Going to a job fair or a career fair can be nerve-wracking not just because you have to impress so many potential employers, but also because you may have a hard time deciding what to wear. Whereas an interview almost always requires professional attire – a suit and tie – career fairs vary in the type of attire they expect. To complicate matters further, they host a variety of employers, all of whom have their own expectations.

Although some career fairs request that participants dress in business casual, professional or business attire is the traditional expectation. To determine what you should wear to a particular job fair, check the literature on the event – you may find information about what to wear in the flyer or on a web page about the event.

Business Attire for Career Fairs

If you are required to wear business attire to the career fair, remember while choosing your clothing that you are being asked to represent your most professional side. All of the elements of your outfit should combine to create the best possible impression on your potential employers.

Suit – Business attire requires a suit for occasions such as this one. If you don’t have one, choose slacks and a sport jacket that look as professional as possible, but a suit is highly recommended. Dark, conservative colors such as dark grey or navy are the best choices; you may choose between a solid suit or one with subtle pinstripes, but be sure to avoid any obvious patterns or colors. Make sure your suit is clean and neatly pressed before the event.

Shirt – Always wear a long-sleeved button down shirt with business attire, as a short-sleeved shirt tends to look more casual, even if it is a button down style. Your shirt should also be clean and neatly pressed.

Tie – A conservative tie should always be worn to a career fair – never anything too trendy, cutesy, or humorous! Traditional patterns such as a diagonal stripe are best, and colors should be dark and fairly muted. Never choose anything that will act like a bull’s eye to draw a potential employer’s gaze away from your face.

Shoes, socks, and belt – Although business attire requires professional-looking leather shoes, don’t forget that at a career fair you will likely be on your feet quite a bit, so make sure your dress shoes are comfortable. Never wear loafers with a suit, even if they are leather – lace-up shoes should always be worn with business attire. Socks should be dark-colored and should reach mid-calf, so that no skin shows when you sit down. Match your belt to your shoes, and be sure it is not too trendy – a simple leather belt with an ordinary buckle is always best.

Cleanliness and Grooming - Consider these the finishing touches. Your personal grooming often sends a message about yourself as a person, whether you intend it that way or not. Be sure that all of your clothes are clean and neatly pressed. Your hair should be neatly trimmed, above the collar if the industry requires it, and any facial hair should be well groomed.

Business Casual for Career Fairs

Although business casual eliminates the suit requirement, be careful not to think of it as too much of a break – you will still need to concentrate on looking your best. Business casual also offers a range of choices, some of which are more formal than others. In general, you should always go with the most professional-looking choice.

Pants – Even though you don’t need to wear a suit, the pants you wear are important. Generally, khakis or slacks in a conservative color (navy, dark grey, or black) are fine. Just make sure they are just as neatly pressed as you would expect a suit to be. Slacks that are wrinkled or show obvious wear should not be worn.

Shirt – Your choice of shirt makes an important difference in how professional your ensemble will look. A long-sleeved button down shirt is generally the most professional look, and is often expected even in a business casual environment. Polo shirts, while often acceptable in business casual workplaces, may not give the best impression to potential employers, so only wear a polo if the career fair takes place outside, in a particularly hot location, or if you know that the industry in question tends to be more casual.

Tie – A tie is not usually required in a business casual environment, but it is always to err on the more formal side, so if you are in doubt wear a tie; you can always take it off once you arrive if you see no one else wearing one. As with business attire, select a tie that is fairly conservative in color and pattern.

Shoes, socks, and belt – Even though a tie is not required, professional-looking shoes and belt still are. Shoes should be leather, with lace-up styles preferred; athletic shoes are never okay. Socks should still be dark and cover any exposed skin, even when you sit. Choose a conservative belt that matches your shoes.

Cleanliness and grooming – Business casual does not mean that you are off the hook as far as being neat and clean. Potential employers at a business casual career fair will be just as turned off by a dirty or disheveled applicant as they would be at a more formal fair. Make sure your hair is neatly trimmed and of an appropriate length; your facial hair should be well groomed as well. Always make sure your clothing is clean and neatly pressed, even in a less formal situation.

Creating a Good Impression

Regardless of whether the job fair you are attending is business attire or business casual, you have the same things at stake: First impressions still make the same impact, and could mean the difference in getting a job or even your income. For this reason, any time you are in doubt about what you should wear, overdressing is always the best policy. No one is going to think less of you if you show up looking more professional than everyone else – and it may even benefit you in the long run by setting you apart from the crowd.

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