How To Dress For a Job Fair

Job fair outfits are a little more complicated than regular interview outfits. When you prepare for an interview, you know which company you are going to and what they do there. You also know which job you are going for. With that knowledge, it’s relatively simple to follow the basic rule of interviews: Dress as you would on the job, but one step better. That means that auto technicians who would wear jeans or coveralls at work can choose pressed jeans or khakis, paired with a collared shirt. Office staff who would wear pressed pants or a skirt to work might upgrade for the interview by adding a sport coat or blazer.

Note on desk with job fair written in black marker

Why not just wear a suit for all interviews? While that may seem like a safe bet, the risk is that you may so overdress that you look unfamiliar with the work in your field. In interviews, you want to look the part so employers can easily imagine you joining their team. To make this more convincing, ask yourself this: How would you feel if you saw your mechanic walking around the service station in a three-piece suit? Yep, that’s how the employer would feel too.

So why is it more complicated to dress for a job fair than for a specific interview? Mostly because you have to look good to the largest variety of people, in an outfit that will allow you to comfortably walk around for hours, all while looking pressed and fresh.

Let’s start from the ground up with a few tips to help you achieve this goal.

Shoes. Yep, gotta have ’em. But they don’t have to be the best shoes ever – just really, really comfortable. Stay away from the super-casual, as in flip-flops and open-toed sandals. If you choose tennis shoes, take the time to clean them, and try to match them to your pants. Bright white tennies under black dress pants? Not so much. But black tennis shoes can work, and will be a better choice than dress shoes that pinch. Bottom line? Since your shoes will not be very visible to the booth reps, but your tired, grimacing face will, choose comfort over fashion.

Socks. Again, gotta have ’em. Bare ankles jammed into the shoes will look…bare. Same with pantyhose. If you choose a skirt or dress, go the next step and put on the nylons as well. They may be old-fashioned, but so might the employer be. Do you dare take the chance?

Pants and skirts. Neat and clean are the watchwords here. Choose fabrics that don’t wrinkle and be sure you have enough room in the waist to bend and sit. It’s going to be a long day otherwise. If you have the choice between light and dark, lean toward the fabric that will show the fewest stains, should you make an unfortunate contact with someone else’s coffee cup.

Shirt. Collared, always. No t-shirts and for sure, no t-shirts with print. Ever. A short or long-sleeved shirt with a button-down collar will serve both men and women, particularly if it’s paired with a sports jacket or blazer. A special note for women: Check your outfit in a mirror by bending forward, as you might find yourself doing at an employer’s table. If your shirt gaps open and gives the rep an eyeful, you know you’re going to be distracting from the real message you’re trying to send.

Belts, ties, jewelry. Totally your judgment here. If something looks nice but doesn’t get in the way, go for it.

Jacket or Blazer. If you choose to add this layer, you will give an impression of casual professionalism, which might be the right middle-of-the-road tone for meeting a variety of employers. Since these items tend to be dry cleaned rather than laundered, check to see that yours hasn’t “ripened” since the last wearing. To be safe, have it cleaned and pressed.

Coats. Nope, don’t do it. Even if it’s colder than Antarctica, leave your coat behind, or stuff it in the car. Once indoors, you’ll be grateful not to have this extra item to drag around with you. Of course, they might have a coat rack – but then again, they might not.

Hats. Oh, for goodness’ sake, no. Of course, head coverings worn for religious or medical reasons are fine; any other cap is going to look out of place or send the wrong message.

Perfume or cologne. Nope again. You just can’t run the risk of triggering someone’s allergies, especially if you’re trying to engage them in conversation.

Face. Another gotta-have item. Make sure yours is clean and smiling and you’ll be headed in the right direction. Other tips are the ones you already know: beards are trimmed neatly, makeup is applied lightly, hair is freshly cut and conservatively styled. If you sport multiple piercings, try to downplay them a bit or take them out altogether for this occasion. And be sure to clean your eyeglasses if you wear them. Nothing quite says “not ready for prime time” like dirty, dusty eyewear.

Ready to go? One last test. Put on your outfit, then grab the over-the-shoulder bag you’re planning to use. Does everything work together visually? More importantly, can you wear the bag without bunching up the lapels of your jacket or getting caught on a piece of jewelry? NOW you’re ready to go.

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