Reality Check: Would you wear a suit to a career fair/interview?

Maybe it’s an East Coast/West Coast thing. Maybe I’m old fashioned (I’m 28). Maybe I’m totally off my rocker. But I was raised that if you’re going to an interview or a career fair, you put your best foot forward, and that means dressing well.

This came up because my company is hiring an intern. So we went to my alma mater’s intern specific career fair. I would say 95% of the students there were wearing a suit and tie or the female equivalent. 90% of the recruiters that were there were in a company polo, 5% in suit and tie, 5% other.

We saw a lot of people at the career fair, and a few things stuck out, so I made a post to another board mentioning tips for students from the employer’s perspective. Most of the stuff wasn’t controversial - things like “speak up so we can hear you” or “don’t apply to a job you’re totally unsuited for”. But there was one tip that everyone jumped all over me for - “wear a suit and tie”.

In my mind (and in my boss’ mind), you always want to show off in an interview and that means dressing well. If you show up in jeans and a tshirt, that doesn’t feel like you respected us or our time enough to spruce up. That doesn’t mean you have to wear that at the office, just for the career fair/interview. In fact, 95% of the candidates at the career fair were in a suit and tie, and the only reason I thought about it was a guy in a stained sweater came to our table to get a job.

When I posted elsewhere though, the reaction was “OMG you want them to wear a suit and tie? Nobody will want to work for you! Why do you care about anything other than my mad skillz? You must be a shithole of a company if you care about dumb stuff like appearance”. (ok, maybe I’m a bit biased, but you get the idea).

Like I said, I’m 28, so I don’t think I’m an old fogey, and while software has a reputation for being laid back, I always wear a suit and tie to my interviews, and I’ve never had trouble getting a job. In fact, my boss won’t consider someone that shows up in sandals and jeans because he doesn’t feel like they respect him. And I agree - part of the interview is your skills, sure, but part of it is your personality, and if you think you should be be hired just because you’re so awesome then you’re probably a pain to deal with. Of course, the response I got was that I must be a pain to work for if I want to see someone show up in a suit.

So, which is it? Am I out-of-the-loop, or are the “kids these days” full of themselves? Both? Neither?

I work at a competitive college in the northeast, and suit and tie are practically required for students to attend a career fair.

One thing that jumps out at me is that this is something we, the college, have set up as a standard, which lets us be the bad guy (if you want to see it that way) and not the recruiter.

I wouldn’t wear a suit and tie, but I work in the logging industry. The rule I teach is to dress one step up from what you would generally wear for the job.

I don’t think I owned a suit when I was in college. I see a career fair (although I have actually never been to one) as the employers coming to my space to try to attract me. I should wear what I usually wear, they should wear whatever they think would impress me.

It depends on what kind of job you’re applying for. The guidelines I’ve seen, and followed, is to dress the way you would for an interview for the job you’re applying for.

Back when I was in the workforce, a suit or dress would be appropriate for me. For others, a nice shirt or sweater, and a tie if you’re a man, would be OK, or even a clean collared shirt and blue jeans for some people.

Yeah, I saw people show up at these things in ripped jeans, with all their piercings and tattoos visible, or women with their boobs halfway hanging out (if that gives you an advantage job-wise, you probably don’t want to work there anyway :dubious:), concert t-shirts, a baseball cap turned backwards, etc.

I’ve said this before in thread like this.

I work in the game industry. If you show up for your interview in a suit and tie you’re going to look like a clueless tool. It will be laughed off as newbie inexperience if you’re fresh out of college, but if you’re interviewing for a more senior position it will definitely make a bad first impression.

Jacket maybe or maybe not, depending on the nature of the job and the formality of the interview… But the necktie is definite (for men, at least: I don’t know the equivalent style for women).

Worst case scenario, if you’re the only person who shows up with a tie, you look like you just came from someplace else where it was required (and then you know not to bother for the next time with that company). If you’re the only one without, though, you look like a slob with no excuse.

I work in Silicon Valley, and exactly this. I worked an on-campus job fair - all the interviewers wore company shirts. it was for experienced people, and relatively few came in suits. I didn’t wear a suit when I interviewed for this job 16 years ago. Hell, most salesmen don’t wear suits anymore.

The impression I get from the OP is that the only alternative to a suit is a stained sweater or shorts. There are plenty of neat and respectable things to wear that are not suits.
How many Silicon Valley CEOs wear suits when giving talks anymore. That’s the culture.

When I started with my current company, one of the handouts was how our billionaire founder/CEO hated ties, and wore them, and jackets, only reluctantly when meeting with a head of state.
I don’t think any clearer expression of the de facto dress code is possible.

