What to Wear to a Job Fair or Interview

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There were many applicants for one low-level job for which I was hiring. The parade of applicants all seemed to blur together until one fellow arrived wearing a three-piece suit, polished shoes and a professional attitude.

He got the job.

Yes, business casual or even just casual attire are the norms in today’s culture. And if you’re out with your friends, shopping or traveling you likely dress that way. Heck, you may well have worn jeans, sneakers and even a T-shirt to a job fair and met with a positive response. Comfort is secondary to skills, right?

Maybe. But maybe not.

As a former hiring manager I can tell you that first impressions do count when you apply for a job. There may well be a case that the fully-suited fellow was overdressed. Some hiring managers might have thought his attire signaled that he was too conservative for the position. But in this case his clothing helped land him the job. Yes, he had the skills and other attributes we sought. So did other applicants. But the attire of this man caught our attention because it radiated the respect he had for our company and the position for which he applied.

Of course we’re not suggesting you go to job fairs and interviews dressed in formal business attire such as that suggested in the 1975 book “Dress for Success.” After all, you want to convey that you’re a modern, forward-thinking cyber security expert.

On the other hand, you don’t want to dress like the trendy tech experts portrayed on television. The Goth look of Abby Sciuto on NCIS, the ultra modern clothes (think brightly colored glasses, oversized hair ribbons and waist cinchers) worn by Penelope Garcia in Criminal Minds and the just-got-out-of-bed look of Roy and Moss on The IT Crowd are fine for television – but not real life. At least not when interviewing.

Sure, once you land a job you will likely find your colleagues dress casually. You might even be able to personalize your style up a storm such as the aforementioned characters. But avoid doing that as an applicant, even if you’re applying for jobs that will have you crawling under desks or sitting in a computer room all day.

A recent survey of hiring managers at job fairs found that more than 40 percent pre-judged applicants based on their appearances before they arrived at the booth. The surveyor wrote on Monster.com that casually dressed applicants were considered “irresponsible, less capable, less educated, less qualified and possessing poor work habits.”

Clearly funky, casual clothes may give a false impression of your abilities and commitment.

The answer is to trend toward the conservative. Cleanliness and neatness are givens. This is the time to invest in a haircut and spend extra time in the shower. Men should wear polished shoes and socks. Not sneakers. Not sandals. And nothing falling apart. Dress slacks – not jeans or khakis are generally thought of as “musts.” And don’t forget to wear a collared shirt. Tucked in. Consider what types of companies will be at the job fair, and what is their norm? You may need to go suit and tie depending on the culture of the company. You’re most always better off erring on the side of caution.

Women should also dress conservatively in a skirt and blouse, dress, or business pants and a tucked in shirt. Again, no khakis or jeans. And, like men avoid sandals and sneakers. Leave the mile-high heels, platform shoes and funky boots at home. Invest in professional, low-heeled shoes or pumps.

But cleanliness, neatness and somewhat professional clothes definitely count when you are at a job fair or interview.

It’s also recommended that those of either sex wear comfortable clothes (no skin tight outfits), keep tattoos covered, avoid flashy jewelry or other accessories and keep cell phones off. Carry your resume and other documents in a folder or professional binder or portfolio.

Think this seems like a lot of trouble and squelches your personality? It may. But you can dress as you like on off hours or perhaps even during your job depending on the culture. Job fairs and interviews are all about making positive first impressions that get you in the door.

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CyberSecJobs.com is a veteran-owned career site and job fair company for professionals and students seeking careers in the cyber security community. As a job seeker on CyberSecJobs.com you can: Search for a new job to find your next career. Best practices search tips: -Start with a more general search at first, and then refine the search as necessary via the Search and Browse tabs on the search results page. -Make sure you use all the relevant search terms for the type of position you want. If you’re not sure check with others in your network, professional associations or read through job postings. -Choose a centrally located zip code and use a zip code radius. Searching on cities is a challenge because a company may use “Northern Virginia” or “Washington DC metro” as the city for a job in Arlington, VA.

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