Tie One On: Your Interview Tie & What It Says About You

“One important key to success is self-confidence. An important key to self-confidence is preparation.” –Arthur Ashe

It’s that time again, fellas – you’ve landed a job interview, and you’re preparing for it by looking over your resume, making adjustments, thinking about how you’ll handle those difficult “trap questions,” (gosh, what ARE my three greatest weaknesses?) and trying to picture yourself working for this company years from now, successful and happy.

But did you pick out your suit yet?

Let me save you the trouble with the suit and the shirt:

  • Black, Navy, or Gray Suit
  • Solid print, light pinstripe, or light windowpane (preferably not colored stripes)
  • Solid white or french blue button down collared dress shirt, freshly pressed and fitting

Now this is where it gets dicey – with a black, blue, or gray suit and a white or blue dress shirt, you can make almost any tie “work.”  The question we want to explore is – what will that choice of tie say about you when you reach the interview room?

Color

This is the clearest factor – what color tie should I be wearing?  Well, first off, if you opted for the blue dress shirt, the blue tie is out.  If you ignored my dress shirt advice and went with a different colored shirt, that same color tie is out.  This isn’t the 90’s and you’re not the host of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire.”  Let’s create some contrast here.  If you went with the white shirt, ALL options are on the table.

Red ties are the quintessential “power ties.” They come across strong, and suggest a degree of wealth, power, and leadership.  They are bold, and manage to stand out against your suit and your shirt just fine.  The drawback is that red ties can come across as a little bit “too” assertive, sometimes invoking feelings of stress.  For me, the pros outweigh the cons, but it also depends on the environment of the interview.  Wear red ties in interviews were confidence and assertiveness are huge parts of the job, such as positions in management or sales, or if you feel the desire to “stand out,” such as with panel interviews or job fairs.

Orange ties are Red’s quirky, less aggressive, more creative cousins.  They don’t have the assertiveness of Red, and they aren’t as intense as Red.  Since orange ties are less common than your primary color ties, orange ties convey a sense of creativity.  And since orange is a naturally “brighter” color (it’s red-plus-orange, so it’s like red with sun-in highlights), it suggests energy and vibrancy.  Orange is a great way to go for energetic, creative jobs, such as a copywriter, a creative director, or a media producer.

Yellow / Gold ties are among my favorites.  I especially like the look of the gold tie against the french blue dress shirt (admittedly because my high school’s colors were blue and gold, and Go Notre Dame!) but even with the white shirt, a vibrant gold or yellow tie works.  These hues provide highlight – they attract attention while still providing a sense of warmth, since we equate yellow with the sun.  They have the creativity of the orange tie without the aggressiveness of the red tie.  Wear this tie when you want to appear friendly and approachable, such as jobs in customer service, education, or if you are seeking a management position and want the interviewer to feel that you will be approachable and well-liked by your team.

Green ties are more pensive and introspective.  Green if most often associated with deep thought, analysis, questioning, or process-orientation.  They also convey a great deal of calm confidence, and whereas red ties shout “I have self confidence,” the green ties seem to just whisper “I got this.”  Green ties are Super Bowl Quarterbacks with ice-water in their veins.  Wear green to convey confidence and reliability, as well as intelligence and thoughtfulness, such as jobs dealing with analysis, financial jobs, or jobs where regular dependability and scheduling are important.

Blue ties are the calm, warming antonyms of the red tie.  Even cooler and more reserved that green ties, the blues convey a sense of tranquility, dependability, and above all else, trust.  Blue ties also suggest a degree of sensitivity.  These are the least risky ties of them all, and are often associated with being very conservative (not only politically, but in terms of your attitude and personality.)  Blue ties are a great look in an interview where you want to convey that you are trustworthy, such as banking, education, or public service.  After you get the job, the blue tie is also a go-to on those days you know you’ll be walking into intense or hostile situations.

Purple / Violet ties manage to combine the tranquility and calm confidence of the blue tie with the assertive leadership of the red tie, which is quite remarkable in itself.  There is a reason purple is the color of royalty – being able to be certain that you are in charge while also conveying a sense of calm and approach-ability is a dichotomy of personality traits that top leaders absolutely must have, which is why upper level management and executive roles are perfect stages to bring out a strong, regal purple tie.

