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What to Wear to Career Fair

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Dress to Impress Prospective Employers

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, 16 to 18 percent of all job seekers find employment through job fairs. Whether you're looking to change jobs or you're planning to re-enter the workforce after being home with your children, invest in an outfit that shows potential employers you're a professional worthy of hire.

Why It Matters

We all make snap judgments based on appearances, and recruiters are no exception. The evaluation begins as soon as you begin walking toward a potential employer.

Before you open your mouth to speak or hand over a resume, the recruiter experiences a "gut reaction" that casts you in either a positive or negative light. Well-dressed individuals are perceived as more intelligent, trustworthy and responsible, while those in overly casual attire are viewed as unprepared and less qualified.

A study of 400 employers concluded that a hiring decision is made, on average, within 15 seconds of meeting a candidate. Dressing for success will help you make every second count.

What to Wear

Wear a business suit in a neutral color such as black, gray or navy. A pantsuit is acceptable. If you wear a skirt, make sure the hem is no more than 2 inches above the knee. You can add a little color with your blouse, but keep the styling simple, with a neckline that does not dip below your collarbone. Pair neutral hose with flats or pumps with a low to medium heel. Style your hair so it's off your face, and limit jewelry.

Wedding and engagement rings, small earrings (one per ear), and a single necklace or chair are all OK. Instead of a purse, carry a good-quality briefcase or tote to hold papers and essentials.

Make sure all the items of your clothing are clean, pressed and in good repair. Shoes should have closed toes and heels. It's a good idea to put an extra pair of hose in your bag in case of runs or snags.

What to Avoid

Sure, you want to be comfortable if you are going to be on your feet all day, but you will not impress employers if your look is too casual. Save leggings, sweatpants, khakis, T-shirts, jeans and sneakers for running errands and spending time at home with the family. Even if you typically wear a uniform in your profession, such as in the health care industry, leave it in your closet and opt for professional business attire.

"Business casual" may be acceptable in your current job, but you need to dress more formally for a job fair. When in doubt, it's better to overdress. To make the best impression, stay away from:

  • Clothing that is too tight or too loose
  • Items that are provocative or revealing
  • Strong scents
  • Visible tattoos
  • Excessive piercings
  • Too much makeup

What to Bring

Have multiple copies of your resume available to hand out to potential employers. If you've done your research ahead of time, you know which companies you want to target, and you may have several versions of your resume tailored to different interests and objectives. Many recruiters are interested in seeing a career portfolio, which typically includes a resume, a list of references and examples of your best work. Although most career fair interviews are short, you want to be prepared if you're asked to spend more time to provide more details about your skills and experience.

What Not to Bring

  • Children (may signal to employers that you have child care issues)
  • Cellphone (unless it's in your bag, turned off or muted)
  • Food or drink (why risk a spill?)

Remember: You never get a second chance to make a first impression. Professional attire at a job fair shows employers you're serious about getting hired.


Denise Dayton is a a freelance writer who specializes in business, education and technology. She has written for, Library Journal, The Searcher, Bureau of Education and Research, and corporate clients.

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