This is the rule I go by, too. Dress one level better than your interviewer (and if you don’t know what that is before you show up, you haven’t researched the company enough).

I’d recommend losing the tie before the jacket, but that’s just my personal opinion of what looks better.

Depends entirely upon what job you are applying for, but as I am likely to wear a tie if I take my Wife out to Chili’s I might not be the most unbiased respondent.

I’ve never had anyone show up for an interview in sandals and jeans. How about a nice pair of khakis and a collared shirt? Would your boss think that is lack of respect. I don’t.
If someone showed up in sandals I’d test to see if the reason was that they had too high an opinion of themselves. But I’m not insecure enough to think it would be about me.

Yeah, there’s a reason why clueless management types are called “suits”. Jeans and a clean t-shirt are fine. Button shirt also fine. Tie… ehh, kinda awkward but it doesn’t bug me. Jacket up to full suit? Sorry, but overdressing gives off the vibe that you’re compensating for undercompetence.

Well, if you think the only alternative to a suit is jeans and sandals, then yeah, you’re overly rigid and that’s a prime factor in someone being a huge pain in the ass to work for.

And honestly, a career fair is as much about you finding good candidates as it is about students finding jobs. If you were flooded with great candidates, you wouldn’t be spending otherwise-productive time schlepping out to this event, ya know? As such, it’s as important for the recruiters to put their good foot forward as it is the applicants–and* 90% of the recruiters are wearing polo shirts.* It’s more than a little ridiculous to expect a student looking for an internship to dress 2-3 steps nicer than the person looking to hire an intern.

I’d wear the suit & tie. But I like them for their own sake; I feel more comfortable and confident in them. I’d be wearing them to help me bring my A game.

So, basically, no matter what you wear, you’ll look like a clueless idiot.

Best not to wear anything at all!

My son just went to a job fair at his university. His major is in a science discipline. Suits and ties were de rigueur. We’re northeastern guys, FWIW. I’m in the financial services industry. Wouldn’t think of going to a job fair in something other than a suit, and if I were recruiting, I wouldn’t necessarily rule out someone wearing something else. But I might, and it would definitely raise an eyebrow. Show me you understand what decorum and respect is. Make that part easy for me.

As some of the replies show, though, every industry has its own cultural norms. So, I think a more precise answer to the poll would be, “it depends.”

“Suits” became an epithet because of the stagnant, non-productive, rule-making middle management in many established companies, whose only talent (besides fucking with people who actually made shit for the company) seemed to be the ability to wear a suit without rumpling it or staining it. The disruptive startup culture came out of guys like Jobs and Wozniak building stuff in their garages. The casual clothing is a reflection of the people who were successful at making their own business from scratch.

If you’re building your own startup, you can dress however you want. Silicon Valley may skew more casual because of the amount of startups and the background of some influential founders of successful tech businesses, but you’re not Steve Jobs. If you’re at a frigging job fair, you’re probably not even a hot-shot coder. Even for tech jobs, wear nice clothes: at a minimum slacks, button-up shirt, and a tie (you can lose the latter quickly and easily if you look out of place), and maybe a sport coat, depending on weather.

If you’ve got skills, that will be apparent no matter what you wear, but looking like you don’t give a fuck means the recruiters might not either. If you’re going for business or finance jobs, wear a good suit, with nice shoes, the best of both that you can reasonably afford. In such jobs, as well as sales, appearances matter much more. Unless you’ve got experience you can bring to the table, you’re just another new pretty face; dress it up.

What business are you in? If someone showed up to an interview with me IN ANY industry wearing jeans and a t-shirt I wouldn’t even start the interview. I don’t give a shit if it’s construction or McDonald’s or a teenagers first job interview. That’s never appropriate, even in the Super cool quirky game development business. I would immediately think the individual was trying really hard to show me just how super cool and carefree he was. That doesn’t mean I think a suit is mandatory, but jeans and a t-shirt is idiotic.

I’ve been to several of my University’s (Minnesota) job fairs over the past few years. I wore a suit each time, and also to every interview that came out of it. (Note: Minnesota has a separate, specific job fair for the College of Science and Engineering. I don’t know what the norms are for the bigger, University-wide job fair.) I’d say about 70% of males students there were wearing suits, 20% button-up shirts and ties, 5% polos, and 5% normal street clothes. Female students had a similar breakdown in their own versions of those dressiness levels. Recruiters were primarily wearing company polos, with some management types from utilities and such wearing ties, and some wearing just company t-shirts (Amazon, MS, etc.)

My one successful interview that came out of a job fair, I wore a suit, even though that was several levels above the people looking to hire me (field engineering - boots, jeans, and hard hats). That being said, I got the job, and was told in an aside a few months later that my being the only candidate to wear a suit was one of the contributing factors.