A job fair is an excellent opportunity to meet future employers and leave an impression, so you will definitely want to look presentable and appropriately dressed for it.
But choosing what to wear is easier said than done. You wouldn’t want to turn out under-dressed or to overdo your attire.
So what should you wear to a job fair?
Here are 18 expert tips from people in charge who reveal their answers to this very important question:
CEO & Chairman, The Energists
I like the saying “dress for the job you want to get.”
It’s kind of a cliche, but it’s good advice. Find some pictures online of your ideal workplace. If they’re wearing suits, wear a suit to the job fair. If the employees work in casual clothes, you can go for business casual at the job fair (e.g., khakis and a polo, or a similar combination).
As far as specifics, I think it’s easier to list what you shouldn’t wear.
Don’t wear athletic gear
This includes sneakers, sweat pants, and yoga pants (leggings are fine if worn under a skirt or dress).
Other “don’t “s include t-shirts, jeans, shorts, baseball caps, and sandals (even for women wearing skirts; if it’s an open-toe shoe, it should be a dress shoe).
On the other side of the spectrum, you can dress too formally
Men can wear a three-piece suit but shouldn’t wear a tux. For women, a nice dress can be appropriate but don’t wear an evening dress, prom dress, or gown. Over-dressing in this way is as clear a sign of inexperience as under-dressing– you’ll stand out, but not in a good way. Anything in between these two extremes should be fine.
How you style yourself can be just as important as what you wear
Keep all make-up and jewelry tasteful and make sure your hair is at least clean and brushed. If you have any facial piercings (e.g., a nose or eyebrow ring), you may want to remove them, although these are more and more common in the workplace, especially nose studs.
The same thing goes for tattoos. Ten years ago, I would have said definitely cover them. That’s still a good idea for most corporate fields, but it’s not the deal-breaker it used to be.
As a final word, I’ll say that appearance is important for your first impression, but what you know is still what really matters.
I have never refused a qualified applicant because I didn’t like the outfit he wore to a job fair. Looking professional is just a way to stand out from the crowd; don’t waste too much time stressing about it.
Also, remember that you’re going to be walking around a lot at a job fair, so make sure you’re comfortable, too. You want to be focused on talking to potential employers, not how much your feet hurt in your new shoes.
Award-Winning Career Transitions Coach | Founder, WhatWork
Job fairs are an excellent opportunity to:
- Find out more about companies you may be interested in
- Strike conversations with recruiters – nothing beats personal contact!
- Ask questions that you cannot find answers to by checking the company website
- Practice your elevator pitch ( short, succinct self-introduction)
- Practice basic interviewing skills, including reverse interview (questions you ask employers)
- Practice being ‘memorable’ -what to say and do so that recruiters remember you?
- Network with other participants and exhibitors/providers
- Feel the pulse of the job market and current opportunities within your industry
Your appearance and what you wear are also essential. Think about it – if you were considering someone to employ them, would you give advantage to someone sloppy who looks untidy and messy or to someone who looks smart and poised?
While attire is not everything, it can make a whole lot of difference
When we communicate with others and ‘present’ ourselves, we are doing so with looks, appearance, posture, body language, tone of voice, by what we are saying and how we are saying it.
You certainly do not want to be remembered by looking ‘out of place’ by wearing something excessively flamboyant or inappropriate. Still, equally, you do not want to totally blend in and become ‘invisible’ by wearing a non-descript suit of neutral colors.
You want to look smart but also have your own personality come through, for example, by adding an accessory such as a tie, a scarf or earrings, and infusing a little color.
Depending on your industry, the dress code can vary
If you are looking for work in a start-up as a developer, you will most likely not dress the same as if you were looking for a consulting role in a Big 4 firm. The important thing is that you feel comfortable in your skin and your attire.
It is important that your inner confidence and ease shines through
A thorough preparation for the job fair, researching the participating companies, and making your target list of those you want to speak to, arriving early, and knowing what you want to ask and find out, will make that achievable.
