Career Fair: Conformity vs Self-Expression

Category: Professionalism

When most people think of business professional, they think of solid colors, closed-toed shoes, navys, blacks and grays. I oftentimes hear people struggling between conforming for the sake of landing a job versus taking a few creative risks to display more of who they are/who they want to be. When it comes to preparing yourself for a job interview or career fair, there are some pretty hard and fast rules I would recommend always following. We will start with those!

For the sake of appearing clean, neat and professional (which I assume we can all agree are good things)…

  1. Men-trim your facial hair. You can have it, but clean it up. Don’t make it seem like you just came out of a 2-week long hibernation period in the mountains (unless maybe you’re applying to work at Patagonia).
  2. Shower and use deodorant before you engage with other professionals. Makes sense.
  3. Avoid profanity, even when you are not talking directly to employers. This is a BIG one. When you enter a professional space whether that be a career fair or a company office, there are people everywhere who could potentially be evaluating you as well. Be conscientious and aware of your environment.

Next, I want to talk about some general rules that are recommended, but not standard because they may hold different value for different people. Normally we would say…

  1. Take out all facial piercings.
  2. Cover any tattoos that you may have.
  3. Don’t wear jewelry that makes a political statement (religious or other).

Unlike the hard and fast rules, these rules have more to do with self-expression and if any of these creative choices hold meaning to you, it may be smart to ask yourself—do I want to work for a company that wouldn’t let me express myself in this way? This answer is obviously different for everyone, but something we should all consider before presenting ourselves to a potential employer.

At the end of the day, we all have to make decisions that we feel comfortable with when applying for jobs and talking to employers. Not only are they interviewing us, we are interviewing them to see if we would be a good fit. Take a moment to consider your values, your priorities and think about why you wear the things you do. Let those answers guide you when choosing how to present yourself in a professional setting.