I get it—you can spot anyone in a suit on career fair day from a mile away. Where did they come from? Why do I suddenly feel the urge to make a resume? And hey, there’s no shame in wanting to look nice for a career event—I do it, too. But don’t let that deter you from making your own debut at the career fair, or any career event for that matter.
You don’t have to be dressed to the nines for your outfit to be career fair ready. Especially for a college career fair, no one is expecting you to run out and spend hundreds on a whole new business wardrobe. Besides, you’re most likely going to be walking around campus before/after the fair and you don’t want to be getting screaming eagle stains on your expensive Gucci suit. So not vogue. Here are some things to keep in mind when planning your perfect career fair ensemble.
First things first, take a look at what you already have. Chances are you have a few career fair ready pieces in your wardrobe. Keep in mind that you don’t need to have a full suit to attend the career fair. Nice business casual wear is perfectly appropriate. There are many common items that you can put together to look great.
- A nice dress or skirt (of an appropriate to-your-knee length)
- Non-jean pants/slacks
- Button-up shirts
- Dress shoes or heels
Reach out to friends and family. You may not need to spend any money at all to look great for the career fair. Consider borrowing items from a friend or family member. This is a one-day event and I bet many of your connections would be happy to help.
If you’re going to invest, start with investing in the essentials. “Even if you’re on a budget, there are certain items that are worth paying a bit more for to make sure you’re getting something well-made and long-lasting…Paying more now will mean spending less in the long run, since quality items will last years longer than cheaply made ones.” (FORBES). You can’t go wrong with a nice matching suit set (black, navy, or grey) and a crisp button up. If you really can’t get a matching set, one or the other will do. If you already have bottoms you can wear, go with the blazer. If not, a pair of nice slacks and a button-down (topped with a tie or appropriate jewelry) will do just fine.
Stay conservative. Your first business purchase shouldn’t be a bright pink blazer or a plaid matching set. I know, they’re fun and make a statement. But that’s not really what you want to be doing at the career fair. You want to be remembered for your credentials or charisma, not what you were wearing. Plus you’ll get way more bang for your buck—essentials never go out of style.
Sale sections are your friends. The first thing I hit up when I’m in the market for new business attire is J. Crew’s sale section. Try department store sale sections as well (I find Lord and Taylor always has good deals going on). And, I would be remiss to underestimate places such as Express, Forever 21, The Gap, and Banana Republic. Some of the best compliments I’ve gotten were button down shirts from Forever 21. I still recommend investing in a nice pair of slacks, a blazer, and a button down. But for those more casual events, throwing on a Forever 21 blazer isn’t the end of the world. And no one needs to know.
Accessories. While many students choose to carry portfolios, it is not necessary. A simple Boston College folder with some resumes in it works just as well. Plus, you can show off your school spirit!
The classic “I have nothing to wear” excuse just isn’t worth missing the career fair for. “[Career fairs] are a great way for a candidate to check out a variety of companies, and can be particularly helpful for someone in the early stages of their job search.”Forbes
Not everyone has the whole nine-yards and employers don’t expect you to. They know you’re a student. They know you may not have the budget to buy a matching suit set. They know you are probably coming from class. The biggest thing to remember about dressing for the career fair is to just look appropriate. And if you have questions, the Career Center is here to help! Visit the Career Closet during drop-in hours to access free professional clothing or consult with a coach about your attire.
—Madison Mariani, CSOM ’20