The late summer and fall season is traditionally a time when our firm sees an influx of new employees, specifically young professionals and recent college graduates filling entry-level positions. It’s a great opportunity to gain new energy and experience dynamic and fresh personalities, but often in a conservative industry, many employers find it difficult for younger and less experienced employees to make a smooth transition into a corporate setting. There are often challenges with green employees and how they interpret dress codes and struggle to properly craft their professional image.

Seeing as we are heading into that time of year when many firms find themselves faced with new recruits, I thought I’d ask some HR and marketing professionals in the industry a few questions about their dress code do’s and don’ts for newbies. Many of them are responsible for educating employees on what works and what doesn’t, along with providing image training and hosting “dress for success” events. Here’s what they had to say:

1)   What are the top fashion mistakes that entry level or new graduates make when joining an accounting firm?

Since we are located in a warm climate I see young professionals wear Bermuda shorts and/or tank tops to work. I have also seen more of your flip-flop style of shoe. Dresses or skirts that are too short are always a no-no, but for some reason new graduates tend to wear them.” - Jaimi Koechel, marketing manager, Henry & Horne, LLP

“I see that most recent graduates are eager to put their best foot forward and when doing that try to find ‘trendy’ items to wear. While it's okay to wear new/trendy items – it's not okay to wear every trend of the season in one day. 

The same suit you wore to the college fairs – we all had it – the $99 suit from Macy's that our parents bought us for the college fairs. Don't wear it! Typically they are made of cheap fabric and cut for "junior/younger" ages. You should never have a low rise suit pant or a mini skirt suit set. There are so many discount stores these days you can easily find a designer suit for the same $99, made from much better materials.” - Krysta Lyon, marketing director, Fuoco Group

 “Fit. Specifically related to females, it’s important for clothing to not be suggestive or provocative in any way so as not to distract from someone’s talent and abilities, and most often this directly relates to how clothing fits. While fitted (tight) and low-rise worked when in school, it doesn’t work in the office. Oversized clothing also doesn’t work for males and females. Pant hems shouldn’t be dragging on the ground, oversized sweaters with stretched out sleeves just look sloppy.  

For women and men – press those clothes! No more reaching into a pile for a t-shirt to wear to class! People are looking at your clothing now – so no wrinkles, stains, dog or cat hair. And polish your shoes!- Julie Becht, HR director, Freed Maxick CPAs

Women should not wear too flashy of jewelry or too much make up. Dress for daytime work, not the nighttime club scene.”- Lisa Dunnigan, principal, CIO, Olsen Thielen & Co.

2)   What beauty, health or grooming tips might be helpful to younger employees, and may not be something they would think of?

The rolled out of bed look doesn’t work well in the professional world. It’s always a good idea to spend a little extra time on your hair in the morning.” - Jaimi Koechel, marketing manager at Henry & Horne, LLP

“Ladies, fluorescent lights are evil. It's easy to think we all have a dedicated make up routine in the morning and we know what looks good. And yes, in natural lighting that is true. Fluorescent lights are a total different story. Take a trip to your local Sephora and explain to them you'll be working in an office and need natural looking foundation. It makes a world of difference.

Keep it clean. Guys, we don't want to see your permanent 5 o'clock shadow. Maintain a clean, stylish hairstyle and facial hair. You represent the firm you now work for, if the cast of Jersey Shore it's wearing it – it's probably not okay.

Manicured nails, this applies to both ladies and men. It sounds crazy but a simple manicure goes a long way. We work with our hands… from shaking hands, to typing and signing tax returns, having trimmed, clean nails makes a nice impression with both co-workers and clients.” - Krysta Lyon, Marketing Director, Fuoco Group

Lately, we’ve been seeing more piercings outside of ears – nose rings are definitely a no for all, and earrings on guys don’t work in our conservative industry.

Breath is important – sometimes we interview in close quarters – pop a mint before the meeting or ask for water to sip during the conversation.

Avoid perfume, cologne –you may be working in close quarters and your interviewer or co-workers may have allergies. .” Julie Becht, HR Director, Freed Maxick CPAs

Proper diet and exercise and sleep will positively impact your beauty. Poor diet, exercise and sleep will negatively impact you in how you present yourself.” - Pat Porter, Human Resources Director, Rea & Associates, Inc

3) In your opinion, how can a young professional’s image in the work place affect their professional development or pathway to a director position, and why should CPAs be image conscious?

“It's all about perception, just because you are young and new to the workplace doesn't mean you can't go places. Your tax director isn't going to want to you join them when visiting a 5 Star restaurant client, or come along to a luncheon or networking event if you come in with a sloppy appearance on a daily basis. If you come to work every day dressed for success, your employer is more likely to notice your effort to look the part, you will be given a greater level of respect from the start.” - Krysta Lyon, Marketing Director Fuoco Group

Individuals who present themselves in a neat and professional manner are perceived to be organized, intelligent and articulate. People with whom they come in contact won’t be distracted by their clothing, hair, grooming, etc. and will be able to focus instead on their knowledge and talents.

The old adage “Dress for the level you want to achieve” holds true. Managers and above will be more likely to schedule these individuals on their engagements or to participate in recruiting events, because they won’t have to worry about how they present themselves or risk being embarrassed by inappropriate attire or grooming. The way you take care of yourself can directly correlate to the way you will take care of your work and the clients’ work. There’s little more personal and important than dealing with someone’s finances – so presenting the image of a bright and sharp professional is critical.” – Julie Becht, Freed Maxick CPAs

And finally,

I can answer all 3 questions in one thought: New graduates should invest in a professional wardrobe and avoid wearing their casual and social clothes in the workplace. I see graduates wearing their "going out" clothes, shoes, makeup and hairstyles and yes, experienced professionals can tell!

It may not be what you mean to express, but it tells us that you don't take your career seriously enough to invest in a professional image. And that doesn't mean a lot of money - Old Navy, Kohl's, Target, H & M, etc. all have reasonably priced clothing for the professional workplace. This includes woven shirts, shirts with collars, pencil or A-line skirts, slacks, pumps, etc., clothes that are always in style..

So, if you want to be a professional, senior, supervisor, manager or even partner someday, dress the part. And look on the bright side, you won't wear out your party clothes by repurposing them as work clothes.” - Nicole Gantz, Marketing Manager, Honkamp Krueger & Co.

This is a great idea, too:

One thing that we’re doing at our firm is offering people “Rea wear” with our logo on it. We’ve set up a shop with pre-approved items in our corporate colors that they can order. I think that this helps people to get any idea of what is acceptable for the office and, if they’re really not big shoppers, gives them some easy choices for work wear. I’ve been surprised by how many people have order things through the store. Granted, they might not be fashionable… but they are definitely work appropriate, and, wearing them shows that you’ve got some team spirit, which is a good way to show that you’re committed to the firm.”- Maggie O’Toole, Marketing Coordinator, Rea & Associates

Hope you enjoyed some of the insights shared and feel free to share your own in the comments section of this blog post or on the Accounting Today Facebook page! Next up, fall trends and how to interpret some of them for work!

Emily Burns Perryman is a State University of New York Fashion Institute of Technology graduate and started her career in New York City working for companies including Giorgio Armani Le Collezioni, Christian Dior and Jones Apparel Group. She is now e-Marketing Communications Specialist for Freed Maxick CPAs in Buffalo, N.Y., and was named the Association for Accounting Marketing's 2011 "Rookie of the Year." Follow her on Twitter @FreedMaxickCPAs or email her at