Category Archives for Tips for New Accountants

Corporate Attire for Female Accountants: Complete Brand Recommendations

corporate attire for female accountantsYou know what’s considered the appropriate corporate attire for female in accounting and finance. The problem is…

Where exactly can you get them? Here are the popular brands among female financiers.

1. The Most Important Corporate Attire for Women: The Suits

If you have no idea where to start, you can pay a visit to these shops first:

Theory (featured above) is quite popular and they have lots of discounts in the major apartment stores. So, do time your purchase. Having said that, it really depends on your build and style so please feel free to pick other brands as long as they look classy and professional.

BCBG could be a good choice as well.

A Note on Suit Color

Black is the default color and it’s great in hiding any “accidents” at lunch; but if you have black hair and black eyes, together with a black suit and shoes… you look like you are going to the funeral.

What to do? 2 recommendations:

  • Break up the black with tasteful accessories e.g. a brooch (but risk of looking like your mom), or separate it with a nice white blouse.
  • Get something off-black, e.g. charcoal and dark maroon could be quite nice.

Suit vs Separate

Suits are convenient, but it could look “pre-packaged” and boring. So it is totally fine to mix and match to create your style. With that, let’s go into…

2. Blouse

My take on the popular brands:

  • J Crew and Express – I did get a bunch of clothes / blouses from these stores, but you have to be quite choosy.
  • Banana Republic and Victoria Secret – warning from my buddy in my bull pen: bad quality! Beware!
  • Ann Taylor – I got a bunch of these but it could get you a “mom” look. I need that though because I look younger than my age which doesn’t help in client-oriented business.
  • Bennetton – good selection of colors; good alternative to button-down shirts
  • Uniqlo – this Japanese store is a big hit in Asia, and increasingly in America. Similar to Benneton but a lot more affordable.

How About Button-Down Shirts?

I used to think button-down shirts is a must for professional look, but it doesn’t fit very well, and I stop buying after realizing that gape at the chest… In short, wear at your own risk.

Casual Fridays

Zara and equivalent is good enough for that in my opinion. Having said that, nothing sexy, fancy and flashy in the office setting. Save that for night parties and weekends.

3. Shoes

Unlike the men, Shoes are pretty important considerations for business attire for women. Men need only to worry about color and style, but women have to pay attention to the heels – the height, the style, the material.

In fact, I think the height of the heels is the #1 consideration when you buy a pair of shoes for your work.

The Heels

Obviously, it depends on your height, your personality and your style, but generally I wouldn’t go for heels beyond 3 inches. Well, if you are short and are wearing pant suits, then yeah, maybe 3.5” is ok… but long legs and high heel will only attract dirty looks for your fellow female colleagues.

With that, I would recommend:

  • Height: stay conservative with 1.5 – 3” inches. The style of the shoe matters too, e.g. for round toes shoes it does look better with higher heels
  • Width: no chunky heels and platforms please. Stick with classic pumps, and if you can handle, stilettos is great
  • Materials: same as the rest of the shoe (i.e. covered with leather). Avoid metal and loud embellishments
  • Peep toed ok? Some offices are fine while others are not. Please observe for a few weeks before you test the water. If go ahead, don’t forget to pedicure!
  • Be sure the shoes don’t make a big clacking sound when you walk
  • No need for designer shoes. People notice only if you go overboard.

What I wear:

  • Mostly 1.5-2.5 inches. All very plain and/or classy. My most “admired” pair at work was a burgundy 2.5” high-heel from Ann Taylor. I have many female colleagues asking where I got the shoes from.
  • Other than that, I had a couple of really plain black or dark color Nine West shoes with siloutee heels. Also, similar ones from Manolo are good.
  • I notice that Dior and Prada have tasteful and appropriate shoes for female bankers / accountants as well.

With the office culture and see what others are wearing, you can accessorize accordingly.

Tips: get a pair of flats in case you twist your feet or the heel breaks.

4. Tights

I don’t like tights especially in the summer. But on your first day you definitely want to wear one for a more professional look – some offices are pretty okay without tights but you need time to make a thorough observation. I would also think that wearing tights is the proper, “expected” business attire for women when you go to client meetings.

