The US presidential race is, in essence, the world’s most intense job interview. And during that interview, the world is searching each candidate’s outfit for hints of their personality. Donald Trump gave us the first glimpse of his bullish temperament with his signature, curiously long red tie. Obama, before him, campaigned in classically tailored suits and neutral blues—a possible foreshadowing of his laidback cool. When Hillary Clinton didn’t get the job, she wore one of her hallmark powersuits with deep purple details during her concession speech. She later wrote about what she was hoping to leave the American people to think about as her competitor took office. (Purple is a mixture of red and blue that Clinton hoped would inspire bipartisanship.) Each politician used clothes in some way to appeal to supporters.
Our lesson here? Your style is your potential employer’s first hint about what you’re like as a person. Whether you answer to the American people, a few entrepreneurs at a start-up, or the managing director of an investment bank, the colors and styles that you wear on the job say a lot about who you are. So, what do your go-to interview outfits say to employers about what you’re like to work with? Read on.
Does Red Really Say “I’m Powerful?”
Sorry Mr. President, but the answer is no – or at least, not really. Although bold color is certainly not to be categorically rejected, it doesn’t automatically communicate power.
“In North American culture, the power colors are the ones that convey authority. Those would be navy, black, dark colors. And you see these in the uniforms of our police officers for example.”— Dr. Catherine Connelly, Associate Professor of HR and Management at DeGroote School of Business.
“If you were to show up with too much red on, you stand out. That’s not necessarily what you’re trying to communicate. You’re trying to communicate that you’re easy to work with, that you’ll get along really well with everybody. You’re a team player.” she says. “There’s not much advantage to wearing too much red if you’re interviewing for something.”
But Dr. Connelly also acknowledges the importance of being comfortable during a job interview is paramount. So, if red is truly your favorite color, or you have a red scarf with some sentimental value, wear it if you think it may help with interview jitters. The most important thing is that you’re as calm and collected as possible when making that essential first impression.
If you’re wearing red because you think it will convey and air of authority, think again. You want blues and black if you’re hoping for foolproof authority.
Dress for the job you want, not the job you have. True or false?
Imagine this scenario: you’re fairly new in your field, and you get a callback from your dream company. You have a pretty expensive watch that’s been passed down to you, and even though it costs way more than you can afford (something that both you and your prospective employer are likely aware of), you decide to wear it anyway. When you sit down for your interview, you see that you’re wearing the same fancy watch as the VP. Does this make you seem like a perfect fit, or like you’re trying too hard? Does it matter at all? The experts we asked had differing opinions.
Priya Rehal is an HR consultant who is new to the field. Rehal was recently job hunting, and now advises on how to hire the right people. When propositioned with the scenario above, Rehal said, “I would suggest aiming for the middle. I like that because this way you’re not quite as pretentious as walking in in a Hugo Boss suit, but you’re not in a situation where you’re limiting yourself to an entry role either.”
So try not to roll up to your new office in a Lamborghini, unless at least half of your coworkers flew in this morning on a private jet. You know, aim for the middle.
That said, in more youthful and modern workplaces, corner offices are quickly evaporating. So too are the hard lines between bosses and employees. Cool is king, and it’s more likely than ever before that you and your boss shop at the same store. What do you do if you’re aiming for a role in an office like that?
“Do some market research,” suggests Rehal. “What does the majority of the staff wear and how can you look like you fit the company culture? Fitting within the company culture is becoming more and more important.”
Dr. Connelly has similar advice.
“Interviewers are like any other person. They tend to like candidates that are just like them. And so, if you have the same watch as the person who’s interviewing you, that’s instant rapport if they notice it. You immediately have that connection.”
The takeaway? Dressing for the company you want could be more beneficial than narrowing your scope to the role you’re hoping to get in the future, or the role you’re currently competing for.
The Sartorial Dealmaker is a series devoted to business fashion and etiquette. In this regular feature, we offer style advice for business professionals, both men and women, as well as tips on business etiquette to help you make the right impression in the office and out.
Illustration by Christy Lundy