Career Center Blog

November 19, 2013

What are your wardrobe colors telling hiring managers?


During a job interview, communication is happening on many levels, from verbal language to body posture to eye contact. But have you ever thought about what the colors you're wearing are saying to the hiring manager?

Unless you're mixing stripes with polka dots or combining clashing neon hues, it's not likely that a color choice alone is going to make or break your interview. However, some colors can affect us on an extremely subtle, subconscious level. Something as small as a red tie or a blue dress may swing the odds slightly in your favor.

Writing in her book "Hello Job!" image consultant Alison Craig says that too many job seekers opt for the conservative colors of gray, navy blue and tan in an attempt to look serious and professional. To Craig, however, this is the equivalent of "human camouflage," which can make candidates blend into the background and become less memorable.

Craig, who has studied interior design and is founder of the 3 Impressions consulting firm, suggests that interviewees consciously choose a color that will make a subconscious first impression on the hiring manager. There is no one color that fits all personalities, of course, so you should learn what these colors mean and then apply that language to the type of job being sought.

Black: While not always considered a color, it is the safe bet for virtually any professional situation, Craig writes. If you're looking for a job in the financial industry, such as banking, accounting or investing, she says, "black is the go-to color." However, because of its popularity and universal appeal, black is also not as memorable as other colors.

Red: Perhaps the most primal of all the colors, red indicates power, energy and passion, Craig says. A red tie or blouse may send a signal that you are a leader and that you are decisive. This could also backfire by making you seem to come on too strong, so be careful not to overdo it.

Blue: Another common color, blue signifies friendliness and reliability, Craig writes. "You can never go wrong with blue," she says, provided that you stick to darker shades; avoid powder-blue tones, as they may make you look less professional.

Green: This color is not quite as common, but it does connote calmness. Wearing green, she says, "is a good way to show that you're peaceful and flexible."

Purple: This one's a bit riskier, Craig writes, and should be used in rare situations. "Men should never wear purple in a business setting," she says. "For women, purple suggests creativity and spirituality -- great for those in counseling or artistic careers."

Earth tones (yellow, orange, brown): Again, these more unusual colors are mostly for women, Craig writes. She suggests that they be worn in contrast to the skin tone of the interviewee; i.e., fair-skinned and blonde people should avoid yellow, while those with darker coloring should avoid orange and brown in order to avoid the "camouflage" effect.

Pastels: These "baby colors," as Craig describes them, are a bad idea regardless of gender. "Pastels send a subliminal cue that you are immature and not to be taken seriously," she writes. While they are OK to wear in the workplace in general, they are the wrong choice in an interview setting, where people are making snap judgments about your appearance.

Randy Woods writes about job-search tools, networking techniques and other tips to help you land your dream job.

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Karen Burns Karen Burns is the author of The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl, a career guide based on her 59 jobs over 40 years in 22 cities.

Kristen Fife Kristen Fife is a senior recruiter, career mentor, blogger and resume consultant based in the Seattle area.

Lisa Quast Lisa Quast is a certified career coach, mentor, business consultant, former corporate executive and author based in the Seattle area.

Randy Woods Randy Woods writes about job-search tools, networking techniques and other tips to help you land your dream job.

Former contributors

Matt Youngquist is the president of Career Horizons, a career counseling firm.

Natalie Singer is a Seattle writer, editor and small-business owner.

Michelle Goodman is the author of "My So-Called Freelance Life" and "The Anti 9-to-5 Guide."


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