On many occasions, when I introduce myself as a Senior Revenue Policy Analyst for the Philadelphia Revenue Department, I see the other person roll their eyes or give me a weird look. There is a good reason for that. For most people, tax is something to be avoided (no pun intended), somewhat like going to the dentist.
To be specific, I have spent most of my career specializing in state and local taxes. If you are considering tax as a career, and I hope you do, you will typically start out as a generalist. This means that you will get exposure to different forms of businesses (corporations, partnerships, limited liability companies and so on) and various types of taxes (federal, state and local). In other words, you will get a little taste of everything tax has to offer!
Similar to your college experience, it might be wise to select a major as you advance in your tax career. I actually fell into my chosen major, state and local taxation, relatively early on in my career. After graduation, I worked for a mid-sized regional public accounting firm in Center City. As an associate, I gained experience in many different areas – general accounting, compilations, reviews and tax return preparation. During tax season I recall hungrily (yes, hungrily) taking a client’s tax return information from the “returns to be prepared” basket. For me, preparing individual tax returns was much like completing a complex jigsaw puzzle that required researching how the pieces fit together. This was my first exposure to taxes, and I enjoyed it from the start.
You might also want to consider a sub-specialty, which may increase your value to a firm’s tax practice. For example, if you decide to major in state and local taxes, there are many niches to think about. For example, you could specialize in sales tax consulting, property taxes, tax policy, audit defense or credits and incentives. By concentrating in one particular area of tax, you become the “go-to” person who is always in demand for your expertise.
Most tax professionals have undergraduate accounting or general business degrees. Those who are serious about long-term careers in tax will attend graduate school to earn a Master’s in Taxation degree. And in the state and local tax world, it is quite common for professionals to have law degrees. There are a great many career opportunities in tax, including positions in public accounting, private industry, law firms, government and tax-focused think tanks.
So, what do I enjoy most about taxation? I’ve always been fascinated by how politics and the economy influence tax legislation. Tax policies are constantly evolving to keep pace with changes in the economy. And politics clearly play a significant role in formulating tax policy. There is never a dull moment in the tax world. In practice, you are constantly being challenged by new and intellectually stimulating issues.
One thing is for certain, taxes aren’t going away anytime soon. There will always be a need for skilled tax practitioners. As a former student of mine eloquently stated when asked why we needed state and local taxes: “to buy stuff.” Yes, taxes pay for public education, infrastructure, social services, police and fire protection and many other essential government services.
So don’t be bashful, consider taking the plunge into taxes!