It’s no secret that some people go out of their way to avoid a career in tax. That shouldn’t come as a complete surprise, since most college and CPA training programs teach only enough about tax for you to pass the CPA Exam. And if you haven’t gone any deeper than that, tax may seem like a sea of obscure forms and long hours during tax season. Not exactly an inviting scene, if that’s all you know.
But if you talk to people who have worked in tax for a while, you’ll find that they have a different story to tell. A career in tax offers a load of options that can take you virtually anywhere you want to go. Plus, there will always be a steady stream of good, high-paying jobs for CPAs focusing on tax, whether in good economic times or bad – because taxes just aren’t going away. People love tax CPAs because they’re great financial advocates, always helping improve their bottom line.
What you’ll do and where
The decision boils down to whether you want be self-employed or work on corporate taxes. Many people choose to go the private practice route (usually after spending time in a larger firm) because they enjoy the thrill of helping people work through their biggest life challenges. Along the way, they create strong personal bonds. It’s a career path that requires strong interpersonal skills and an ability to take on a dizzying range of challenges – challenges that are as varied and complex as people’s lives.
Of course, CPAs who follow their tax career into the business world also thrive on personal interactions – just in a different context. And that’s where things get interesting. Do you want to work for a big accounting firm, helping all types of clients make smarter decisions for their businesses? Or maybe you want to work for one type of company, helping make a big difference on the bottom line. No matter which direction you choose, the beauty of being a tax professional is that your work can make a huge difference in the financial well-being of a company or an individual. This isn’t about theory – this is about real money in real bank accounts. People tend to get excited about that.
Is this for you?
Here’s the thing about a career in tax: once you master it, things change. Which is exactly why so many tax professionals love what they do – it’s never the same. You learn something new all the time, and the profession is constantly evolving. If you have a nimble mind and aren’t afraid of change, you could be suited for a career in tax.
The people who are really great at tax accounting are the ones who can bring creativity to the job. They’re able to see opportunities where others see obstacles. It’s like they’re looking at a huge puzzle and are able to see the outcome before they even start putting it together – when anyone else would just see a pile of puzzle pieces. When a tax CPA has one of those “a-ha!” moments, everyone stands to gain.
How to make it happen
There isn’t an “official” certification for a CPA who specializes in tax but that doesn’t mean you don’t need to take special steps to prepare for a tax career. Be sure to take courses in these areas along the way:
- Basic accounting
- Individual tax issues
- Business tax issues
Whether you want to go into private practice or go the corporate route, you’ll probably start at an accounting firm. It’s a little like a rite of passage for tax accountants – where you earn your stripes before moving on to bigger and better things. Yes, you should plan on having to work through plenty of tax forms, and working harder during tax season. But it’s a small price to pay for a lifelong career in tax accounting. Remember: your colleagues on the audit side will be going through their own version of boot camp, too.
See how much you can make as a tax accountant with our Salary Calculator.