Dress to impress: thoughts after visiting the Career Fair

The Career Fair took place April 24 to May 4, for which the Portland State School of Business Administration and the office of Advising and Career Services put on eight workshops, several resume drop-in review sessions, and a professional clothing drive. The workshops focused on how to start off a new career on the right foot. Attendance at the workshops was relatively low. I saw 12 students at most. I say relatively in this case because the career fair drew around 600 students according to Greg Flores, associate director of career services for the Advising and Career Services office. Flores also informed me via email that seeing 7–8 students at these workshops is fairly typical. Some workshops see fewer students than this, and sometimes the rooms are packed. Flores said the workshops usually serve a more introductory purpose for students. The important part is offering students options that make learning these skills comfortable, accessible, and worthwhile. He encourages those with some experience interviewing, or a drafted resume, to schedule a one-on-one advising appointment or stop by during drop-in hours for more in-depth advice.

The “Everything You Need to Know for a Career Fair” workshop put on by the Advising and Career Services office covered the topic of attire. First impressions are irreversible and are most often based on nonverbal communication: posture, clothing, grooming, handshakes, eye contact, and smiles. All these elements are important to starting off on the right foot.

What I saw between 11:15 and 11:45 a.m. while watching students enter and exit the career fair was just 11 students dressed in business professional attire or business casual with slacks or skirts. The other 40 students I saw wore either jeans or shorts. If that proportion remained true throughout the event, roughly 80 percent of students were not dressed to impress. There were students in athletic attire, tank tops, and t-shirts approaching prospective employers right alongside students in slacks and ties. As a general guideline, no one should see your chest hair or the bottom of your butt cheeks during an informal interview. I bring up these examples because I saw these at the career fair.

The lack of preparation was surprising to me, but in discussing this with a few of the recruiters at the fair, apparently this is not all that unexpected. Recruiters I spoke with about their impressions of the fair mentioned that seasoned company representatives have gone numb to poor communicators and inexperienced interviewers. Students do not communicate well, dress properly, or interview effectively at first. All of this gets picked up some time after school for a lot of students. Flores also mentioned in his email that anecdotal feedback the ACS office received from recruiters was positive, and they were pleased with the number of prepared students they did encounter.

I stopped in again from 1:30–2 p.m. to take another lap around the fair. Employers were still as energetic, professional, and eager to talk to students as they had been during the first hour. Students seemed less willing to stop and introduce themselves during this window, and a higher proportion of students were wearing casual attire.

The students seemed well-represented across age groups at the fair, ranging from early 20s to early 30s. The workshops seemed to trend a little more toward the 25 and up crowd, based on my observation alone.   

More than 80 companies showed up to find potential new hires among the student attendees of the event. Private industry and government organizations showed up to find new professionals interested in taking the first step toward a career. Perhaps some students were not interested in the particular companies who decided to put out a table, or maybe they were already gainfully employed and pursuing a degree to open the lanes of promotion within their company. What led the majority of students to show up underdressed is not clear.

Among the employers at the fair was Intel, who, according to LinkedIncurrently employs the highest number of PSU alumni. Among all other companies in attendance, Intel is listed as the employer in 1,554 PSU profiles, and roughly half of these are described as engineering positions. LinkedIn’s data for PSU students and alumni reports 101,525 total profiles, with the most common area of study among these being the business administration and management degree.

With a lot of students pursuing similar careers with similar degrees, it is imperative to be competitive. Why were students willing to attend the fair unprepared? Perhaps they just were not able to make it to any of the career services offerings. Luckily for the students that missed the opportunity to attend a workshop during Career Week, these workshops are being put on all throughout the school year.

Students should make more of an effort to learn the ins-and-outs of landing the best possible first job out of school. The ACS office offers courses, web content, advising, and workshops to help students find the right major or career, secure an internship, and prepare for a job hunt.

Being your best competitive self while looking for work is what sets the pace for the rest of your life. Do the future version of yourself a favor and figure out how to land a good job now while your life is still focused on learning.