Tights Related Complaints And Solution

  • “Man it’s hot!”: I know. But the office is always in winter and so this shouldn’t be a concern
  • “I hate nude tights I look like my grandma”: If this is you, try dark-color tights
  • “I always get runs”: Same here. So unfortunately I have to stick with the nude color. Also, stock at least two extra pairs in the office in case of an unlucky day.

5. Bags

The general rule should again be classy. In my opinion it’s worth investing a bit more on one good bag, because your attire gets instantly upgraded with a right classic handbag.

It’s my personal preference, but I like no-brand bags because it’s probably the only thing I can be more creative and give me a character.

But if you look for branded handbags, here are the popular choices:

  • Longchamp – pretty safe if you work in NYC
  • I see lots of LV too – but better to skip those with colorful monogram-print.

6. Makeup

When it comes to makeup, remember this: cut it down. You never want to overdo it because you’d look like someone heading for a clubbing or a flirt.

Here is the general rule:

  • Use high-quality make-up: it’s well worth the investment because it doesn’t get smeared easily and you don’t need to fix it every couple of hours.
  • Concealer is a must! Keep an extra set in the office. Comes in handy after a long night.

You can get everything at Sephora. Popular brands among my banker / accountant friends include Bare Minerals and Make Up Forever.

7. Hair

“How should I wear my hair? Should I cut it / straighten it?”

I am quite surprised at the number of questions I got on hair.

The day when I got an offer for the internship, I cut my hair and I didn’t grew it long until the last year of my banking career. You don’t need to follow my drastic move, but here are 2 things to bear in mind:

  • (Good) junior bankers and accountants are always busy. So you need a hair style that is easy to maintain.
  • You are fine as long as you look professional.

On Whether To Wear Your Hair Up

A lot of female finance professionals have long hair and many wear them down. It is perfectly fine as long as it looks neat and professional, but if you have a habit of playing with your hair especially when you are tense or bored (read: in a client meeting), it is better to wear your hair up. Having said that, some people look quite “childish” with a ponytail, so make sure you get a nice classy hair band or clip.

How To Deal With Curly Hair

Curly hair is wonderful as long as you have time to take care of it. But the reality is that you don’t. In my case, I got naturally curly hair and it could get frizzy during a change of weather. Somehow the hair was tamed after cutting it short.

An alternative is to straighten your hair every day using a straightener, or even go to the salon and get one of those Japanese Straight Perms. I’ve tried one of those and it looks great, but please note that this kind of chemical treatment can hurt your hair and it can get really frizzy at the roots if you are unlucky.

8. Nails

I have to say nails are pretty important too because as an accountant/banker, you handle documents and so people can easily notice your hands and fingers.

I don’t manicure or paint my nails because manicures can’t last for more than 3 days (it’s just me) and I have no time to go get it fixed. Obviously clean and “bare” nails are better than half-painted ones.

Having said that, I would say more than half of the girls have manicures of some sort. The general rule is:

  • Keep the color conservative – Black and other fab-color nail polish is a bad idea
  • No red, please! Vintage doesn’t go well in terms of a professional finance look
  • Ballerina pink nail polish and French manicure are among the most popular.

At the End of the Day…

This “dress code” is important because it gives a very positive first impression, and it may make a subtle difference when the VP / manager is deciding whether to take you to important client meetings and so on.

However, whether it is expensive or designer-brand does not matter. The focus should be on fit, quality, and tailoring.

What Is Considered Overboard?

Obviously, you don’t want to be labeled as the sexy-and-lazy girl, i.e. the girl whom the guys go after for THAT other than work.

But what does it exactly mean? Again, it depends on the culture at the office. Just dress as if you are ready to see a client every day. The goal is to look at least normal and your boss won’t be embarrassed if s/he brings you to meetings.

While observing the female colleagues, please take note of the difference between junior and senior people, because the MDs/partners obviously have more leeway when it comes to their version of professional attire. It goes without saying that you should stick with the junior one’s attire.

