An economic slump can bring out the best in those who tap into their philanthropic side. The decision by a group of image professionals to give 10 unemployed people the opportunity for a complete style makeover is a good example. However, as Sonia Samtani, vice-president of education at the Association of Image Consultants International (AICI) Hong Kong Chapter, says, it won't just be about how you look, but also how you present yourself and the confidence you exude. 'People can form an impression of you in four seconds,' says Samtani in her Tsim Sha Tsui office, dressed in a red suit with flawless hair and make-up. 'People are naturally judgment-making machines, and within seconds of seeing you they will have made a judgment about your socio-economic status, education level and desirability. So it's vital to realise that your image has an impact, and can cause you to gain or lose various opportunities. I encourage people to have an image that is consistently maintained and congruent with who they are.' By that she means the coming together of the total package: attire, grooming, communication, etiquette and self-confidence. Samtani and fellow image consultant Priscilla Chan, also a member of the AICI, says the group wants to 'give back' to Hong Kong and make a difference to the lives of those hit hard by the recession. The way it works is that people can apply for three hours of free consultation, redeemable within a six-month period. Ten people - men and women - will be chosen. Applications are open until the end of November. 'In these competitive times, it becomes increasingly important for current and potential employees to present themselves in an appealing, engaging and effective way,' says the AICI. 'During these sessions, the consultants will assess the vision and needs of the client. They will create individualised sessions to cater to those needs.' The consultants will look at the candidates' business attire and interview skills, offer a wardrobe, colour and style consultation, and even give tips on the way to sit or stand, among other things. The AICI has also started a blog offering free image tips, and ideas for those seeking a new job. 'We are usually taught not to judge a book by its cover,' says Chan. 'However, in reality, people just cannot help doing so. What should we do, then? Face it and deal with the reality. Maintain your best image, inside and out. 'Congruence is important for us to earn trust from people and opportunities in our work and life,' Chan says. Her comments are echoed by Cecilia Yeung, a senior recruitment consultant in the business support division at recruitment agency Robert Walters. '[When looking for work], image is very important indeed,' she says. 'Especially right now.' Yeung deals with everyone from personal assistants to managers to chief executives. 'For these types of candidate, it's very important to dress well and to be neat and clean. Clients tend to be picky about candidates' presentation, and I believe that if they appear to be professional, have the appropriate kind of make-up on and are dressed well, it does make a difference.' Yeung says those seeking work need to have an edge over their competitors and although experience on paper is vital, how they look is also critical. 'If they come to see me dressed really casually, then I will tell them before I send them out to buy a new shirt or wear a little bit more make-up ... to have a clean look,' she says. 'This is always important, but it's a lot more so in this market.' Confident communication skills are also strongly advised, says Yeung. Being keen and polite are important too. And although the economic gloom and doom is easing the size of the workforce has actually shrunk. Samtani and Chan say the free sessions they are offering are for a range of professions, and that even though men won't need to worry about the make-up element, their wardrobes may need some help. Yeung says some men working in information technology or non-client-facing roles are used to being in the back office, so their attire hasn't been important - especially those used to boom times, when dressing down was easier to get away with. 'They focus less on their appearance, but I need to remind them of its importance in interview situations,' she says. Samtani says the AICI is offering the sessions as a way of showing the organisation realises that it's a vicious cycle: being out of work means you may not be able to afford the fees of an image consultant, yet not having one may hamper job-hunting. To apply for the free sessions, e-mail email@example.com with the subject heading 'Recession buster'. Specify the nature of your previous work, work experience, current situation and objectives.