Don’t Wear Red to a Job Interview

I doubt society is erring on the side of too little concern about personal appearance, but psychology research has established that the colors you wear can influence how you’re perceived. The most well-known effect is that wearing red makes your more sexually desirable, but a new study suggests that if you’re looking for employment, wearing red is a bad decision:

We conducted three experiments examining the influence of red on the evaluation of male target persons. In Experiment 1, participants viewing red, relative to green, on the shirt of a person presented on a photograph perceived him to be less intelligent. This effect was strongest in a job application context compared to other contexts. In Experiment 2, focusing solely on the job application context, participants viewing red, relative to blue, on an applicants’ tie perceived him to have less earning and leadership potential. In Experiment 3, participants viewing red, relative to green, on a job applicants’ tie rated him as less likely to be hired, and perceptions of ability and leadership potential mediated this effect.

Studies on impression formation tend to get a lot of attention, but the question with this genre of research is whether the effects hold once people acquire better information. For example, an employer looking at a photo of a job candidate wearing red may rate him as less competent, but when the employer observes how the candidate talks and thinks newer judgements may replace those that were influenced by the candidate’s clothing. In other words, I’m not convinced that somebody’s opinion of Mitt Romney on election day is even marginally influenced by the red tie Romney was wearing when the person first saw him on TV.

It would be interesting to see a follow up experiment examine the effects of clothing color when participants watch a video of job candidates saying something substantive. Although first impressions do persist, my inclination is to think that studies using photos lead people to overestimate the medium- to long-run impact of clothing color. Of course if you happen to be speed dating/interviewing, by all means load up on the red/anti-red outfits. There’s also the question of what to do if  you’re romantically interested in the person who’s going to be interviewing you. My advice is to wear blue and hope you have a good personality.
Maier, M., Elliot, A., Lee, B., Lichtenfeld, S., Barchfeld, P., & Pekrun, R. (2012). The influence of red on impression formation in a job application context Motivation and Emotion DOI: 10.1007/s11031-012-9326-1

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