Business Attire For Women: 5 Rules Of Thumb

  1. Stay neat, conservative, professional
  2. Time your purchase during department store sales
  3. Get more fashionable when you move up the line/your reputation is well-established
  4. Prepare an emergency set of clothes, shoes, and tights in the office
  5. Don’t forget your concealer!

More on Office Fashion Culture

Accounting Salary Negotiation Tips: 5 Dos and 6 Don’ts

accounting salary negotiatoin

Finally, you have an offer. Now, on salary negotiation — Can I do it, should I do it?

It depends.

The Art and Science of Salary Negotiation

First Year Associates in Big 4

The Big 4 generally has pretty set salaries so there isn’t much variation among its staffers. Also, they have so many people willing to work for them for less than what they offered you.

You can still give it a try, but be realistic what to expect. At the same time, unless you are super arrogant your offer won’t be withdrawn or affected by the negotiation.

Experienced Hire in Big 4

If you have excellent rating, work in a hot industry, and are actively poached by recruiters, you should be able to negotiate. In fact, the competing Big 4 will likely offer a considerably more attractive compensation package than what you currently have, even before you ask.

Regional Firms

In my opinion, the smaller the firm, the more flexibility you have on salary negotiation. Smaller firms have fewer rules and each partner has more say on hiring for his team.

Non-CPA Firms

Similar logic applies. A local company who needs an accountant with your expertise is more open to discuss than a Fortune 100 company looking to fill a vacancy in their 100-strong accounting department.

My Accounting Salary Negotiation Tips

1. Understand Your Worth (with Research)

Think about why you think you deserve more and be honest… if what you can offer them is justified, they will do it. If you got nothing special, they will just hire one of the other hundred candidates.

Let’s figure out how much people are willing to pay you. It is fairly straightforward in the accounting industry. Check out, or download the latest guide from Robert Half, and determine your salary level based on your education (bachelor or master’s), years of experience and location.

Your current compensation is another indicator, although if you are looking for a job you might be underpaid.

Depending on how eager you want this job, you may adjust your target compensation package to be higher, on par or below the industry average.

2. Make Sure They Offer First

As a negotiation tactic, ask them to give you a number, or at least a range. Their first number is unlikely to be their best number, and you can start to counter offer from there.

Note that no one can force you to disclose your salary information (although they will know during background check). If asked about the target compensation package, you can say “competitive, but I am really excited about the opportunity at your firm”. You may also say “based on my market research, someone with my education and experience is paid around X to Y.”

3. Be Confident and Stand Your Ground

Your contact point is usually HR. While you may be uneasy with salary discussion, HR does it on a daily basis. So don’t be embarrassed to tell them what you think you are worth, backed up by market research and solid demonstration of your value from past experience.

4. Be Respectful

At the same time, you should discuss with the employer with professionalism and respect. Try to understand the constraint the HR is facing. For example, you need more free time for the upcoming CPA exam, but realize that vacation days are fixed for all employees at your level. In this case, you may explore with HR on more PTO (paid time off), unpaid days off or other alternative working arrangement.

If you have a spouse that has insurance, you could negotiate not to take benefits in exchange for a higher salary. I did that with one of my previous jobs.

5. Be Willing to Walk Away

There is always a risk that they withdraw an offer if they think the gap is too wide to close. If you are dying for this offer, your may want to reconsider the tactics.

What You Should Never Do in Any Salary Negotiation

1. Lie about Your Current Salary

I have readers who told me they have been grossly underpaid in the current job, and they want to inflate their salary numbers to get a upper hand in negotiation.

Don’t do it.

Most company guidelines state that lying about your salary is the same as lying about your GPA. It is grounds for withdrawal of an offer or immediate termination if somehow it is found out after the fact.

Check out this page on how firms utilize verification services and how your current salary is revealed during background check.

2. Focus on Need / Greed rather than Value

Don’t tell the employer that you need a certain salary. The company has no obligation to pay more because you have student loan and mortgages. They do so if only they see value in you, either how much you are worth now, or as a long-term employee.

