Careers event tips: what to wear and how to prepare
You need to create the right impression at any student or graduate event that involves meeting recruiters or other employees. This includes campus 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.
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 there, 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. 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. Plan what to wear.
What to wear 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 and look at yourself in it in advance in front of a full-length mirror.
- Wear a suit, shirt and tie.
- Wear matching socks.
- Don’t wear trainers, even if they’re black.
- 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.
- 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.
What to wear 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.
What to wear 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
- 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.
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, handouts 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.