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What is the proper attire when attending a career fair?

Nicholas from West Virginia University asked:

I have a two day career fair next week focusing on engineering. I am working on my master’s in mechanical engineering, and I have a question about attire for the career fair. I know not to do t-shirts and jeans. My career service representative said to wear a business suit and tie, but I have also heard  business causal (khaki pants with a collared shirt) is acceptable. I feel the suit would be overkill for the career fair, and I would feel more comfortable in the khakis. Which one is more acceptable? Is a plain color polo shirt an acceptable collared shirt for this situation? 

Hi Nicholas –

I recommend you listen to your campus career services representative; particularly if they have told recruiters that students have been instructed to wear business attire.  I know this sounds cliché, but you never do get a second chance to make a first impression.

Now – you might be thinking:  “But the recruiters are wearing khakis and golf shirts with their logos.  Shouldn’t I try to look like one of them?”

My response to that:  “You can’t wear the uniform until you are on the team.”

You might be able to get away with wearing khakis and a collared shirt to the career fair, but why would you even want to take that chance?

On some level, career fairs give recruiters the chance to meet candidates under abnormal circumstances and stressful conditions.  This is intentional.  When you enter the working world, you will routinely encounter stressful conditions.  From the very beginning of the process, recruiters want to see how you perform under pressure.  Observing how you approach a career fair will give them an indication of how you approach “non-standard” situations and how seriously you are taking the recruiting process.

People dress up for weddings, ceremonies and other special events because they are NOT ordinary.  A career fair is NOT an ordinary event in your life, so don’t treat it like one.  Wearing a suit might be uncomfortable for you, but part of the career fair experience is demonstrating how well you can present yourself in inherently uncomfortable circumstances.

Here’s one final reason to dress up rather than dress down for the career fair.

If you are dressed in full-on business attire (suit, shirt, tie, nice shoes) and you feel overdressed, you can always loosen or remove your tie, take off your suit jacket, and roll up your sleeves.  If you show up in a golf shirt, khakis and loafers and feel under dressed, your only option is to go home and change clothes.

When attending a career fair, standing out from the crowd is the biggest challenge.  You want to stand out from the crowd, but you want to stand out for the right reasons!

Good Luck!

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2 Comments

  1. I have a Nursing Career Fair coming up tomorrow and I am sending this out to all of my students. This is great. If anyone is interested, I have recently started a blog, “View from Career Services” where I discuss things Career Services people on college campuses’ experience and what we can learn from that. Feel free to check it out. –> http://viewfromcareerservices.wordpress.com/ Thanks again!

  2. […] What is the proper attire when attending a career fair? […]

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