3. Ask to Speak to Person-in-Charge

I heard a story on how a candidate wasn’t happy with the offer and asked to speak to a higher up. This is plain arrogance. Pissing off the person who handed out the offer will lead you nowhere. It may even cost you the job.

4. Negotiate for the sake of Negotiating

This is just annoying and greedy and people know it. It doesn’t work, and the bitterness lingers if you decide to take the original offer.

5. Ask for Too Many Changes in Counteroffer

Target one or two areas to maximize your bargaining power. For example, you want more base salary and vacation days because of your master’s degree. If they don’t budge, you may counteroffer one more time, such as a one-time signing bonus or CPA bonus. It could also be intangible benefits such as a company phone or professional development opportunities.

Be systematic and don’t spread yourself too thin by going for every reimbursement opportunities you can think of.

6. Take the Negotiation Personally

This is also common sense. If negotiations break down between you and the employer, move on graciously, thanking the employer again for the opportunity. You never want to burn any bridges.

For Your Further Reading

Audit Billable Hours: What’s Enough for Work and CPA License

audit billable hoursThis is not common, but some new hires worry about not having enough audit billable hours, especially if this is one of the experience requirements for your CPA license.

Monitoring Audit Billable Hours of Entry-Level Accountants

It is the responsibility of managers, your counselor, staff planning and ultimately the office leadership to make sure you get enough billable hours.

If you are new, they may just be leaving your schedule open, because they don’t yet know what your strengths are, and will throw you in where they think you’ll fit best later.

But then, it could be an oversight. Managers and seniors are busy and they cannot monitor everyone on a daily basis. Here is what you can do .

1. Be Proactive

Speak to your counselor, see if this is “normal” or if he could help you dig up some more work. Then, speak to the seniors and the managers in your teams, and let them know that you have unallocated time. You could also email the person in charge of scheduling, and ask him to pass your name along to anyone needing assistance. This will show some major initiative on your part as well.

2. Be Friendly

You can also get to know people in the office by speaking to them by the coffee machine or any informal hangout area, letting them know that you exist and that you have unallocated time.

3. Do Your Job Well

Do well on your engagements, and people will start picking you up if you ask them if they need help.

Stuck with an Awful Audit Senior: What to Do?

awful-audit-seniorIt is 3 am. You don’t know what the heck you are doing. All they told you is to look at last year’s papers and follow what they did last year. That makes you feel like you are just pushing papers. On top of that, you have been working late every night and have no idea why.

The “they”, of course, are your seniors.

You want to quit so bad. But should you? Could you? Here are your options.

7 Ways to “Manage” Your Audit Senior

1. Backing Out?

You can always choose to leave the firm, but I don’t think it’s a good idea.

First, you have worked hard at school and at the recruiting process to get this job. Why give up everything because of this person you despise? You owe it to yourself to create opportunities for you. Besides, 5 different seniors will senior you 5 different ways. Don’t let one bad apple ruin the orchard.

2. Talk to Your Peers or a Mentor

Ask peers you trust about their experience. Don’t complain or spill your guts. Just throw out questions on how they receive feedback from their seniors. At the very least it gives you a realistic expectation of a typical audit senior.

If you don’t really trust anyone in the firm, see if you can talk to ex-colleagues or friends outside the firm. Then ask for their honest opinion.

3. Take a Step Back

Now, analyze the situation and identify the root of the problem. Is it due to one particular senior? If so, speak up to your counselor and HR contact. Unless you say something, people don’t know that you are unhappy and struggling.

You may say that client doesn’t fit your interest and you want to move into a different industry. In my opinion, it is best to tell the truth – that you feel like you are not getting enough training. I understand that it could be an awkward conversation, but as long as you present it professionally and matter-of-factly, it is fine.

If the issue is lack of job satisfaction, try looking at the overall audit and its purpose. Spend some time in understanding your client, their operations, and their challenges. This will make you a much better auditor down the road.

If the issue is that you dislike everyone in the firm, or that your learning style doesn’t fit in with the team’s, then maybe it’s time to move on…

4. Aim to Last Longer than Your Senior

Assuming that one particular audit senior is the issue, I suggest that you wait after the busy season. Your senior is probably on his way out after that. His apparent lack of interest in you (and possibly in his job) indicates that he may be looking for opportunities elsewhere.

