September 11, 2008

Job Fairs Are A Sham

Filed under: Uncategorized — numist @ 1:08 am

I love job fairs. I get to mingle with potential employers and chat about the newest stuff coming out from some of the hottest companies. Whenever there’s an engineering job fair on campus, I try to roll through, but a lot of job fairs are complete shams, and I’ll tell you why.

First, a story.

A few years ago I was a college dropout on the job hunt. I had a good job in an on-campus AI lab (super thanks to Gary Cottrell for having me), and was looking to strike out into private industry (without, you know, striking out). A friend of mine organized a job fair called DECaF, and I printed off a few resumés and headed down.

If you’ve not seen me on campus before, I ought to warn you about my wardrobe: I was wearing rollerblades (walking is too slow), torn jeans, a T-shirt from a previous job (Ultimate Spidey! \m/), and a bandana. This being an engineering job fair (more accurately, this being UCSD), all the other students on hand were wearing fancy shoes, blazers, collared shirts, even ties and slacks(!).

Long story short, the job fair went really well for me. I got into very productive talks with Google (among other companies), but I didn’t want to move to Santa Monica or the bay area yet, in hopes that I would return to school. I even got interviewed for an article on the event (if you read past the buzzwordy writing, you’ll get a good idea of how DECaF went), which is not quite like interviewing for a job, but didn’t hurt.

I’m told by my friend (the same one that organized DECaF) that in the postmortem meeting of the event, the administration was furious that I’d been let through the door to start with — I was a disgrace to the school and a strict dress code should be enforced for future DECaFs…

…but I was also the only person who got an offer from a number of the companies in attendance. Talking naturally with the recruiters and engineers about work and my experience allowed them to see past my wardrobe and see me as a person interested in both productivity and their company. (If anything the wardrobe may have helped, being on skates indicated that I’m very efficiency-oriented in all things, and being a sore thumb in the crowd was a real starter for the Google guys). I am comfortable in a suit, but why lie? I don’t want to wear one at work every day. A lot of the students there were clearly uncomfortable in their clothes to the point of distraction, where it interfered with their mini-interviews.

So what does this say about enforcing dress codes? They don’t necessarily improve the quality of candidates (something the companies care about), and they don’t make it any more likely that you’ll capture a good position with a good company (something the students care about). It sounds like everyone loses! Why not let the companies decide how much they care about how someone dresses for a job fair?

I have to wonder who actually thinks that a dress code is a good idea for these fairs? What benefit does a dress code actually provide, other than making everyone look the same? We should chat, because despite my poor taste in fashion I have been able to find jobs fairly effectively, and I’d like to be able to see why this point of view is so pervasive. Is it just a classic case of old thinking vs. new thinking?

I’ve been meaning to write this since 2005, but what brings it up now is that Cindy did a Job Fair today and the dress code was unbelievably strict; collared shirts, shoes (no sneaks), pants, … unbelievable



  1. don’t forget the required jacket! In Texas…in early September. *so hot* I however feel comfortable in a suit, and like wearing one so I feel all professions. But it would have been nice to be in jeans and a t-shirt :)

    Comment by Milami — September 12, 2008 @ 2:04 am | Reply

  2. Yeah, that’s pretty ridiculous. My best interviews have been in jeans and either a t-shirt or a simple button-up. I never dressed up for the job fairs, but I never really hung around them either. I usually went to the night sessions where they gave free pizza and Microsoft had cute recruiter chicks. That’s how I got my gig at Amazon, all while wearing sneakers. The horror.

    Comment by Brad — September 12, 2008 @ 5:33 am | Reply

  3. I didn’t even know there were job fairs *with* dress codes.

    Why in the world would they care?

    Comment by D.J. Capelis — September 14, 2008 @ 12:07 am | Reply

  4. I was surprised to read that being an engineering job fair meant everybody else was dressed to kill. I would have thought that engineering students would have been the least likely to dress up for job fairs!

    Comment by Tony — October 25, 2008 @ 4:28 pm | Reply

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