Careers event tips: what to wear and how to prepare

Here are our top tips for students and graduates on how to dress to meet employers at university recruiter events, networking sessions and career fairs.

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You don’t have to go completely against your personality in terms of appearance – after all, you’re looking for a good match between who you are and your potential employer.

You need to create the right impression at any student or graduate event that involves meeting recruiters or other employees. This includes university-organised events such as careers fairs and employer presentations, as well as longer events further afield, such as company open days or the careers and networking days organised by TARGETjobs Events.

Get it right and you’ll build your skills and knowledge, make useful contacts or even get a head start in the recruitment process – employers do remember students who impress. Get it wrong and you’ll waste an opportunity, or be remembered as a candidate to avoid.

As a result of the pandemic, you may find that your event is held via an online platform. So, we’ve included some advice for how to get yourself camera-ready for a virtual event. Take a look at our article on how to stand out to employers during virtual careers events for further guidance.

Here we help you to prepare. See also How to network at careers events for advice on communicating well on the day and How to make the most of graduate job fairs for tips that are specific to careers fairs.

How to prepare for employer events and careers fairs

Find out which organisations are attending, identify those that interest you and take a look at their websites. Research what they do, what graduate schemes they offer and what the deadlines are for these. This makes you look switched on when you meet recruiters.

If there is information about which individuals will be involved, look them up and consider questions you could ask them that they would be able to answer. For example, if you’re looking at engineering companies, there’s no point asking the HR manager about how he or she climbed the engineering career ladder, or questioning a senior engineer about the fine detail of the graduate scheme.

Prepare questions and write them down in case you forget. You can always take these to an in-person event or have them on your desk in front of you for a virtual one. Don’t ask anything that is already clearly answered on a company’s website. If there’s a formal Q&A, at some events you need to submit your questions in advance.

Do basic research into the industry in question, such as current affairs and trends. You could also look at a company’s social media to see if they have any news or have been involved in any other recent events (eg webinars) you could ask questions about.

What to wear

For a virtual event, your safest bet is still to try to follow the guidance below for your whole outfit – not just the top half. Your leopard print pyjama bottoms might be comfortable but they could also raise a couple of eyebrows if you get up to plug your laptop in while your camera’s still on.

At formal careers events

For formal events (such as open days or those run by TARGETjobs Events), dress as you would for a job interview. Get your outfit together, make sure it is crease free and check how you look in front of a full-length mirror.

Men:

  • Wear a suit, shirt and tie.
  • Wear matching socks.
  • Don’t wear trainers, even if they’re black.

Women:

  • Skirts or dresses should be no shorter than just above the knee. If there’s a split at the back, check this will still be respectable even if the skirt/dress rides up a bit.
  • Check that the length of your skirt or dress is still OK when you sit down, and that the lining doesn’t poke out at the bottom.
  • Check that no part of your bra or your cleavage will show in any position (including leaning forwards), whether due to neckline or gaps between buttons.
  • Estimate how far you’ll have to walk and wear shoes that are comfortable enough. If you want to wear high heels, considering bringing a smart pair of flat shoes in your bag as back-up.
  • Avoid chipped nail polish.

Both:

  • If you have piercings, keep their decoration discreet.
  • It’s OK to wear religious dress.
  • Prepare an outfit that can be adapted for different temperatures. The building you’re in could have overenthusiastic central heating or air-con, whatever the weather outside. Layers are your friend.

Your outfit doesn’t have to be a plain black suit and white shirt. Colour is fine – for example, men could choose a colourful shirt, or one with contrasting collar and cuffs. You don’t have to go completely against your personality in terms of appearance – after all, you’re looking for a good match between who you are and your potential employer.

At careers fairs

At UK careers fairs, many students dress more casually but you still need to look neat, tidy and ‘presentable’. If in doubt, err on the side of caution, particularly for sectors such as law, finance and management consulting. Opting for business wear and following the above rules is a safe bet. Recruiters won’t mind if you look smarter than your fellow students but they will care if they can’t imagine putting you in front of a client.

At employer presentations

Attending an employer presentation or other campus event featuring just one organisation? James McFadzean, an employer engagement adviser at LSE, comments: ‘I would always advise that a student dresses on the smarter side of casual. Imagine the event was being held on the employer’s campus in the evening; would you feel comfortable with your outfit in that case? If the answer’s no I’d suggest smartening up. There’s no need for suits or formal business dresses, but definitely wear “proper” shoes and look presentable.’

What to bring

Making sure you have everything you need should help you to feel prepared enough to approach employer representatives with confidence (although nerves are normal). It will also give the impression that you're an organised person.

To in-person events

  • A written record of questions you want to ask.
  • For events outside your university, take directions and a contact phone number for the event organiser or the venue’s reception (in case you are delayed on your journey).
  • Something to make notes with.
  • If you’re relying on technology for any of the above, bring a back-up option in case your device dies.
  • A spare layer of clothing.
  • Women – if you’re wearing tights, bring a spare pair in case of ladders.
  • Anything else you personally may need – eg medication or a drink or snack to keep you going.

A few students bring business cards. It’s not at all essential, but does make you look professional and on the ball and is particularly helpful in networking situations if you meet people you’d like to stay in touch with.

To virtual events

It might be worth keeping a few notes on the questions you’d like to ask, along with a cardigan and a snack, next to you for a virtual event. Some more specific ideas are:

  • A charger – it might be a good idea to keep your device plugged in, but make sure it’s next to you at the very least
  • A spare device – if you know your laptop’s on its last legs, maybe you could ensure another device – eg your mobile (but on silent) – is charged and ready to take over
  • Instructions for accessing the event – searching back and pinning any emails or saving any documents with instructions and/or links to the platform could ensure you don’t waste time trying to get in.

Communicate your needs in advance

If you have any particular needs or special requests, communicate these to the event organiser as early as possible – a good time to do so is when you sign up. Examples including needing your medication to be stored in a fridge, documents to be provided in a particular format if you have a sight impairment, or for your dietary requirements to be taken into account if a meal is provided. If there’s a good reason why you need to leave early, let the organiser know in advance and flag this up on the day to anyone it might affect.

Article last updated 23 February 2021.

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