re an expert and here’s a problem that needs to be solved now. It’s your job to solve it somehow.’ When people are given the freedom to use their own initiative and their own creativity they are happier and more engaged. Ask for feedback and input including employees no matter what their level, and then acknowledge and be appreciative of that input whether or not the idea is used. The employee needs to feel respected and valued.”

Remember that employees carry their experiences with them. When an employee leaves a company, what they share about their experience impacts a company’s brand. “When someone exits an organization, whether they were laid off, fired, or they quit, where are they going to go to work—a competitor, a customer, a vendor? In any of those situations, you want them saying really great things about you. So it’s really important to treat your employees with respect.”

—Sonia Alleyne


Over 40 and Looking

A better approach to finding work for older job hunters

DR. STEPHEN LASER IS A LITTLE apologetic as he identifies age, appearance, and attitude as the three perceived challenges that tend to work against job seekers over 40. While he acknowledges that it is against the law to discriminate against an applicant based on age, race, religion, and weight, as a business psychologist and managing director of his own personnel firm, he has found that “the three A’s” can impact a hiring manager’s decision during the interview stage—the most critical part of the process.

Whereas you might not be able to alter your age, Laser acknowledges that you can manage the other two. “Attitude is even more serious than appearance,” he offers. And what can sabotage an older worker is exhibiting their frustration with finding work. “If you’re out of work and over 40, in some cases you’re sending out hundreds of résumés and not getting a single response. So you get this coveted interview and you vent. The thing that gets most people disqualified from a job is talking too much,” explains Laser. “Because you haven’t had this opportunity, you just give an informational dump to the poor interviewer.”

Preparing yourself for the rigors of today’s job search, says Laser, will put you in a better frame of mind to “run the gauntlet.” Here are several strategies he recommends older workers should employ.

Expand your social media skills. It’s not enough to have set up social media accounts. You should learn how to maximize results on each platform. “These tools will be very important in your job search. There are a lot of community colleges and vocational schools that offer training.” You shouldn’t try and figure it out yourself, Laser insists. “Getting professional training will be worth your while.”

Make sure your résumé matches job requirements. To make it through the screening process, your résumé should reflect the specifics of the job posting. “Companies are looking for key words. If you’re applying for a job, apply directly to the ad as it is posted. Make sure the words in your résumé correspond to what they are calling for in the ad.

Prepare to be tested. Many companies are requiring that applicants take online tests before the interview. A screening process may measure your skills set and/or behavioral tendencies. Some are standard tests, of which samples can be found online, and others are customized to the culture of the organization. How you’re tested will depend on the job for which you’re applying. “Don’t make assumptions and don’t try to fake the test. Some can rule themselves out inadvertently trying to be clever.” For example, an applicant for a sales manager position may think that answers should demonstrate a highly extroverted employee. But depending on the circumstances presented, the position may require a more reserved type. Use common sense, he advises, “And always answer the way you are at work, not the way you are at home.”

Give interview answers that speak to accomplishments. Interviewing is the deciding factor in the job-hunting process. It’s also where many get caught off guard because they haven’t prepared for what may be the toughest questions. “In every interview you should be prepared to talk about success—what role you played—and also talk about the lessons learned from your successes and how you have applied them. You also want to talk about setbacks and disappointment.” Weaknesses to avoid sharing include personal frustrations such as being a poor speller, needing to learn a language, or working too hard. “Your biggest failure or weakness may in fact be your biggest strength,” offers Laser. Those who are great with people may find that they are always looking for a way to please everyone. Whatever it is you should be able to explain what you’ve learned from the experience and how you’ve been able to use it to advance professional situations.

—Sonia Alleyne



You’re on all major social networks with an impressive list of friends and connections. But could members of your network sell your skill set on your behalf? Maximizing your contacts requires more than staying connected online or showing up at networking events. It’s critical to be known for what you do. Look for ways to get the word out: Start by Googling yourself and making sure that listings align with your goals. Create forums to showcase your expertise. Your reputation will always precede you. Make sure it’s working for you. For more, read “Career Tip of the Day: Google Yourself” on

contact sonia alleyne at or @soniaalleyne

Rosalind G. Brewer

New Position: President and CEO

Organization: Sam’s Club

Location: Bentonville, AK

Former Position: Executive Vice President and President, Walmart East

Background/Responsibilities: Brewer will oversee growth and management of the retail warehouse club with 610 locations and more than 47 million members. She is the first woman and first African American to run a Walmart business unit and was also the first chairperson of the Walmart President’s Council of Global Women Leaders. Brewer holds a board director seat at Lockheed Martin and serves as chair of the Board of Trustees at her alma mater, Spelman College, where she earned a bachelor of science in chemistry.

Sharmaine Miller

New Position: Vice President, New Business Operations, U.S. Insurance Group

Organization: Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Co.

Location: Springfield, MA

Responsibilities: Miller will oversee the company’s new business administration and policy issuance functions for life insurance, disability income insurance, executive benefits, and annuity products

Former Position: Vice President of Operations, MapleLife Financial Inc.

Thurgood Marshall Jr.

New Position: Chairman

Organization: U.S. Postal Service Board of Governors

Location: Washington, D.C.

Responsibilities: Marshall will help select the postmaster general and the deputy postmaster general, and also control the expenditures, review practices, conduct long-range planning, and set policies on all postal matters

Former Position: Vice Chairman

Jimmie Walton Paschall

New Position: Executive Vice President, Enterprise Diversity and Inclusion

Organization: Wells Fargo & Co.

Location: Washington, D.C.

Responsibilities: Paschall will spearhead Wells Fargo’s enterprise diversity and inclusion efforts

Former Position: Global Diversity Officer and Senior Vice President of External Affairs, Marriott International Inc.

D.A. Abrams New

Position: Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer

Organization: United States Tennis Association

Location: White Plains, NY

Responsibilities: Abrams will focus on developing and innovating the USTA’s diversity and inclusion initiatives on both national and grassroots levels

Former Position: Executive Director of Eastern Section