You are about to start your career at one of the big 4 accounting firms. Lots of things are going through your mind, and I know you are definitely wondering how you should dress.
Many people struggle with their confidence when it comes to business dress code, and even the most confident person can get confused about what is appropriate to wear. This is especially true if you are entering a new career or job for the first time, and you haven’t had the chance to feel it all out yet.
Whether you are a new hire, an intern, or just planning for the day when you do get that job, it pays to know how you will be expected to dress. Most people can’t run out and buy a whole new wardrobe on the fly, so you can start picking out pieces now, or seeing what you have in your current closet that will be suitable.
While there isn’t an official big 4 dress code, most public accountants dress in a certain way. Therefore, you’re going to be expected to do the same, or at least not to stand out in a very ostentatious way. You can be professional and within dress code guidelines and still explore your own creativity and individuality. However, it always helps to learn the “rules” first, before you learn when and how it is appropriate to bend or break them.
When it comes to accounting office attire, there are slight variations across the cities in the U.S., and the style could be quite different in other countries, especially those in Europe. In this post, we focus on the everyday office wear in the U.S.
You may be the most anxious about dressing well for your first day at a big 4 accounting firm. We only get one shot to make a first impression and you want to get it right. You may be told to dress business casual, but I would go a tad more formal, with a tie and a suit (or a skirt-suit for women). In my opinion, it is prudent to be slightly more overdressed than underdressed. This is especially important for your first day until you familiarize yourself with the office you’ll be working in, your co-workers, and your clients’ offices.
Women’s clothing has a lot of variations and options when compared to men’s business clothing. For women, it’s hard to generalize. I would say dress respectfully, with an outfit that looks good in front of partners. You don’t necessarily need to be in a business suit, but you certainly don’t want to look like you’re going to the club, either. Again, business casual – with a slant toward more formal until you get to know the office environment more.
Once you settle in your office, you will find what you are comfortable with and how that fits in the “tone” of your particular office. But what happens when you travel, such as when you are sent to national training or seminars? You will be representing your office and firm, as well as yourself, so attire is important here.
You will be shipped out of town for national training for a couple of weeks, usually. Trainings are done in an informal setting and there are parties at night. The trainers are seniors and first-year managers, and the rest are your peers. This is definitely business casual.
After the training, you will start working either at the client site or at the office. In a typical office in the U.S., people usually go with a simple button-down dress shirt, dress pants, and dress shoes. You want to be sure you’re comfortable, too, so you can make it through a whole workday without feeling like you’re restricted or uncomfortable in your attire.
For first or important client meetings, you may want to see how your manager dresses on the day, but typically you might want to dress up a little bit — with a tie and full suit (pant or skirt-suit for women).
Junior auditors spend most of their time in the field in clients’ offices. For everyday work at the client site, business casual is usually fine. Having said that, and depending on the client’s corporate culture and style of your manager, you may have specific instruction to dress otherwise. I have a friend whose general rule for his team is to wear “at the level” of the client’s CFO.
No matter what the guideline is, it is prudent to have a suit ready for any ad hoc meeting with the company’s management.
Career center advisors and professors say to “always dress the part” and this goes for an accounting firm interview as well. You should show up for the interview dressed as you would for the job you want. Not only does this set a good impression, but it also shows that you are willing to put in the time and effort to look the part you are interviewing for. Therefore, when deciding how to dress for an interview, I’d go with the guidelines above but focus on the slightly more formal side of business casual.
What if you’ve been lucky enough to get an internship at a Big 4 firm? You want to show up looking professional and fit for the part, but not like a little kid playing dress-up in their parent’s closet. What kind of suit is good for an intern at a Big 4 firm?
When interning, you probably won’t wear a suit every day. Most firms will go with more business casual (dress pants and dress shirts) rather than a full suit every day. However, it’s always better to overdress than to underdress so you can play it safe and wear a suit your first day and possibly even your first week, and then decide from there.
