Personal Presentation at Interviews – When We Get it Wrong (but no one tells us why)

From Michaela Betchley

After an 18 year career in talent acquisition and talent management, I’ve had the pleasure of interviewing literally tens of thousands of individuals from the front-line to the C-Suite.

Hiring managers have a lot to say, as you’d expect, after the interview. And for those applicants who are unsuccessful, it’s often less about their skills and experience, and more about their impact in that moment. It’s the feedback that rarely gets delivered. But, in my experience, it’s this very feedback, delivered with care and compassion, which applicants often crave, and of course, deserve.

How could they not know?

Well, many just don’t, because perhaps no one has been courageous enough to tell them. And it’s the type of stuff that can imply a lack of self-awareness on the part of the applicant, which is such a critical skill for service orientated, customer focused, and leadership roles, to name just a few.

First Judgements

The human brain makes a snap judgment in less than a second and then spends time seeking to validate, rather than disprove, that judgment.


It’s not personal; it’s simply the way we’re wired.

We have very little time to make that first impression really count. The most successful and well-respected people now, and throughout our history, know this and continue to use their personal presentation to their advantage, to set the stage for their message.

How others perceive us can have a huge effect on how successful we are at work, at home, and in life. Getting it right can be the difference between doors opening and doors closing. Here are a few tips to help you on your way in preparation for an interview.



Seems obvious, but make sure that what you’re wearing fits well and is of high quality fabric and construction. As an image consultant and executive coach, I ask my clients to consider their personal value – that often drives the investment they make in themselves and the clothing they purchase and wear. Not only are you worth quality, you can be sure that the interviewers will be assessing your attention to detail and quality of work through what you’re wearing, not just what you’re saying – the two must be congruent.

And if you’re applying for a leadership role, quality is expected.

Pay careful attention, too, to the messages you send with your chosen clothing. You deserve and want to be taken seriously so consider your audience; consider whether your clothing is representative of the opportunity you are applying for; and ensure that the eye is drawn to the appropriate places…. (I could write pages on the topic of style choices, but for the purpose of this blog, I’ll move on to the impact of colour!)

Michaela recorded a Webinar on Style & Image for Gender Gap Gone: see more here.



We simply mustn’t underestimate the impact of colour.

Colour is to sound as sight is to hearing.


Studies have shown that we can even taste it, smell it and feel it. It triggers an emotional response. The human brain seeks harmony and balance to the eye so it’s important that you create that in your choice and use of colour.

An interview is not your moment to make grand statements with bright, high contrasting or fad colours. Stick to neutrals. We colour consultants very broadly consider someone a “warm” or a “cool”, depending on their eye, skin and hair tones, and knowing the difference is important – however, if you’re not sure, universal neutrals that suit everyone are a very safe bet. And please don’t shroud yourself in black – it can create a depressing heaviness and suggest you want to “hide” yourself.

Interviews are a time to reveal, not hide, your true and wonderful self.


Scent (in my view, so important, it deserves its own heading)

Scent is a very personal thing.

Avoid wearing perfume or aftershave that overpowers. And if you’re not sure if yours does, then ask someone you trust to tell you.

It can be incredibly distracting for the interviewer, to the point where I’ve developed headaches and a general sense of queasiness, unable to focus on what the interviewee is saying. If you like wearing scent, ensure it’s subtle and don’t be tempted to re-apply just before your introduction to the interviewer.


Shoes, jewelry, bags…they all make a difference. Of course, shoes must be clean, but they must also be cared for. Badly scraped or scuffed heels (a personal pet hate of mine) are grubby. Statement pieces of jewelry draw the eye to the wrong places and can be quite distracting. And if you must carry a gym bag with you, my advice is to leave it at reception. It’s unnecessary clutter and weight for the interview room, and sends an “I was just passing through” message. Not to mention the sweat that carrying heavy bags can bring on.



By grooming I’m referring to hair, nails, make up, skin. Once again, when it comes to colour, think about your intent. Bright, strong make up, nails and jewelry colours are distracting and can polarize the interviewer.

Understated is key, neutral colours are your safest bet.

For those with long hair, tie it back. Not only do you want to be comfortable and not have to worry about handling it if and when it falls over your face, you also want to be seen. If your hair is covering your face, much like wearing all black, it can come across as a disguise at a time when what you really want and need is to be heard and seen.


Wear a Smile

There is no greater first impression than engaging eye contact and a smile. It never fails to amaze me the attention, warmth and positivity a smiling face can attract. Try it! Eye contact and a smile exude confidence, contentment and self-assuredness. It’s wonderfully infectious.


Presenting yourself in a positive way, knowing that you look your best, has a significant impact on your self-esteem. It increases confidences and a heightened feeling of “well being”. And who doesn’t want some of that when they walk into an interview.

Michaela Betchley

Michaela is an executive coach and image consultant with specialist expertise in leadership development, talent management, career management and personal and professional branding. She has over 20 years global leadership experience in fast paced multi disciplinary organisations across banking, insurance, hospitality, retail and professional services and have developed a deep understanding of the complexities and challenges facing modern executives.

For more targeted Image & Style advice from Michaela, check out the Image & Style Webinar Michaela created for Gender Gap Gone- here.

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