What colours work in an interview situation?
As a graduate, I know just how nerve-wracking it can be attending interviews after university. There is so much to consider. You want to appear knowledgeable about the company, the industry and the required skills, and talk fluently about your experience. In preparation, you can meticulously research the company, compile examples that demonstrate how you meet the criteria and a number of questions that illustrate your interest in the company and a desire to remain there long-term.
After speaking to top clinical psychologist Dr. Jennifer Baumgartner last year about the psychology of dressing for work, I decided to further explore the subject of dressing for job interviews – from a psychological perspective. I collated 8 fascinating studies and interviewed a clinical psychologist, two leading image consultants, an expert in graduate recruitment, a top fashion writer, a tailor and a colour psychologist.
Judy Scott-Kemmis is one of Australia’s top colour psychologists, and a bestselling author. She gave me some incredibly insightful answers:
What kind of colours do you think work in an interview situation?
“There is no one answer to this question as the choice of colours for any job interview depends on
- The type of job that you are applying for
- Your gender and the gender of the interviewer
- The message you wish to get across to the interviewer “
“Your colour choices and your personal presentation can have a great impact on an interviewer’s first impression of you – this is established in the first 60 seconds of meeting you and is a lasting impression that is difficult to change. So make it a good impression.”
“Look at the culture of the business for which you are being interviewed. Is it a corporate, legal or financial services business, or is it a young and trendy one? The former requires a suit or classic dress in a conservative colour, while the latter may be more casual, although it is still better to wear a suit for the first meeting. “
“For a first interview, I recommend that the applicant wear conservative colours such as navy blue, mid to dark grey, black or brown, in a suit (for both men and women) or a classic dress for women. Choose any of these conservative colours with a white, off-white or pastel blouse or shirt to soften the look, and add an accent of colour to add energy and personality – for men this accent colour will be in their tie, while for women it will be in their jewellery or a scarf. “
“Medium to dark colours are most business-like, authoritative and conservative. Lighter colours are friendlier and less threatening, but they lack power.”
Quick reference colour guide
Judy’s website contains a wealth of information on the meaning of each colour, how they can be used, and the pros and cons of wearing specific colours and combinations. Here is a quick summary of the main colours, and why you should (or shouldn’t!) wear them for job interviews:
”Navy blue is probably the best choice for a first interview as it elicits a positive response from most interviewers. It is a professional colour which adds an impression of authority, confidence, trust, honesty, loyalty, stability, reliability and credibility. Many bosses see it as the colour of the team player.
Grey gives an impression of sophistication and professionalism. While it is a strong and powerful colour, it is non-confrontational and does not distract – and it is less intimidating than black. Always add another colour accent in your tie, scarf or jewellery if you choose grey for a suit or dress.
Black is a powerful and authoritarian colour that can be seen as sophisticated or intimidating. It is associated with strength and leadership and is a good choice for an interview in the legal sector – otherwise, use it as an accent colour in a tie or scarf or jewellery.
Brown gives the impression that you are confident, dependable, reliable and flexible, but it can also be seen as dated and old-fashioned. It is a friendly and approachable colour that works well for many industrial job interviews.
White suggests simplicity, organisation and cleanliness. It is a great choice for a shirt or blouse to go with a navy, grey, black or brown suit.
Red is over-powering and attention-seeking and not suitable to wear to an interview except as an accent colour. It exudes energy, passion and confidence as well as aggression, arrogance and anger. Use sparingly, especially for a first interview!
Green, yellow, purple and orange are distracting and memorable colours that are more suitable for creative or media jobs. Use these colours carefully as they don’t always elicit a positive response in a job interview. Green is sometimes viewed negatively as an untrustworthy colour, while orange can look unprofessional and cheap.”
“Women tend to react more positively to blue-based colours, such as deep blue- reds, most blues, blue-greys, most pinks, and blue-greens. Use these colours when being interviewed by a female.”
“To men, the yellow based colours are more attractive. True reds and orange reds, peachy-apricot and most blues are best. Use these colours only as accents if being interviewed by a male.”
“Blue is the most universally liked colour, and it creates a positive response from both men and women. It is the safest colour to use as it is conservative and non- confrontational and loved universally by men and women in most cultures.”
“Plain colours are better than patterns, woven fabrics are better than knits. Matte colours and finishes are better than shiny”
What advice would you give to graduates applying for their first job?
“Take pride in your appearance –make sure your shoes are clean and polished, no body piercings, and cover any tattoos. Remember that often the interviewer may be older and more conservative. Don’t offend with your appearance. Play it safe and dress in tailored, structured and classic clothing, unless you are applying for a very creative job. Dress conservatively and understated –this doesn’t usually offend anyone.”
“Choose conservative, neutral colours rather than bright colours –medium to dark colours in blue, grey, black and brown are the most conservative and authoritative. Add small accents of other colours to show your personality. Read the previous information on what colours mean to make your choices.”
“For men, wear a conservative tie, at least for the first interview, in a plain colour that works with your suit. Wear dark socks that match either your shoes or your trousers. Make sure your shoes are clean and polished, and not worn. Don’t wear jumpers or cardigans. Make your tie the right length –it should meet your belt buckle when you are standing straight.”
“For women, wear minimal makeup and no chunky jewellery –keep it understated and minimal. With accessories, less is more, when going for a job interview. Have a neat and professional hair style. Wear light or skin coloured hosiery with conservative shoes that match your clothing, or just plain black shoes. Be modest and wear classic tailored clothing -no plunging necklines, no tight clothing and no short skirts.”
“Remember, these choices are just for the interview and to help you get the job –once you have it, you can dress more to suit your personality and the everyday culture and expectations of your new employer.”