What your colour choices say about you

Why you should never wear orange to a job interview

Elizabeth Bromstein|

It’s a question that drives many of us crazy: what to wear to the job interview? You want to make the best first impression possible, and look professional, but stand out without looking quirky or eccentric. So hot pants are out and suits are in!

But you also want to think about what colour you wear, as it can also go a long way towards making that impression.

A recent survey by Harris Interactive looked at what attributes employers most often associate with the colours that candidates wear to job interviews.

2,099 hiring managers and human resource professionals across industries were asked about the best colours to wear to an interview. Blue came out on top with 23 percent of the vote, followed by black (15 percent).

More conservative colours were said to convey a sense of professionalism, while “orange topped the list for the worst colour (25 percent of employers) and was the colour most likely to be associated with someone who is unprofessional.”

Here are some other perceived colour characteristics they listed:

  • Black – Leadership
  • Blue – Team Player
  • Gray – Logical/Analytical
  • White – Organized
  • Brown – Dependable
  • Red – Power
  • Green, Yellow, Orange or Purple – Creative

The study goes on to say you can’t go wrong with neutrals, such as “navy, black, brown and gray.”

Blue is, indeed, probably a good choice. Blue is believed to boost creativity and has all sorts of positive associations, according to a recent study at the University of British Columbia.

Researcher Juliet Zhu said, “Through associations with the sky, the ocean and water, most people associate blue with openness, peace and tranquility. The benign cues make people feel safe about being creative and exploratory. Not surprisingly it is people’s favourite colour.”

Red, due to its power association, will also make an impression. But you might want to use it sparingly.

Andrew Elliot at the University of Rochester has found in several different studies, that both men and women are more sexually attracted to the people of the opposite sex when they are wearing red than when they are wearing any other colour. The association with power was what made the men attractive. Elliot has also found that when people see red, their reactions become both faster and more forceful. In all of these cases, people were unaware of the effect red had on them.

So, if you’re going for a power position, red accents – like a red blouse, or a red tie and/or pocket square – might be a good choice.

Colour consultant Leslie Harrington tells me that our reactions to colour are contextual.

“Red, for instance, can mean one thing in a pill versus in a car versus in a tie. I think one of the dressing examples would be presidential elections and the tie the candidates choose. The first time Obama was elected, he wore purple, which is not too aggressive but not too conservative. Where red can be seen as a power colour, it can also be seen as aggressive. Blue can be seen as trustworthy and dependable. Yellow is often perceived as intellectual. Depending on the job you’re going for, you have to dress accordingly.

“If it’s a job where they just need you to show up on time and just do what they need you to do, red or yellow might not be the best colour. If it’s an agency job where you want to be seen as creative, you might wear purple or yellow, something other than red or blue.”

Green, she says, “is a pretty neutral colour. If it’s a bright yellow-based green, that’s associated with new growth or a beginning. Darker green is more stodgy and traditional.”

I’d actually be careful with brown, even though it’s listed above as a good one. Remember, these people are self-reporting, which isn’t always reliable.

Stephen Palmer and Karen Schloss at UC Berkeley have found in a couple of studies that Americans prefer cooler hues over warmer, and have an aversion to brown and olive. And another study by Joe Hallock proves that both men and women tend to hate both brown and orange – but they don’t hate orange as much as some other colours, like yellow. Hallock also found that women have a lot of love for purple, while men definitely don’t.

Obviously, this isn’t an exact science.

“I think for the most part people don’t like brown,” says Harrington. I’d use it as a support colour, not a dominant colour.”

So, unless it’s your absolute best colour, I’d skip it.

This isn’t foolproof. No matter what colour you choose, there’s always a chance the interviewer hates it because the woman who broke his heart had blue eyes and now he immediately writes off everyone in a blue shirt.

But we do the best with the knowledge we have.

Here’s a look at men and women’s favourite to least favourite colours according to Joe Hallock’s Colour Assignment:

Men’s favourite colours:

  • Blue: 57%
  • Green: 14%
  • Black: 9%
  • Red: 7%
  • Orange: 5%
  • Grey: 3%
  • White: 2%
  • Brown: 2%
  • Yellow: 1%

Women’s favourite colours:

  • Blue: 35%
  • Purple: 23%
  • Green: 14%
  • Red: 9%
  • Black: 6%
  • Orange: 5%
  • Brown: 3%
  • Yellow: 3%
  • White: 1%
  • Grey: 1%

Which could come in handy if you know the gender of your next job interviewer in advance.


Category: Job interviews,
 
  • Laura Bidwell

    What to wear? Perpetually, I find myself in this faux pas. I really believe that fashion currency and color varies among organizations. I have been looking for employment for a while, and have been directly criticized for not maintaining current trends. One could say there is definitely a catch-22 here. Look for work, but appear as if you do not need it.

    • Patrick Meguid

      …or exude confidence; not “being afraid” to show that one needs it. In my experience, I have found total honesty and candor to be disarming; even charming. Mind you, I interviewed for senior sales and business development positions. But I bet you get the gist of my point.

  • cybersun

    Very far fetched.

  • chris greene

    looks like i need to break out the cocaine skyblue suit from the 70′s. what a joke

  • YuiK1886

    Aren’t black/white/brown/blue the colors of standards in many places? For example, if someone is going for an interview and asking for opinion from friends or family, many people would advice, “Go with the safe (traditional) colors”. I found this individualistic view of colors to be rather subjective and misleading in some cases. Shouldn’t it be in tone/shade of colors; such as bright colors are usually favored by optimistic and positive individuals?

    • Patrick Meguid

      At’s all about context. If you’re interviewing for a position at a multinational accounting consultancy, your colour scheme might differ from that of an interview at Ubisoft, Google or an advertising agency.

  • Patrick Meguid

    The most important insight I derive from this article is the notion of context, e.g. whereas grey is women’s least favourite colour according to Hallock’s study, it still may be safe to assume that more than 1% of adult women prefer older men, i.e. men with grey or greying hair.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Eleanor-Dorst/100000491554177 Eleanor Dorst

    I thought its because prison inmates wear it!

  • Roustam

    As far as I understand, the job providers generally detest the people with good deal of creativity. But how about when it comes to offer a job in fashion or film industry, the same thing goes here as well?