On one of the worst interviews I ever did I blame on my clothes. I wore pumps with higher heels than I was used to and a skirt that was a tad shorter than my normal hit-the-knee level.
I was also dressed in all black.
Stilettos, A-line skirts and an all-black outfit looks amazing on some people.
For me, it was a disaster.
It wasn’t a disaster because of the clothes themselves, but because of how I felt in them and how I exuded those feelings without even meaning too.
And because I felt nervous and awkward, my conversation stuttered and I didn’t present as well as well I normally would have.
Apparently, the panel of interviewers thought so too because I did not get a call back!
First impressions count.
We may resent that, but nevertheless, it’s true. We judge books by their covers. On subconscious levels, we’re gathering information about the world around us, often based on colors.
Therefore, when we encounter the first impressions we must do everything in our power to leave the right feeling with the person or persons who are doing the interviewing.
I’m going to use the word interview here, but please recognize that I’m using it as an umbrella term for significant business meetings where an initial face to face meeting has big implications: meeting a potential employee, a graphic designer meeting new clients, graduate interviewing for a scholarship or grant, a real estate agent meeting new clients, an entrepreneur meeting a venture capitalist.
The first meeting sets the stage for all future impressions. What we’re wearing is just as important as our emotions (how we feel affects our mannerisms, speech, facial expressions, etc.).
It’s not as complicated as it might sound. I’ve discovered 3 Essential Elements for Dressing to Exude Competence and Confidence.
Remember, I want you to feel confident and competent. I want the person interviewing you focused on you and your confidence, not your clothes. What you wear and how you wear it is essential to leaving a fantastic impression.
You can do this! Let’s look at three elements to dressing well for interviews.
Make Sure Your Interview Wardrobe Has These 3 Components
First, be comfortable in the clothes you’re wearing.
If you are stiff and uncomfortable in the clothes you’re wearing (because of said clothes) that is going to come off in the interview as you being stiff and awkward. Not good!
If you never wear a blazer and it’s called for in the meeting, get comfortable wearing a blazer for the week before the interview. Choose a blazer that fits comfortably.
Ladies, heels add to a polished, chic, professional look (but it’s not essential in an interview). If you do choose to wear heels, choose a pair with a height you are comfortable walking in. I love kitten heels, they give me a boost, but I can still run and walk fast in them without tripping.
There’s nothing that will decrease our ability to leave a polished, all-together impression like tripping over one’s own feet in too-tall heels. I speak from personal experience here.
The same goes for dresses and pants. If you never wear a skirt, wear slacks. If you feel your best self in a dress, wear a dress.
Second, wear clothes that match and exceed the expectations of the work, promotion, etc. that you’re seeking. Even if the job would not require traditional business casual or business formal clothes, it’s still the expectation to show up professionally dressed to the interview.
I’ve never heard an employer impressed with someone who shows up sloppily dressed or in too casual of clothes. You want to fulfill the expectations (and hopefully exceed) of those you’re meeting with. You want their impression of you to be, “Yes! She’s exactly what we’re looking for. He’ll represent us well to clients…to our board of directors, etc.”
Third, wear your best colors.
We’ll cover that next.
First, I can hear some pushback now. “But Melissa, that seems so shallow. Are clothes really that important?”
Yep, they are. And it all has to do with psychology. Unless it’s the year 2250 and robots have taken over interviewing, you’re being interviewed, queried and examined by another human. Humans come with bias and subconscious expectations. The colors and styles we present say something about ourselves, but they also say something about the people interviewing us and their expectations. And that’s even more important.
The whole goal of the interview is for the interviewer to say, “Wow, I want them. They’re exactly who we need for job A.”
Wear clothes you feel comfortable in, make sure they fit and wear the best colors.
Let’s talk about colors next.
The Colors to Wear to Leave a Great Professional Impression
First off, go with your seasonal archetype. We all have one of the four seasonal archetypes that is our dominant archetype. There’s 12 sub-archetypes, but we’ll stick with the main four today for our discussion.
Remember, we look most natural and at our best when we wear the colors that are in our seasonal archetype. It brings out more of us. When we wear colors that don’t fit us, it can give the impression of hiding (such as a spring personality wearing all black) or being someone we are not (a winter wearing soft pastels).
And yes, this lack of congruence comes through in the interview.
As a rule, there are a few colors that should not be worn to an interview. Rules can be broken, but do so with caution.
Generally, red is not a color one wears to an interview. It signals power, sensuality and possibly aggression- not the impressions one wants the others to feel in a professional sense. Most people have a strong response to red. Since we don’t know our interviewers, we don’t know their reaction to red.
