Can I wear sneakers at a job interview?
In most cases, wearing sneakers at a job interview is not considered professional. This holds especially true in industries where appearance and status are key elements of company branding. However, in other industries, sneakers and casual outfits are increasingly accepted as interview outfits, notably when you're interviewing with younger companies such as start-ups and sports companies. Nike, for instance, clearly states on its official website that it's completely fine for you to wear sneakers at a job interview with their hiring manager.
In which cases can I wear sneakers for a job interview?
What you wear to a job interview will contribute to your interviewer's first impression of you. This is why it's important for you to research what the best outfit is for the occasion, from head to toe. We've also written an article about what you should be doing - in addition to dressing well - to make a good impression during your job interview. Read our 5 tips on how to impress your interviewer!
Back to the sneakers: we've done a large chunk of the job for you and present instances in which you can wear sneakers at job interviews. Read more below.
1. Interviews at start-up companies
This is a common stereotype but a reality in most cases. "Younger companies" such as start-ups make informality a large part of their organisational branding. This translates not only in their marketing, operations, and company culture but also in the way they interact with employees and potential employees: interviewees.
In some start-up job descriptions, you might thus find dress code instructions such as "dress as you like"! If this is explicitly said, it's not a trap or a test, really go to the job interview as you like! This means it's likely wearing sneakers at a job interview with a start-up will not be frowned upon. That being said, make sure you dress at least business casual to be on the safe side: wear an ironed shirt and trousers to the interview.
2. Interviews with universities
When applying for academic programmes, some prospective students are interviewed as a part of the selection process. Depending on the status and prestige of the school you're interviewing with, a business casual outfit may be acceptable, and clean sneakers too.
For example, it would be perfectly fine for you to wear an ironed polo shirt or a tucked-in shirt with a navy blue chino and some white sneakers. If you're applying at a business school or for a finance or real estate programme, however, you may want to dress up for the occasion to align yourself with industry standards.
3. Interviews at sports companies
Retrieved from Nike's website: "Nike is casual dress regardless of the position or the country in which you are applying. Generally, business casual is the appropriate attire and it doesn't hurt to sport your favourite pair of Nikes, Jordans or Converse." (Nike, 2022)
Companies such as Adidas or Reebok may have the same philosophy, which means you can feel comfortable wearing sneakers at interviews there too. Double-check their website or the job description just to make sure.
Important: Do not wear competitor brands at the interview (don't wear Adidas at an interview with Nike!)
Conditions for wearing sneakers at a job interview
If you do decide to wear sneakers at your interview, there is a minimum standard you still need to meet to remain professional. These standards are presented below.
Make sure your sneakers are clean
Even if you feel the company is fine with you having informal attire for the job interview, make sure you're still presentable from head to toe, and ensure you keep things tidy. This means that your sneakers need to be clean and almost impeccable.
Avoid wearing sneakers that look worn out, with broken soles and laces for example. You almost want them to look like they came out of the box. If your sneakers are in really bad shape and you can't afford to buy new ones, there are plenty of sneaker cleaning shops nowadays, that offer polishing services for around 20 euros.
Make sure your sneakers are not too flashy
Unless you're going for statement attire, keep it simple and avoid wearing sneakers with flashy colours and motives. It's safer for you to go with unicolour sneakers (white, navy blue, black).
In which cases should I avoid wearing sneakers for a job interview?
1. Appearance and status are important in the industry
You should avoid wearing sneakers at job interviews in the great majority of cases. Many companies still place great importance on appearance given the industries they are in. Company culture also plays an important role in this: formal attire is simply ingrained in many organisations' identities and branding.
This is why you should research the company you're applying to thoroughly to get an idea of how their employees dress and how they will thus expect you to dress at the job interview.
Here are examples of industries where you should dress formally and avoid wearing sneakers, in most cases:
Read our recent article on job interview outfits for women to get an idea of how you should dress for a formal interview. If you're a man: an article will be available soon!
2. You're planning on wearing a suit
Well, wearing sneakers with a suit is a trend in some places (especially white sneakers with blue suits). While there is no hard rule as to whether this is frowned upon or not, we recommend you do not experiment during your job interview. If you're going for formal attire, i.e. a suit, go all in and wear dress shoes, not sneakers.
If you're not 100% sure about what you should do, play it safe
If after researching the company culture and studying the job description you're still not sure about the types of shoes you can wear at the interview, play it safe and wear dress shoes and formal attire. You'll be more relaxed before, during, and after the interview, which is ultimately the goal of this entire interview process in the first place.
Interviews are often occasions of stress for job candidates, you want to limit that as much as possible. If your interview attire is already sorted, read our tips on how to calm your nerves before an interview.
I can't afford dressed-up shoes for a job interview, what can I do?
If you're applying at a company requiring formal interview attire, you'll be needing proper dress shoes. For students, graduates, and lower-income individuals, high-quality dress shoes might not necessarily be affordable.
The good news is, there are plenty of options out there to find dress shoes for your interview, at a reasonable price.
1. Buy second-hand dress shoes
Head to the closest vintage or second-hand store and hunt for proper dress shoes that are affordable for you. Another option is Vinted, a second-hand clothing, shoes, and accessories platform. This is a perfect place to find second-hand dress shoes in decent shape, and at an affordable price.
Set the filter to dress shoes, enter your shoe size and start searching for what you need! If you do go for this option, take shipping time into account and order your interview shoes in advance.
2. Ask a friend
Although this is a long shot, it's by far the cheapest and most convenient solution for you if you only have sneakers and cannot afford proper dress shoes for your interview. Try to think of friends who have the same shoe size (or similar shoe size as you do) as you and ask them if you can borrow them for an afternoon.
If this works out, make sure you clean those shoes for the interview, in case your friend hasn't used them in a while.
3. Buy a cheap pair online or at the shoe store
This is not a very sustainable option but still an option. Many shoe stores sell cheap dress shoes which will do the job for your interview. They might not be the most fitted and comfortable shoes in the world, but they'll do just fine for an interview.
You can also buy cheap dress shoes online. We recommend you head to the shoe store instead so you can try them on and ensure they won't make you suffer throughout the interview (cheap shoes can be very painful). Do try to buy second-hand shoes if you can and still have time though, as a small gesture for the planet.