Career Fair: How Do I Clothes?

This question keeps popping up on Facebook every time a fair comes around, and answers always span from “suit and tie” to “t-shirt and jeans” to “giant banana suit”. Rutgers Career Services recently weighed in on this by emailing the entire undergrad a PDF sternly warning us that the fair is serious business where nothing less than a suit is appropriate, and inviting us to a variety of events where we can glean similar gems from presenters who have little understanding of the CS field.

For the Swag

I have no shame admitting one of the bigger reasons I show up at these events is the freebies. Staplers, USB drives, toothbrushes… All sorts of things normally available at outrageous prices from the campus convenience store. Pack a bag of some sort, so you don’t end up fumbling your loot for the rest of the day.

For the Job

If you’re at the fair, chances are you’re at least hoping for a job. Logically, you dress to fit in with your target environment – but that’s usually not a suit. Even in business-type companies, chances are the CS employees aren’t customer-facing, so dress requirements are laxer: polo or sweater and slacks is as formal as you’ll see or need for most interviews.

In fact, I’d say there’s a rather widely held unstated assumption that if someone is overdressed in this field, it’s a sign of overcompensation for a lack of skill.

Wear what you want

You want to look decent, so sweatpants and baggy t-shirt is out, but the important thing is that you feel comfortable and confident. I go with jeans and a hoodie, or a leather jacket.

Really though, your clothing doesn’t have nearly as much of an impact as what’s on your resume. When the recruiters are going through their stacks later, they’re not going to remember how you dressed.

Of course, I’d assume the clothing situation is entirely different in other fields.

Are you in the right place?

I landed my current internship from a career fair, somewhat surprising as there aren’t too many startups around these events. After handing them my resume and briefly talking about it, they had handed me a rubber cauliflower (to date the weirdest swag), and later emailed me a code check.

Talking with the recruiter later, I learned there were ~180 applicants that day, and I was the only one to pass the code check. This wasn’t a particularly hard preliminary screen, either – just a couple basic integer manipulation questions.

I won’t pretend to be the top of Rutgers CS talent, so why is this? Evidently, the competent students aren’t applying places through the fair.


You’ll want to find companies and apply online. You can show up at the career fair and drop resumes with the few relevant companies, but if you limit yourself to just the ones that show up, you’ll have applied to dangerously few positions.

And as always, “free yo-yo’s and hair gel” remains a valid reason to attend.

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