Jobs for tax accountants?
June 25, 2009 7:44 PM   Subscribe

What kinds of jobs are available for tax accountants?

In a few weeks I will be finished with my post-baccalaureate certificate in accounting, and I’m looking for entry-level work in the tax field in the US. This is a new career direction for me; I’m 41 years old, and I have no professional accounting experience yet. Most of my previous work experience is as a teaching assistant, freelance writer, and administrative assistant.

I’m a hardcore tax nerd. I enjoy tax research, reading tax blogs and books about tax theory and history, and even digging through the Internal Revenue Code. I’m also a classic introvert, am very organized and self-motivated, and work well independently. I’m happiest when I have a certain level of creative and intellectual challenge – doing things like helping to solve technical problems, tracking down arcane details, or writing summaries of complex information for laypeople or non-specialists.

I’m having trouble figuring out what kinds of tax jobs would best suit me. I don't mind preparing tax returns, but I'm not sure I'd want to do that full time. What other choices do I have? Tax associate? Tax researcher? Compliance (international, federal, state, or local)? Something else entirely?

So far I’ve ruled out tax law, since I have virtually no interest in going to law school. I’ve also ruled out continuing on in academia, because I’ve already spent many years as an academic (I have two liberal arts B.S. degrees), I don’t have much interest in teaching, and I don’t want to pile on any more student debt. I need to have a steady income coming in soon. I do plan to obtain my CPA credential in the future, but I want to get a good bit of work experience under my belt first.

I’m looking for book recommendations, websites, and any other resources that would help me decide what kind of job would suit me best. I would especially welcome first-hand “day in the life” accounts from people who work in the tax field. What do you do, and what is your job title? What kind of background is necessary to do your work? What do you like and dislike about your job? What kind of hours do you work, and what are your co-workers like? Are there layoffs going on where you work, or do you feel like your job is relatively recession-proof? What do you wish you’d known before you started your job? What advice would you give to someone just starting out in tax accounting?
posted by velvet winter to Work & Money (6 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
I'd recommend talking to your career services people, assuming your educational institution has such a thing. They'll not only be able to point you in the right direction, but they may be able to connect you with an alumni network.
posted by valkyryn at 8:22 PM on June 25, 2009

Best answer: I was in a similar position last year, though I love doing compliance (I work on everything--Int'l, Fed, SALT) and don't really care for research. I'm 36 and started brand new last year in our tax department coming over from general ledger. Our company (private company, with many different depts) had layoffs awhile back which of course made me nervous...but all of my co-workers who have been in tax for years said nothing to worry about--even if by chance I did get laid off, they knew lots of people and lots of jobs (I didn't get laid off thank goodness). I have my CPA license and an MBA degree--and really only took 3 classes in taxation.

I lucked out where I am and my group took a chance on me instead of hiring an associate with more experience. I don't work in public accounting, so my hours are very reasonable--it gets busy April and September--but I've definitely heard lots of horror stories, so that is something to consider when looking for a job; when I was 35 and was contemplating making a jump to public to get started in tax, I don't think I could've handled the workload. As a new staff in public, be prepared to work ungodly hours for a few months a year--if you can handle those few months though, you can probably get some good experience in the off months doing research & planning.

Anyhoo, I have a feeling you'll probably have to work compliance for a couple of years before you can make headway on doing something more in line with what you want to do. Just make sure when working with seniors and management that you keep expressing your interest in research, and volunteering for projects.

I feel pretty confident at this point that I'd be able to find a job pretty quickly should the worst happen--everybody still has to pay their taxes!

You might want to consider your state CPA society and the AICPA--even though you're not one yet, they may have some resources for you as well. As long as you're willing to do the hard work and really make an effort to learn (believe me, your education probably won't even come close to preparing you for the reality of it) you'll be fine in the long run.

Good luck fellow Code-Head!
posted by Zoyashka at 8:48 PM on June 25, 2009 [1 favorite]

This sounds like it wouldn't be wonky enough for your interests, but tax accountants make great nonprofit organization treasurers, either as a "real" job or a serious part time or volunteer commitment on the side.
posted by availablelight at 9:35 PM on June 25, 2009

Have you looked into becoming an enrolled agent? It does require an exam and background check, but with the level of interest and extracurricular study you've done in the area, it should be pretty basic for you.

Also, I'm not sure where you are, but are there any IRS offices hiring agents in your area?
posted by Cricket at 10:03 PM on June 25, 2009 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I really appreciate the advice so far!

Zoyashka: Thank you so much! That's just the kind of advice I'm looking for. I doubt I'll go the Big 4 public accounting route. I've heard the horror stories too, and I doubt I could handle the long hours. If you'd like to say more, I'd be interested to know what you like about compliance work, and what exactly it entails. I don't mind doing my share of the grunt work; I expect it, in fact, since I'm entry-level.

Cricket: I'm in Portland, OR. There is an IRS office here, and that's one of the options I'm considering. The enrolled agent sounds like it would require more experience and knowledge than I have currently, but it's something to consider for later on.
posted by velvet winter at 10:51 PM on June 25, 2009

Best answer: Well, let's see. The main reason I can think of for enjoying compliance, is a little silly--I love filling out forms! Other than that, it is pretty challenging on a day-to-day basis, we get PBC (provide by client) workpapers (basically from our finance dept) that we use as the starting point.

We then create tax workpapers which include tracking basis, contributions/distributions, taxable income, adjustments to income, etc. I also think that part is pretty fun too. I love Excel. Once that's completed (sometimes requires some research, and definitely a lot of problem solving skills) we either enter it into a tax return, or if it has a lot of state returns, we send it off to our service provider. Those are the basics of my job!

There are also quarterly filings &/or payments, misc Dept of Treasury filings (the new FBAR rules are excruciating!), and misc projects along the way.

The bulk of our returns are due 4/15 which we then extend to 9/15, so vacations in early-April and mid-August to mid-September are always out of the question.

Hmmm, that's about all I can think off the top of my head, but feel free to mail me if you have any specific questions!
posted by Zoyashka at 10:04 AM on June 26, 2009 [1 favorite]

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