Answering this query from a (female) candidate recently, I said: “Wear any outfit that makes you feel professional, confident and a million dollars!” She went away happy. But later, thinking about that response, it occurred that the choice of colour also plays a decisive role in the impressions that we take out of the interview room.
So, I decided to see what the experts have to say on the persuasive subliminal properties of variously toned outfits.
According to Google and other sources, it would appear that considerable research has been undertaken to define once and for all what works – and what doesn’t. And still, no-one seems able to agree!
Shared wisdom seemed to be that you should dress to impress but also dress to the standards of the sector. No argument with that … even if does mean you’re stuck with obligatory black as your main colour if applying for a job in committed ‘high’ corporate or the legal field.
Black is the No1 choice
But even beyond those areas, black is the No.1. favourite choice of most female candidates. But it’s a choice that clearly has different pros and cons.
As one analyst says: “Black is powerful, but not necessarily the best choice for an interview as it can create a barrier and is unfriendly unless you team it with a blue top which conveys trustworthiness.”
Whereas branding expert Karen Haller says: “Black can be seen as unapproachable, but if you wear it correctly, it can also “communicate glamour, sophistication, exclusivity,”. Black is a colour that is taken seriously. Consider brands such as Chanel and Yves Saint Lauren using black to communicate that they are the leader in their industry”.
In the view of another branding specialist: “Although many people love wearing black, they need to realise that wearing black is intimidating and aggressive and may cause the interviewer to become defensive. It can also put a barrier between them and the interviewer.”
Black? That’s a firm yes and a definite no.
Blue is ‘universally loved”
It is widely touted that blue is the ‘most universally liked color’. Experts say “it creates a positive response from both men and women.” Not bad for a hue that didn’t even had a word to describe it until 4,500 years ago.
Navy blue, in particular, is widely considered as a conservative and non-confrontational dark neutral with other shades across the blue spectrum appealing to both men and women from diverse cultures across the world. Some analysts even go so far as to quote impressive ‘statistics’ to underline (far-fetched) claims that candidates wearing navy blue to interview conclusively do better than candidates presenting in other colours.
More on track are the several studies that suggest: “Women (interviewers) tend to react more positively to blue based colors, such as deep blue-reds, most blues, blue-greys, most pinks, and blue-greens.” Presumably, these are to be used as contrasts with the faithful little navy blue suit?
However … to men (i.e. male interviewers) the yellow based colors are more attractive.
True reds and orange reds, peachy-apricot along with most blues are best. We’re advised to “use these colors if being interviewed by a male, but only in small quantities and as an accent color.” OK…
When navy or any of the darker blues are “artfully set off” by a crisp white, friendly light blue, fresh green or reassuring cream, you will reportedly come across as “approachable but also as an authority figure and an expert in your field.” Seems there’s a firm yes here for blue in all its forms.
Brown is generally considered stodgy.
Deep brown apparently does the trick if the area you work in is one of the caring service sectors, since it suggests that you are “comfortable and reliable”… although again it needs clever styling and contrast – perhaps with cream or pastels – so as not to come up ‘stodgy’. Don’t even contemplate brown if you’re an accountant! Or says one expert opinion.
On the other side of the divide, style forecasters are adamant that you should never wear brown because it can convey the image that you are simple and old-fashioned. And of course, these may not be positive qualities that in job interviews when you want to be viewed as forward-thinking and modern.
So, for brown? Yes and no.
Red is the colour that violently divides opinion
The fact that red does divide opinion so strongly is something to bear in mind when you’re interviewing with a panel.
Fans of red say that it imparts a feeling of energy and stimulation, power and passion. It suggests confidence, is memorable, makes you stand out and … and … well, what more do you want?
Red is the best colour to wear when you’re trying to persuade or impress someone, says Kenny Frimpong, brand marketing and development manager at Italian menswear brand Eredi Pisano. Red is also linked to courage, excitement, and energy.
On the other side, detractors of scarlet find it brash, arrogant and ‘over the top’.
“Red is over-powering and attention-seeking and not suitable to wear to an interview except as an accent color. It exudes energy, passion and confidence as well as aggression, arrogance and anger. Use sparingly, especially for a first interview!” rants one commentator.
You may want to re-think all of this if your interviewers are people of the Chinese culture where red is considered the luckiest and most auspicious colour of all!
No clear winner here!
Grey is the consummate compromise
Grey is considered the ultimate safe, sophisticated and stylish choice and a very fitting substitute for blue or black. But only – pundits say – if we blend in some accent colour –blue-white- greens- even black to avoid becoming dull. One courageous soul even suggested adding red!
Overall, most brand experts agree with this comment: “If you want to send the message to your (hopefully) future employer that you are both logical and analytical, then grey is the way to go. The understated shade works well for interviews in just about every field. Applying for a job where you want to show a bit of your personality? Dress up your grey outfit with colored accessories like a scarf or a handbag.”
Clearly a case of go for it! But, beware the trap of looking … well… uniform.
White is right (except for when it’s wrong)
For strange reasons known only to themselves the huge band of style mavens commenting online on what you should wear to an interview seem unanimously in favour of white outfits!
Oh dear. Picture a hopeful candidate travelling to an interview in a large city via public transport on a wet and windy day. Personally, it’s not a look I’d ever recommend to an interviewee.
Florals, patterns, primaries, pink, orange, yellow & purple are out!
Among the colours we’re advised to avoid are primary pink, orange, yellow and purple, lime green and in fact anything bright and also to leave patterns and florals in the wardrobe.
Unless – and the experts are unanimous on this – you are interviewing for a wildly creative role or to work with children where it seems the brighter and bolder is the better.
So in the countdown….
What did you get out of all that contradictory advice? (And there’s heaps more online)
Personally baffled and bewildered. I’ll continue to guide our candidates with simple advice to wear what they consider a professional, well put together outfit that flatters them and makes them feel fabulous and confident!