Should you wear red to the job interview? The implications of a new paper are that maybe you shouldn’t. Here’s why.
What to wear to the job interview is always a big question. Even in pandemic times, when many interviews are conducted remotely, you gotta look your best. And wear pants. Even if you don’t think you’ll be seen from the waist down, you should still wear pants, preferably nice ones. Studies show that when we are better dressed we feel more confident and improve our performance which in turn elevates other people’s impressions of us.
Should you wear red?
Also, a recent paper suggests that you might not want to wear red. Or at least that may be the logical extension of the conclusions made by William Bazley, assistant professor of finance at the University of Kansas. The paper suggests that using the colour red to represent financial data may influence people’s risk preferences, expectations of future stock returns, and trading decisions. While it’s not stated in the paper, it stands to reason that this may also apply to hiring decisions, as these are also financial in nature.
A research brief notes that “red is associated with alarms and stop signs that convey danger and command enhanced attention.” Think about stop signs, red flags, and the “red alert,” defined as “a state of alert brought on by impending danger.”
The article states: “Over time, repeated pairings of a colour with negative stimuli can influence subsequent behaviour.”
Red “prolongs pessimistic expectations“
Bazley found that red appears to prolong pessimistic expectations in relation to negative stock returns. Other colours, including black and blue, were not associated the same outcomes. The effects were also not present in people who are colourblind, and were “muted” in China, where red represents prosperity.
“Our findings suggest the use of colour deserves careful consideration when it’s to be used on financial platforms, such as brokerage websites or by retirement service providers,” Bazley said. Job interviews? Makes sense, no?
The article suggests that “evolutionary biology and social learning” create this “colour-coded behaviour.” In Western culture, social learning may have reinforced our perceptions of and reactions to colour.
“In Western cultures, conditioning of red colour and experiences start in early schooling as students receive feedback regarding academic errors in red,” Bazley said. “Our everyday choices are shaped by a multitude of factors. A similar process plays out when we make our financial choices. We are still at the early stages of understanding these dynamics, but learning about them has the potential to yield insights that could ultimately improve the outcomes individuals realize from their decisions.”
So, when you wear red to the interview are you planting a subliminal message that you’d be a dangerous hire?
Most research says to wear neutral colours
Separate research has found that black is a safe colour choice for the job interview. A survey of about 2,000 job applicants, some who were hired and some who were not, found that 70% of those who got the job wore black to the interview while only 33% of rejected candidates wore black. Blue and grey have also found to be good colours for getting hired, or at least fairly safe choices.
Conversely, yellow, purple, and especially orange, have been found to be bad colours to wear to an interview.
Of course, it’s not all about what you wear, and it can depend on the industry. So, take all this advice with a grain of salt and wear what you’re comfortable with. If you’re the best, most qualified person for the job, you can probably wear whatever colour you want.