We always want to present our very best for a finance interview or the first day of an internship.
Whether you are going into accounting, consulting, or investment banking, here are some tips on what you should (and should not) wear to an interview or your first day of work.
We’ll also go over dress codes for different business situations. Once you ace your interview and get through the first week of work, you can adjust your dress code accordingly based on the culture of your work place.
The typical dress code for accountants depends on what they might be doing on any given day. Interviews and days when you’ll be meeting with clients call for different standards of dress than daily work around the office.
When it comes to how to dress for an accounting interview, stick to business formal. The finance dress code and the accounting dress code for interviews is refined, traditional, and conservative. For interviews in the business field, suits are always a good option. And for ladies, skirts suits are the most conservation. But tailored a tailored pantsuit or a suit with a dress could work, too.
It is always tempting to get the most expensive suit to look “on par” with people in the industry. But let me assure you that there is really no need to do that, because:
So, get a nice suit with good fabric, and make sure it fits your body well. And if it doesn’t quite fit perfect, ask the store if they provide tailoring services. Otherwise, find a local tailor to adjust your suit. Tailoring adds a little cost to your outfit, but the finished, polished look is worth it.
When you land an interview, the last thing you have time to stress about is your clothes. So make sure your accounting interview outfit is professional but still comfortable.
Try sitting on different chairs and see if any tugging and re-adjusting is required when you sit. Women’s blouses can be especially bothersome, so test them before your interview.
Plus, if your interview goes well, you might get a tour of the office. So you need to look great both sitting and walking. For example, if you’re planning to wear shoes you don’t normally wear, practice walking around in them. And for women, if you go with heels, they should be comfortable.
The default color for an accountant interview dress code always seems to be black. Why? Well, it is conservative and just seems to instantly make you look competent. Depending on the company, dark navy or dark grey are conservative choices, too. Even less expensive suits can look polished in dark colors. Plus, if you accidentally spill something on yourself right before your interview, you won’t have to worry about a glaring coffee stain on your suit collar.
For blouse and ties, the color should complement your eyes and skin tone. Specifically:
If you would like to be tastefully different and stand out from the crowd, pick something off-black. Good choices are dark gray, dark burgundy, dark brown, or even dark green. Pick a color that complements your eyes or skin tone.
Even though online shopping is popular these days, you really need to try on suits to check the fit and color. I think dark or navy blue is especially hard to get right in my opinion, so make sure you try on your suit if this is your desired color.
I know this may be opposite to the conventional wisdom, but I highly recommend that you do NOT wear button-downed shirts to an interview. Simple reason: they gape at the chest, especially when you sit down. It’s just not a good idea if you want to appear professional and conservative. Plus, the last thing you need to stress about on your interview day is whether you’re unintentionally flashing your future boss.
However, if you feel you look at your best in a buttoned-down shirt, consider a tip from a friend. She used to have all of her buttoned-down shirts tailored so that they wouldn’t gape at all when she sat down or moved. She never had to worry about a button popping open at the exact wrong moment.
Your interview outfit should add to your professional image, not detract from your it. This means:
So when thinking about what to wear to an accounting interview, chose an outfit that lets YOU shine. When you try on your outfit and look in a mirror, what’s the first thing that stands out? If it’s your personality and your business acumen, you’re good to go. But if you can’t take your eyes off a big chunky necklace, accessories that jungle every time you move, or some glitter lip gloss, think about toning down your look.
Internship interviews are tricky. In one aspect, you’re trying to make a great impression on a potential employer. And as a student, you’re still building your network. So every time you meet another professional, you want to make a good first impression.
But at the same time, you’re still a student, so you might have limited means to put together an interview outfit.
When you’re going for an internship interview, strike the best balance you can. If you need to buy a suit, don’t feel like you have to empty your bank account to buy something really expensive or flashy. Go with a classic outfit like a traditional suit or a business dress and fitted blazer that you can use over and over again.
Plus, many major brands have sales a couple times a year. Plan ahead and invest in a few good pieces when they are on sale.
As a CPA or finance professional, you’ll spend some days working in the office. But on other days, you’ll be expected to visit other offices or attend meet-and-greet events to network and build your client list.
On those days, choose a business formal outfit. Basically, the accountant dress code for these types of business events are the same as how to dress for an accounting interview.
In most places, the accounting firm dress code policy is similar to business casual on days when you don’t have to meet with clients. The definition of business casual varies from company to company. But overall, your balanced look should have a professional appearance with a more comfortable fit. So think dress pants, khakis, blouses with tailored blazers, button-down shirts, nice sweaters, and loafers, boots, or low heels.
For women, it’s sometimes hard to decide what to wear in finance, especially in business casual environments. But think about how do female accountants dress in your firm. What do your female supervisors wear? If they dress down a little on certain days, it’s probably OK for you, too. The business casual dress policy in an accounting firm could allow you to choose pants, patterned blouses, flat shoes or mules, sweaters and cardigans, and slightly more trendy items from time-to-time. Plus, wearing blazers with dresses in accounting firms on business casual days is just fine.
Do all accountants need to dress up? In my opinion, yes to a degree, but it depends on your position. Plus, your company’s culture can also dictate what you wear to work.
For example, the public accounting dress code can be different from that of a financial analyst depending on your place of employment. While accountants who work for certain firms—the Big 4, for example—must stick to strict dress codes, financial analysts in other companies might have more options. Some companies are loosening their dress codes to attract young and bright talent.
And your dress code also varies by industry. Professionals in the creative industry, for example, can often take more liberties with their clothing. Take cues from your co-workers and supervisors if you’re unsure.
More and more employees are working from home these days. But because of video chats, we can’t completely ignore the office dress code. Here are my thoughts about how to dress for video meet-ups from your home office:
In addition, I like to have a professional business outfit pressed and ready at all times. Most days when I work from home, it just hangs in my closet. But in case a co-worker or client needs an impromptu meeting, I don’t have to stress about getting ready in a hurry.
I want to leave you with two final thoughts. First, every place has its own culture. Some big powerhouse firms expect very conservative dress, while other are much more relaxed. You can wear jeans to work in some firms on business casual days, but others will actually fine you for breaking the dress code. So before you have an interview or start your first day of work, ask around or do an online search about that firm’s dress code. Check out the “About Us” page of their website—you might find photos or a statement about the culture.
And second, do you remember the old saying that it’s better to dress for the job you want, and not the job you have? It’s true. Regardless of your current position in finance or accounting, take dress code cues from the people who hold the positions you’re striving for.
If you need more solid suggestions such as the popular clothing brands among the financiers, please check out this page on business attire for women in finance where I list my recommendations on suits, blouses, bags, and makeup.
To the guys: I’ll need to ask around before writing a brand recommendation page for you. Stay tuned!
I am the author of How to Pass The CPA Exam (published by Wiley), and I also passed all 4 sections of the CPA Exam on my first try. Additionally, I have led webinars, such as for the Institute of Management Accountants, authored featured articles on websites like Going Concern and AccountingWeb, and I'm also the CFO for the charity New Sight. Finally, I have created other accounting certification websites to help mentor non-CPA candidates. I have already mentored thousands of CPA, CMA, CIA, EA, and CFA candidates, and I can help you too!