Then, a good, smart, well-fitting outfit becomes just icing on the cake.
Retired Associate Professor of Management & Human Resources
These days in many organizations, “casual Friday” attire has effectively become the normal “dress code” all week long. So given ever-changing fashion trends and workplace customs, what would be the “expected” attire for young, ambitious students who seek future opportunities in the business world?
Maybe (so-called) “business casual” would be acceptable to most recruiters at job fairs, but how could any student really know that for sure?
Many years ago, in late May, as one of my organization’s regional managers, I was invited to a company-sponsored cocktail party the evening before the start of a national meeting in Tampa, Florida. The regional managers in attendance were meeting our new CEO face-to-face for the first time, and we were told (in an official memo) that the dress was “business casual.”
Many of my colleagues showed up wearing golf shirts and khakis. One even sported well-worn boat shoes — without socks, of course! I played it safe and wore a light blue dress shirt, navy slacks, and a summer sports coat. I was “casual” in that my collar was open, and I had no tie.
Imagine how surprised my khaki-clad colleagues were when our new CEO arrived in a three-piece, pinstriped “bankers” suit, sporting gold cufflinks, and wearing an expensive silk tie! He looked like he was ready for a board meeting, rather than a “business casual” Florida cocktail party.
The point is, you’ll rarely get a second chance to make a lasting “good impression!”
Given the competition these days, it can be very difficult for students to make good connections with “employers of choice” before graduation in the first place.
So why would anybody want to risk “under-dressing” at a job fair?
Dressing up makes most people feel more confident about themselves, and that confidence will positively impact their tone of voice and general demeanor during interactions with recruiters. Further, confidence is a trait that most employers value, and it can set one future job candidate apart from the others.
Related: Why is Self Confidence Important?
Finally, if you’re unsure of the attire that most recruiters would deem “acceptable,” simply follow the style of dress that the recruiters exhibit themselves while working at the job fair.
While you may seem to be “overdressing” a bit in the eyes of your student colleagues, the opinions of one’s potential employer are what matters the most!
Thus, if a student had been to classes that day wearing a T-shirt, “fashionably-torn” faded jeans, and flip-flops, he or she should go back to the dorm and change into a suit before heading to the job fair. The old adage that says, “Dress for the job you seek” is still good advice!
Career Expert | Author, Your Personal Career Coach
Whether it’s a job fair or an interview, you always want to make a good first impression. And your outfit will definitely contribute to that.
Remember, you are there about business
While you may want to turn heads outside of work, when it comes to business, you want to make eye contact. So, be yourself and be comfortable, but most importantly, dress to make eye contact and share your unique capabilities to add value to the company.
For women, I recommend slacks and a crisp blouse; a dress; or a skirt and blouse.
For a job fair, a blazer is not required, but if you want to wear one, there is no downside.
For men, I recommend a sportcoat, pressed shirt and slacks.
A suit or coat and tie will add a nice touch but are not required at a job fair.
Clothing and accessories should be clean, not wrinkled, and not obviously worn. Your shoes should be in good shape and polished, your hair should be neat and styled. Be sure to smile when you talk to people. Your smile will show you are self-assured and capable.
Whatever you wear, wear it with confidence
Going into the job fair, knowing you can deliver results and help the company achieve its goals. Once you’ve got your outfit down, it’s how you conduct yourself and what you say that matters most to get you the interview and job.
Always dress one level higher than the job calls for
For professional and management jobs
Men should wear a suit, starched white dress shirt, and silk tie – even if such formality would not be required on-the-job
Women should wear a very nice dress – even if they might be able to wear pants if hired.
For lower-level or “blue-collar” jobs
Dress in very clean, pressed, and neat clothing.
The first impression a job hunter makes is her or his physical appearance – and not their words nor work history, so make a terrific physical impression by dressing very nicely when they first see you.
Lead Developer and CTO, Gunner Technology
The standard dress code I advise everyone when job hunting is to dress appropriately for the job you’re interviewing for.
