Why You Want to Dress For Success At A Career Fair

You can do yourself a great disservice as a transitioning or veteran job seeker by not dressing up to meet prospective employers – whether at job fairs, other types of multi-employer hiring conferences, or one-on-one interviews. Most people dress better for the one-on-one’s than the jobs fairs, but many show up under-dressed for all occasions.

This article deals with the “why’s” of dressing up, without going into much detail of exactly what to wear. The article gives nine reasons for not dressing up for a military-to-civilian job fair, and the responses that a recruiter at the fair would make.

**1. I didn’t know you were supposed to dress up.**

Part of what you learned in the military was to be prepared going into an engagement. Another part was to take responsibility for your own preparation as a member of a unit. You need to take similar responsibilities in civilian life; you did not do that if you did not get the word on dress.

Most organizations that produce military-to-civilian events offer plenty of advice on preparation on their websites; and there is a lot of similar advice on the Internet. Also, veterans who transitioned fairly recently must have heard something about how to dress for interviews during their Transition GPS (Goals, Plans, Success) sessions – or, in the case of earlier transitions, their Transition Assistance Program (TAP) sessions.

**2. I don’t want to dress up – that’s just not me.**

I don’t want to pretend to be somebody I’m not. Recruiters for organizations that regularly hire veterans understand – and so should you – that, when you dress up for a hiring event, you are not “saying” that you dress that way all the time. In addition, you are not committing yourself to dressing like that at work – companies have dress codes or customary ways of dressing, and you can discuss that subject during interviews.

You are saying that you understand the appropriateness of dress and behavior in various settings; and you are sending out a strong message that, if you got a job at a given recruiter’s company, you would dress and act in a manner that would be in the best interests of that company.

Think of it this way if you must:

(1) People who dress up make a favorable impression on recruiters.

(2) Recruiters use the appearance of job candidates as a rough indicator of whether those candidates would make good employees.

(3) Recruiters commonly eliminate from consideration those candidates who are poorly dressed.

(4) You might think that this elimination process makes no sense.

(5) But that doesn’t matter; so, to survive the process, you should dress up.

**3. People just wear shirts and jeans around the office in the business I’m going into, so why should I dress up to talk to a recruiter for a company in that business?**

In almost every job, there will come times when you will need to wear a suit or a business casual outfit. For example,

* you may have to participate in a sales presentation or a product demonstration at another company’s place of business

* you may get invited to a business luncheon or party where most of the people will be dressed up

* your company may want you to attend meetings of a professional or industry association

* if you work for a large company, your supervisor may ask all department employees to dress up for a visit by a company officer

If you are a candidate for an entry-level job, you may not see much of that happening soon. But it could, so you may need to show recruiters for companies in that business that you would represent those companies well.

**4. I am an older veteran who has worked outdoors all my life, and I want to continue to do that. If I came to an event or an interview for an outdoor job in a business suit, I would give the wrong impression.**

This veteran should stay formal for the first contact with the employer. If he makes a good initial impression, he will almost certainly be invited to a follow-up interview.

He should then ask for details about the follow-up. If it is to be a field visit, a recruiter and other company personnel might show the candidate the equipment, stock, and materials on hand, describe the company services in detail, and take the candidate out to a couple work sites. In this case, the recruiter might ask the candidate to show up dressed for outdoor work. If the recruiter does not do that, the candidate may have to ask directly how he should dress.

**5. I am going to a job fair more or less to look around and see who might have a job that would interest me.**

I don’t have to dress up to do that. The serious applying will start when I go home and access the careers page at the employer’s website.
You might miss a golden opportunity. At many job fairs produced specifically for veterans, almost half of the job candidates say that they will secure interviews as a result of attending. And candidates are sometimes hired on the spot.

**6. My qualifications are so good that all I have to do is briefly describe them to a recruiter and hand him/her my resume.**

The recruiter won’t care what clothes I have on. Someone whose qualifications are just as good as yours, but who makes a better impression otherwise, might talk to that same recruiter. Why take the chance?

You would never regret the disservice you did to yourself, because you would never know about it. A recruiter is extremely unlikely to tell a candidate, “I would like to consider you for employment, but you just don’t look good the way you’re dressed.”

**7. I have been to plenty of other job fairs, and I have never seen any more than about 25% of the candidates dressed up.**

Recruiters at military-to-civilian events expect to meet job candidates who have characteristics associated with the military. Those include a military bearing, military-like grooming, a mode of dress analogous to a formal military uniform (there’s the suit again), and a clear, direct manner of speaking. When recruiters meet candidates who have strayed far from the above, they may wonder what happened to them.

**8. Once the recruiters get back to their offices and start looking over the resumes, they won’t remember what anyone looked like anyhow.**

Many recruiters write down notes about candidates who made especially good first impressions. In many cases, by the time the recruiters leave a job fair, they have already selected a small number of candidates for follow-up.

There would be no outward sign that this filtration process is going on. So you might think that the recruiters are just describing their companies to the candidates – and that very little having to do with actual hiring is going on. And if you are not well-prepared, that will indeed be the case when they are talking with you.

**9. A lot of recruiters at job fairs don’t wear suits or business casual outfits, so why should I?**

How the recruiters dress has no bearing on how you should dress. The recruiters are not looking for a job – you are. Consider this: A sales representative who visits a customer’s office might very well be dressed more formally than the customer personnel he meets. At a job fair, you want to sell the recruiters on the benefits of hiring you.