With the economy once again playing such an important role during this election cycle, the Bureau of Labor Statistics released the March unemployment numbers on April 6 amidst great anticipation and perhaps uneasiness. The final numbers showed an 8.2 percent overall jobless rate, a slight drop from the 8.3 percent rate in February, leaving room for a positive or negative spin from both sides of the aisle. Looking at the positive, the rate reflected seven straight months of the jobless rate going down or at least not going up. It also reflected more than $4 million in private sector jobs being added over the last two years.

With the jobless rate at least holding steady, now is a good time for job seekers to consider whether they are doing all they can to differentiate themselves and make a positive impression on prospective employers. My recent experience as a vendor at the 8th Annual Fairfax Mega Job Fair, representing Blacks In Government, a nonprofit employee support group, tells me there’s definitely room for a little image building.

I’m used to interviewing aspiring lawyers from local law schools for the summer law associate program at my agency so I’m used to seeing blue and black suits across the board, regardless of gender. And, even though I recently saw the occasional pink eye shadow on some female interviewees, there still wasn’t much out of the norm. But, the norm was not what I saw at the Fairfax Mega Job Fair, where I saw everything from shorts and flip-flops to jeans and athletic shoes. It was the suit and tie that was rare, even though some employers were accepting resumes on the spot.

What I saw at the job fair made me wonder if current job seekers know just how powerful image truly is and if they even know what image they are in fact projecting.

These are questions all of us should individually consider as professionals whether currently employed or not. And, this is particularly important in this distressed job market. That’s because research shows that within the first 30-60 seconds of a new encounter, we are evaluated i.e. the prospective employer will rate your visual and behavioral appearance. The employer will observe your demeanor, mannerisms, and body language. Importantly, you make an impression that sets the stage for future relationships or the lack thereof.

Essentially, you either create positive first impressions that open doors or negative first impressions that can close doors.

We’ve all heard the saying “image is everything” and while that may not be totally true, we should know just how important image is in accomplishing our goals.

This is particularly true with a jobless rate of 8.2 percent overall, which drilled down into its relevant parts show a 14.7 percent jobless rate for African-American men and an 11.1 pecent jobless rate for African-American women. These numbers are in comparison to lower jobless rates of 7.5 percent and 6.5 percent for White men and women, respectively. And, while we know there are other factors at play when considering the difference in the numbers, creating a professional image is at least the one factor that is within the job seekers control.

Shirley A. Jones, Esq. is president of the Region XI Council of Blacks In Government.