Brown ties take personality in a totally different direction, as they convey a sense of practicality and the ability to remain down-to-earth.  Let’s face facts – brown can be a boring color for a tie, lacking the vibrancy of the red tie, the energy of the yellow tie, or the tranquility of the blue tie, but brown ties suggest that you are adaptable, stable, and dependable.  Jobs in accounting, operations, and logistic management lend themselves well to the brown tie.

Silver / Gray ties suggest a degree of wisdom, almost an energetic venerability that comes with experience.  There’s a reason Just for Men hair color have made a lot of money on their “Touch of Gray” product, since the salt-and-pepper hair color seems to show the perfect balance of experience and knowledge with youth and vibrancy.  I am not personally a fan of the silver or gray on a job interview, but any job that requires a lot of experience or industry-specific knowledge would be a fine place to disagree with me.

White ties are not necessary.  Not in a job interview, and really not very often at all.  A white tie is a blank slate – you’re better off with a white shirt and a colored tie than a colored shirt and a while tie.  Every time I see somebody with a darker colored shirt as the backdrop to a white tie, I find myself wondering how often he changes the batteries in the tie, or if it glows in the dark.  Leave this one in the closet or on the rack, guys.

Patterns

Patterns get a little dicey – just walking through the aisles of a Macy’s or a JCPenney are enough to make your head spin, and while all of the ties may have a merit or an application someplace, we’re just looking at the job interview.  So…

Solid print ties are simple and straight forward. These are a good choice because the color will speak and there won’t be any patterns to detract from your answers.  On the flip side, you lose that one extra “stand out” item that a patterned tie lends you.  I’ma big fan of solid ties, especially in more conservative roles.

Striped print ties are nicknamed “executive ties” for a reason.  They may not be as “exciting” as some of the other prints, but they suggest a strong sense of leadership and variety without making you seem too risky.  Great option for leadership positions.

Checkered print ties are boxy and a little rigid, which shows a great deal of control and organization.  They may not have the energy or the fun of the others, but they tend to look great with a solid colored shirt and tie.  Just be careful if you’re wearing a striped or patterned suit or shirt that the boxes don’t clash – checkered ties are a good way to mix up a light pinstripe, but look silly with circular patterns.  A plaid tie has some similarities to the checkered print tie, but more fashion-forward.

Dotted print ties are more fun while not going overboard.  These are also extremely versatile ties, since the dots are usually small enough not to detract from the main color scheme you’re going for.  White dots on a dark blue or red tie mix those strong colors up a bit, while blue dots on a gold tie show a certain degree of sportiness and enthusiasm.

Circle print ties are the more creative and energetic friends of the checkered print ties.  I own several ties that have circular designs on them because they are very powerful and assertive while also being fun and energetic.  When you have a solid suit and a solid dress shirt, a strong colored tie with a circular pattern of some sort is a great way to liven things up.

Paisley print ties are an acquired taste.  A little more casual, but a lot of fun.  I’m not going to say that paisley is the #1 choice for interviews, but it makes a fantastic “Friday tie,” or if the workplace does business casual or casual Fridays, a great “today is Thursday but I’m thinking about Friday” tie.

Miscellaneous print ties are your animal ties, festive / holiday ties, Jerry Garcia ties, etc.  Unless the job you’re interviewing for deals directly with the topics on your tie (a dinosaur tie when you’re interviewing for a position at a museum looks great, Ross Geller) or you’re interviewing to become a kindergarten teacher, these are best left for those festive occasions when you’re employed, not in the interview.  The benefit of these types of ties?  Great conversation starters.  Just be careful not to let your neck-wear overshadow your interview.

Aside from color and print, the rest should be easy.  A conservative Windsor knot is always a great way to go, with the tie reaching the middle of your belt buckle in length.  Skinny ties work on some people, namely really skinny people, but are far less confident and assertive than normal sized ties.  Don’t tie your knot too big (this isn’t the 70’s) or too small (you’ll look uptight and disheveled) and if you opt for a tie tack of some sort, keep it simple and conservative.

Happy hunting!