5. Vent It Out!

In the meantime, if you are still angry, vent it out to people you trust, or do this anonymously at forums, or in the comment section below 🙂

6. Build a Relationship with Your Client

At the same time, start building a good relationship with your client. It echoes the third point on understanding your client: people appreciate your effort, and practically, it makes your life as an auditor much easier. For example, you could ask them for all sorts of supporting schedules late at night and they wouldn’t get upset.

In the long run, you earn yourself an option to work for this client, and do a great job because you understand their operations so well.

7. Figure out Your End Goal

Where do you want to end up in your career? This is an important question because it determines how long you need to stay.

If you don’t even know what you want to do yet, staying in public accounting isn’t going to hurt anything. It will end up helping you in the long run.

Specifically, try and stick it out for 2-3 years (and YOU become senior), then leave if you are still unhappy. You will then realize the name on the resume is invaluable and very helpful when you leave.

Question: Should I Request Changing Audit Team?

Yes, but think carefully before proceeding. Here are the reasons:

First, you might end up with another crappy senior. Another request for change might be met with eye rolls at a minimum or a rep for being flaky and demanding.

Second, even if the above isn’t true, you still have limited options to change. Once you take steps to change team, expect to stay there for a while. You can only request changes a limited amount of times before people assume there is an issue with you.

My Thoughts

If you work in Big 4 long enough, you’d see seniors come and go. Hang in there!

Auditing is by no means a glorious job, and what you are experiencing happens on every team, in every office, in every state. But you need to just take things in stride and give it your best.

Excel for Accounting: Getting Ready for Your First Job

excel for accountingYou’ve got an offer, and won’t start until next September. Is there anything you can do to get prepared for the first job? Honing your Excel skills is one idea.

The Expectation

First of all, if you mentioned that you are “pretty good” in Excel at the interview, and want to live up to your team’s standard, make sure you are familiar with the following functions before starting:

  • Pivot tables
  • Vlookups
  • Sumif
  • Filters
  • Conditional Formatting
  • Macros
  • Bonus: Index match

You probably won’t have to create them right off the start, but you should know how they work and how to modify existing ones.

How to Get Prepared

1. Practice with Everyday Examples

It is best to learn Excel with practical examples. For example, do you have a spreadsheet where you track your bank account, maybe with budgetary categories? If so, try to find ways to extract and use data.

Here are some exercise to work on:

  • Set up a formula to calculate expenses in a budget category in the current month (without having to reset the SUM range).
  • Set the budget column to turn red if it exceeds the budget by, say, 5% or more.
  • Create another sheet that pulls data from the bank records and uses pivot tables and charts to show expenses by category and by payee.
  • Create a macro so that when you export data from your bank’s website, the data is format to copy and paste into your bank spreadsheet.
  • If the bank doesn’t have your budget categories, use vlookup or index and match to create formula that looks for the last time this payee was paid and tells you what budget category it was.

2. Learn Excel for Accounting via Google

After playing around with different functions in your personal spreadsheet, you can move on to more challenging work. Try looking for an excel project to do, then figure out how to do it. There are lots of projects on the Internet, such as monthly budget and variance analysis templates.

If you get stuck, there are tons of Youtube tutorials on Excel for accounting. The following video is comprehensive but very long. You can easily google for shorter versions.

3. Learn on the Job — Remember the Prior Year Work Papers!

If you spend a couple of weeks working on Step 1 and 2, you are better than 95% of your class. Keep up with the great work by learning on the job.

Some seniors are helpful and friendly but others may not, so you can’t rely on them 100%. You can instead study the prior year work papers, with all the formula and data for your easy reference.

Another tip: If you feel like something is taking too long, there is definitely a faster way. Ask your bull-pen mate, or do a quick Google search and you will find something golden.

Do You Have Other Tips to Share?

For current accountants and auditors, what advice can you give to first-years? Would love to hear from you.