A Note for Executive Positions Even if one is interviewing for a CEO or other executive position, wearing red may be seen as a bit overdone and it does NOT give the impression that you are a team player or will be willing to listen to others.
Yellow, orange and pink are all colors that should also be left out as main interview colors. Yellow signals either lots of happiness or a big, fat warning sign. Orange has a warm energy that can border in to the sensuality of red or the happiness of yellow. Pink is a nurturing, feminine color. It maybe one’s best color, but it may not give the impression of competence and confidence on that crucial first meeting.
Are there exceptions to these colors? Of course, but think twice before choosing the yellow blazer. If you love yellow and think it creates a good impression, tone down the amount you use.
For example, if one is an autumn linked personality, one might wear a scarf that has plum-pink in it. Fine. Just don’t overwhelm the interview panel by showing up in a three piece pastel pink suit with matching heels.
Interview Colors for the Spring Archetype
As mentioned before, spring-linked people should stay away from black and white.
Spring-linked personalities look best in warm colors that have a bright and lightness to them. I call the spring personality the classic crayon box colors. You can take the colors of the Crayola Classic Color box of 8 crayons (except for black) and look confident in those classic colors.
For an interview, warm blues and warm browns would be delightful. They’ll show off your more upbeat exterior and complement your skin tone and eyes.
Beware of colors that are primarily cool such as a deep navy blue or dark slate gray. They’ll drain you of color. You might even feel a bit drained wearing these colors- be aware of this.
Accent colors in scarves and accessories could include blue, green, gray and purple.
Interview Colors for the Summer Archetype
Summer is light and cool and muted. If we were playing with paint, it would be as if we added gray to everything creating lovely pastels or deep turquoise or purples.
Just like spring-linked personalities, stay away from black. The best colors will be navy blue and grays and possible turquoise and purple (cool tones). Browns tend to be draining (they’re too warm), but neutral colors such as sand or cream are lovely.
Stay away from pure white. Just like black, it’s too much.
Summer-linked personalities typically look fabulous in a cool purple or turquoise. Do you feel comfortable in these colors? If it feels like too much to wear a turquoise blazer, consider scarves or other accessories with a bit of color. It will light up your eyes.
Summer-linked personalities are typically elegant and refined. Beware of wearing too much jewelry. Sometimes we do that when we’re nervous. Keep it simple. Pearls or sterling silver looks fantastic on you.
Interview colors for the Autumn Archetype
Autumn linked personalities have the widest spectrum of colors to choose from. The best colors are warm, muted and have a depth to them. This includes teal, sap green, warm browns, warm blues, eggplant purple and all colors of plum.
Like summer and spring, stay away from pure black and white colors.
Autumn might be the one archetype that can get away with a bit of burnt orange, yellow ochre or plum. Again, I’m going to be cautious. I’d rather see someone in a teal or brown. I tend to be a bit conservative and I want to be safe in initial meetings. If I feel like showing a bit more color and personality for the particular job, I’ll add in some brighter colors in accessories.
Now, there is one area autumn-linked personalities get away with some pizazz and do it completely naturally. Autumn-linked personalities enjoy jewelry and accessories that are less traditional than the other archetypes. Jewelry, a well-set necklace, might be the one place too ‘splurge’ on sharing a bit of myself without going overboard in an interview and the look adds to your competence and confidence because it’s so you.
Interview Colors for the Winter Personality
Winter personalities are bold and decisive. This is the archetype who looks fabulous in a solid black or white outfit. A cold, military blue will look well.
Accessories should be minimal, but bold. Wear a statement piece if you feel that helps you present your best, but not more than one.
The winter personality can pull off bold, solid colors, but I wouldn’t recommend for an interview.
Winter colors are cool and bold. Don’t wear patterns, keep colors basic and you’ll shine.
Everyone is different and this takes a little bit of playing around with it. If you’re not sure what colors look best, grab a friend and ask them which shirt/blazer/dress looks best on you. Other people can notice what looks good on us, especially if we’re in a color rut.
It’s easy to have lived in a color so long (such as black) that we don’t realize it doesn’t make us radiate the confidence and competence we want to exude.
Remember, we don’t want the interviewers to notice the clothes.
We want the interviewer to notice us and the benefit and wealth of experience and competency and brilliance we’ll bring to their organization, business, foundation, etc.
The clothes we wear should sort of blend in to our personality, help us to shine, not distract by looking unnatural or overdone.
Questions? Let me know in the comments.
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