Single mum-of-four Melissa hasn’t had an easy time of it. “The northwest coast of Tasmania is a little forgotten,” she says. “The local police station closes early, like at 2pm. This part of the state has very high unemployment, low income, high incidences of domestic violence and drug use. The need is here.”

Melissa and her children experienced domestic violence, which left one of her sons with significant mental health challenges. After acting as his carer for the past 10 years, she completed a Certificate IV in Community Services and started her job hunt.

“Youth mental health is where my passion is,” she says. “If I could get a job as a teaching assistant I’d be over the moon.”

Women, remote Tasmania, job search skills
A photograph of Melissa taken by her daughter for a school photography exhibition.

Melissa job searched for 18 months. After submitting 148 applications with zero success, she was feeling insecure about her experience and ability.

A local employment agency told her about Dress For Success Hobart, which could provide interview outfits and accessories, as well as job-search and career support training sessions – however, Hobart was an eight hour round trip from her home in Latrobe.

On the road from Hobart to Launceston

Dress For Success Hobart received a Community Grant to help bring its services to women in remote parts of Tasmania. “The grant funding allowed us to test run the outreach model in Launceston,” says Dress For Success Hobart CEO Amanda French. “We realised it was really effective, particularly for women in the highest bracket of need, isolated in their own regional communities – it’s tricky for them to get into the city to access the services we provide.”

Women, remote Tasmania, job search skills
Dress For Success Hobart client Sarah after interview styling.

Launceston is only an hour’s drive from Melissa’s home. She booked an interview styling session and provided information about her clothing preferences.

“Before we meet them we know their size and preferences, the type of role they’re going for, their age etc, that means we can curate the clothing we take because we’re limited with space,” explains Amanda. “We set up a mobile pop-up showroom, making it as nice and welcoming as we can so it mimics our boutique in Hobart.”

Melissa’s interview styling session

At her appointment Melissa met volunteer stylist Clare, who fitted her out with two pairs of pants, blouses and blazers, a handbag and other essentials. “They gave me choices,” says Melissa. “They’re things I can mix and match. I got a really nice grey Forever New handbag that I love, it’s become my new favourite bag. It’s practical, it’s not one of those tiny little things, I can fit stuff in it. I don’t know about you, but I carry STUFF! I’m ready for moving out of home.

“They made me feel like I was ready for work, I would fit in somewhere. I hadn’t dressed myself off the bedroom floor! If it wasn’t for those guys I would still be wandering the aisles of Kmart, thinking ‘I don’t know what I’m doing here’.”

Women, remote Tasmania, job search skills
Dress For Success Hobart client Ashmita after interview styling.

She also found the language the volunteers used heartening. “They said ‘when you get a job’ not ‘if you get a job’,” explains Melissa. “I thought, ‘ok these people have faith in me’.

“Before I was thinking I’m never going to get anything, I’ve left my run too late, nobody’s interested. I came away knowing I’m better than I think I am. I came away thinking I’m capable of this.”

Interview skills and career mentoring

During the styling session Clare offered to take Melissa through a career support session over the phone, and Melissa took advantage of the opportunity the next week.

“Clare is the type of person you feel like you’ve known for ages, she’s very warm,” says Melissa. “We talked about wording applications, language to use in an interview, how to apply life skills to a skill set. There was lots of ‘don’t sell yourself short!’

Women, remote Tasmania, job search skills
Volunteer stylist Clare loading donations into the car. Clare has recently taken a paid position with the charity as Boutique Coordinator.

“Since then I’ve turned into the really irritating person that goes to events and community meetings and just bugs people for jobs. Before I was like ‘don’t be that person, don’t be irritating, shut up before you look silly’. Now I really don’t care – you’ve got something I want and I just don’t think you know how good I am right now, so I’m going to tell you!”

Reaching women experiencing disadvantage Tasmania-wide

And there’s more good news.

“In Hobart we have a big, beautiful boutique full of clothes in every size, colour, shape, pattern you can think of. When you go on the road you have to take it all with you,” says Amanda. “We’ve built a partnership with a local car company that loan us utes to transport the clothes.

“But most importantly, the Foundation’s funding has allowed us to test this outreach model, has taught us what works and what doesn’t. We were able to put those results into a grant application for federal funding – and we have just received federal funding for the next two years to do a full state-wide expansion of this program! We wouldn’t have been in the position to do this without the Community Grant.”

Women, remote Tasmania, job search skills
Dress For Success Hobart client Maggie after interview styling.

About the Community Grants Program

Every year the Sisters of Charity Foundation provides grants of up to $15,000 to small not-for-profits across Australia, like Dress For Success Hobart, that use clever ways to fight disadvantage, loneliness, suffering and oppression. Learn more at Community Grants Program.

How We Help

Each year we’re able to make a difference to thousands of people across the country with funds generously donated by compassionate Australians. We support initiatives that focus on benefiting the disadvantaged, marginalised and socially isolated people in our community.

Find out more