With regards to tech jobs, which are probably the most sought after positions nowadays and something I can speak directly to, you cannot go wrong with a polo and jeans.
That may seem too casual, but that is what 99% of tech industry folks wear daily.
You could try and pull off a black turtleneck and channel your inner Steve Jobs, but that would be a bold move.
Professional Recruiter | Founder, Amplio Recruiting
There is usually a lot of buzz at job fairs, and chances are good you will be on your feet for a long time. However, this does not mean you should let go of professionalism in favor of casual comfort.
The truth is recruiters and employers, size you up and decide if you might be a good fit within a few seconds of seeing you, even before looking at your resume. It goes without saying that you should go the extra mile to make a good first impression.
Preferably, opt for a business suit in neutral colors
Of course, consider the weather when deciding whether or not to wear a coat. For women, if you opt to leave out the coat, opt for a long-sleeved blouse. For men, the bare minimum should be a shirt dress and tie.
When it comes to shoes, go for business shoes
This includes loafers or brogues in neutral colors and flat shoes or small/medium-sized heels for females.
When unsure about what to dress to a career fair, you are better off overdressing than under-dressing and making a bad first impression.
Data-Driven Business Innovator | Top Business Growth Expert
Co-Founder & CEO, Cleverism
As an employer, I must say there is no rule of thumb for “what you wear to a job fair.”
Kindly know your industry culture first. Be prepared, dress for the job you want to get. It will give the impression that you can fit in their workplace easily. Watch videos on YouTube or read articles to know how people dress in a specific industry.
Let’s discuss standard guidelines.
Play it safe
Both men and women should play it safe and dress conservatively or wear business attire
Many students will be wearing formal clothes. Now, you have to look sharp and professional at the same time. It will give recruiters a lasting first impression.
For this, men should wear a business suit (neutral tones)
Match this with a unique and appealing tie color. Pick some business-like shoes, and the color of your belt and shoes must be the same.
Women should wear professional-looking dress or pantsuit
Also wear heels less than 3 inches. To stand out from the crowd, wear jewelry of bright color. Shoes should be polished, and hair (including facial hair) should be nicely groomed.
No ill-fitting clothes
Both men and women must avoid ill-fitting clothes. It gives an awful impression to recruiters.
Founder & CEO, CloserIQ
Clothing really does matter when it comes to making a good first impression.
Look sharp and smart
One way to stand out in job fairs is by looking sharp and smart. One high-quality interview suit is an investment that can pay major dividends.
Select a suit that is well-tailored but comfortable. You still want to be able to move and talk without constantly thinking about your jacket being scratchy. Many department stores offer alterations at an additional fee.
Stick to neutral colors
Generally, it’s smart to stick to neutral colors so that your clothes aren’t talking too loudly. Get the suit professionally dry-cleaned after each use.
Gina Curtis, SHRM-CP, aPHR
Executive Trainer/Coach, Employment BOOST | Executive Recruiting
Manager, JMJ Phillip Group
Suit unless told otherwise
I always recommend this. A good motto for those attending job fairs is always: “dress to impress” to help you make a great first impression with possible hiring managers. If you do not own a suit and buying one is not an option, wear dress pants and a nice collared button up top.
Casual attire when specifically told
The only time this is not applicable is if they specifically tell you to come in casual attire. Keep your outfit conservative, modest, and always dress in an attire that you feel is comfortable while remaining professional.
You should not feel like you need to dress a certain way based on your age but more about dressing work-appropriate. Select clothing that you feel confident in and feels like represents you in a professional way at work.”
Group Executive Director, Nigel Wright Group
There will be a wide range of employers at any jobs fair, all of which will have unique corporate cultures and identities that suit different ways of dressing.
Keep it smart casual
It’s, therefore, best to keep it smart casual so the greatest number of employers can visualize you slotting into their existing workforce, be it a quirky or laid-back small business or a more traditional large corporate firm.
Chinos or smart jeans with a shirt and jacket or shirt and jumper, coupled with brown shoes, is a tried and tested combination. Alternatively, a simple day dress or a skirt and shirt pairing with flat shoes or heels.