What do we mean when we say “Big 4” accounting firms? The Big 4 (KPMG, Ernst & Young (EY), Deloitte, and PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC)) are the four biggest professional services networks in the world. They offer auditing, assurance services, taxation, advisory services, management consulting, corporate finance, and legal services. So, you can see that there is a wide range of services that they offer.
Is the dress code for Big 4 accounting firms different from other accounting firms?
For your interview, dress to impress. It’s always better to overdress (I keep saying it because it’s so important) than to underdress. Apparently, KMPG also spends a lot of money helping their interns know how to dress. The company spends hundreds of thousands of dollars on gift cards to help their interns dress properly for the job.
EY has one of the strictest dress codes of all the Big 4. When it doubt here, always go for more formal. An EY spokesperson said, “EY provides broad guidelines about the standard of attire that our people, who represent the firm, should adhere to. Our people are able to wear formal or business casual, depending on their professional working arrangements.”
The dress code at Deloitte is formals from Monday through Thursday and business casual on Fridays. Again, if you are a new hire, a new intern, or joining with a new office, always ask if you’re unsure. For an interview, always go with business attire. You want to make a good first impression.
PwC’s dress code is now “dress for your day.” Employees still need to follow the dress code of the clients they’re working with, but if they are in the PwC office, jeans and sneakers are just fine. This is definitely the laxest dress code of all of the Big 4. I’d still play it safe and go business professional or casual to an interview and first day on the job.
Rule number one is to adapt to the culture in which you work. This is true for any job anywhere in the world. If the culture only calls for button-down dress shirts and slacks, then do that.
If it’s your first day of work and you aren’t sure about the culture, try to recall how your interviewers dressed. The juniors, seniors, and managers you saw around the office are also a good reference. If you are still not sure, stay on the conservative side.
It’s pleasing to dress smart with good style and good fit. But you shouldn’t aim to dress “smarter” than your peers in order to stand out. Most people don’t care. And for the few who do, it will likely come out as negative.
1. We have casual Fridays that allow khakis and jeans, but my managers and above always wear a suit. Should I do that?
Yes, this could be one exception. Try to find out the reason — do the managers wear suits because of frequent client meetings, but is this the preferred style of upper management? I would probably dress something in between — a tad more formal than the usual casual Friday outfit (i.e. no jeans, but khakis and a shirt with nice cut and fabric). As you pass your first year, you may dress more like the managers if you wish to.
2. I love wearing a vest suit and I wonder if it’s appropriate in the office?
If you are a new hire, I would say no, simply because you don’t want to be called “the vest guy.” People may think you are trying too hard to impress. However, if you really love vests, you could add it in every now and then.
If it were me, I would take it down a notch to a regular suit with a tie, or dress pants paired with a blazer, or something just a step above business casual. Alternatively, if you can’t live without your vest, maybe once in a while, on special occasions, it’s okay to wear.
3. I look really young and I might look better with a full suit in the more “mature” style. What do you think?
I suggest to pick a more conservative color (this usually means the darker color) or go for a slightly more upscale look, but I wouldn’t go all the way to a full suit in the old style. You can’t carry the suit well with a young face. What’s worse, you’ll look like you’re trying too hard to fit some sort of a mold that no longer exists.
As you may be joining the batch with other 22-year-olds, I wouldn’t worry about looking too fresh. Colleagues and clients expect you to be young as a first-year associate.
Do you have additional questions you don’t see covered here? Please feel free to post them in the comments and I will do my best to answer. I want this to be as comprehensive a resource as possible for you. It can be stressful and exciting at the same time when entering a new career, so I want to help you do so with confidence!
Now, let’s take a look at a quick review of all that I’ve covered here in this post:
1. Be yourself but stay within the code.
2. Dress to impress but don’t overdress.
3. If you want to stand out, stand out as a professional who does excellent work, not one who dresses uniquely.
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!