Emma Duffy / Gavel Media

Career Fair Conundrum

It’s that time of the year again… The nest is full after a few months of minimum wage summer jobs and local business internships. The greens are flooded with student involvement tables and leisurely Frisbee tosses. The weekends are dominated by an assortment of illicit affairs. Despite all of this initial excitement, business school students, and those of the like, are tightening their ties for the most important time of the year: Recruiting Season.

Ambitious students emerge from all corners of campus dressed to the nines like a scene out of Ocean’s Eleven (the original 1960s version, of course). Shirts buttoned, shoes polished, resume in hand, their destination: Stokes Quad. The patch of well-groomed grass becomes a sea of pressed navy, white, and black, each outfit adorned, in some capacity, with that persistent pink whale. Although dressing appropriately is a mode to expressing courtesy, the dress code that corresponds to job recruitment can often ignite a sense of networking exclusion. It is enforced as though dress alone dictates your first impression with a prospective employer. According to the Boston College Career Center, “First impressions count, so dress appropriately any time you meet with a prospective employer… dress in an understated way so as not to distract the interviewer from the content!”

Some of the specifications of the Career Fair dress code include: neatly trimmed and styled hair, well-polished shoes, light perfume/cologne, and a simple, dark-colored suit. The list of dress code ‘tips’ is further divided between gender, with the recommendations regarding women’s appropriate style being noticeably longer than that of the men. Suggestions include conservative attire (avoiding “bright colors, animal prints, or anything lacey, sheer, tight-fitting, or low cut”), neutral colored tights, minimal jewelry and hair accessories, low heeled shoes, and understated makeup and nail polish. With all of these limitations and wardrobe constraints, ‘dressing for success’ seems to take on a different, layered meaning.

The world of employment makes this message quite clear: one tiny detail can make or break your job success, meaning that what you wear can have a large impact. Although the content of your resume is highly regarded , it has less power than most think during the initial hiring process. That’s because, whether we are conscious of it or not, the first thing we notice about someone is their appearance, and, more specifically, the way they are dressed. Consistent with this notion, Frank Bernieri, Ph.D., an associate professor of psychology at Oregon State University, found in a study that within the first 10 seconds of meeting your interviewer (known as the meet-and-greet), that person has decided whether or not you are right for the job. This is essentially the mechanism that drives the course of career fairs. Those who come across as polished and pulled together are, quite simply, more likely to be hired than those who do not fit themselves to business wear.

At career fairs, recruiters expect prospective employees to dress as a blank canvas, so that they are able to project the image of their company on you. They anticipate a mirror to reflect the ideas the company is attempting to construct. You are told to dress as plainly as possible to let your qualifications and charm speak for themselves—but what if part of your personality is expressed through what you wear? Or what if you don’t have the means to abide by the explicit networking uniform?

Your attire should not discredit your experience and dedication. You should not have to worry about conforming to a particular style. While still meeting the same level of respectfulness, what you wear should make you feel comfortable and powerful. In an environment where you are advertising your abilities, passions, and strengths, you might as well be marketing your true self, not a copy of someone else.