Co-Founder and CEO, Gentreo
Set the right tone
Wear something just a bit dressier than the workplace requires of the job you want. You are not one of them yet, so you can’t dress like the current employees, but you can give the recruiter the impression that you could belong if he or she picks you.
That means if it is a start-up, you are looking to join, and everyone wears jeans and a sweatshirt, wear black pants and a nice shirt. If it is a bank, dress very neatly and formally. Check the wardrobe box easily and quickly move to the next step in the interview process.
Marketing Director, 28 Collective
As a marketing professional for over ten years, I have attended plenty of job fairs looking for potential employees and interns. Treat a job fair like you would an interview because, in many ways, it is.
Here’s my advice on what to wear at a job fair:
In most cases, business casual attire is best
You want to look polished, so avoid jeans, sneakers, and wrinkled clothing. A polished look gives the impression that you are responsible, organized, self-aware, and have a keen sense of detail.
While business casual is generally the best attire, there are some situations where it may not be.
Research dress code and culture
For instance, if you are going to the job to speak to a specific company that you are interested in take the time to research their dress code and culture. Many companies will post photos of their office and employees on their social media. If the attire is more casual, dress more casual; if the attire is more formal, dress more formal.
Human Resources Recruiter, Shane Co
When you’re attending a job fair, it’s, of course, important to look professional, but you also want to stand out from the crowd. You’re one of many each employer will be speaking to, so try and incorporate a piece of clothing or jewelry that speaks to your personality and is memorable.
For men, it can be hard to differentiate in a black suit.
Try working in a fun, novelty tie that’s not too over the top.
For women, maybe it’s a pair of your favorite earrings or shoes with a bright color that you wear.
Make your outfits both professional but also conversation starters!
HR and Career Coaching Consultant
Dress in professional business attire
Job fairs should be treated as if you are in an interview. You should dress in professional business attire – even if the company is casual dress, a candidate should never dress like that unless or until they are on the job.
For women, a navy suit (skirt or pantsuit) and men, a navy or black solid suit, along with shined shoes and appropriate accessories.
I will say that employers are much more forgiving today when candidates show up with more than ear piercings (nose, lip, eyebrow, etc.) as well as tattoos. However, I would still be somewhat discreet and conservative on what actually shows while at a job fair interview.
Employment Counselor, MintResume
Strictly wear your best corporate attire
Most job fairs conduct on-the-spot interviews. This is basically your initial interview for the position, and you must look the part.
Here are a few things to avoid:
1. Never wear rubber shoes. Closed shoes is a must.
2. Keep your hair away from your face.
3. For women, wear a little makeup.
4. Bring only the things you need. Avoid bringing too much, for you have to walk around so much.
5. Always tuck in your top.
Maritza De La Cruz
Senior Talent Acquisition Specialist, Combined Insurance
With such a competitive talent market, it is important that a job candidate dress for their client.
When attending a job fair, it’s important to know that first impressions are everything. Recruiters will remember you if you’re dressed professionally and remarkably.
Wearing a suit and tie is a must for men. For women, wearing a suit speaks to your confidence level and ability to know your client.
Branding yourself amongst a large crowd during a job fair event is never easy. Wearing clean and pressed clothes tells the recruiters that you are ready to land your next role.
Design Manager & Business Blogger, Mom Beach
One needs to dress as though they are going to a job interview
For women, you need to wear a tasteful suit or dress and dress shoes. For men, you need to wear a nicely pressed suit and dress shoes.
Look your best because you may be meeting a future employer
You want to give the most favorable presentation of yourself as possible. Be professional and greet each person you meet with a firm handshake. Bring a stack of updated resumes and business cards to the event as well.
As a hiring manager, I like to see well-dressed applicants in interviews and job fairs.
Too often do I see people arrive in jeans and a t-shirt. It’s as though they don’t care about their first impressions! That communicates to me that they may end up being an unreliable employee.