Okay, so I recognize it has been a while since the last blog and I sincerely apologize. I have been prepping for the CPA exam and had to abandon all life outside of studying. Now that I have finished testing, let’s talk career moves. I meet a lot of students who know they want to move into public accounting, but struggle to decide between audit and tax. Let’s break down a few differences.
Working in audit typically means frequent traveling to client sites. There is much more client contact early on in audit than in tax. This means as an auditor you don’t necessarily have the luxury of getting to know the client’s business for a few seasons before actually meeting them like you might in tax. To many, frequent traveling sounds like an advantage and it can be. However, it is important to realize that you will mostly be traveling alone (not with friends) to client sites that may not necessarily be on your travel bucket list. Often times the only people you may know are the people on your team. This can be awesome for some, but certainly would not suit everyone.
In tax there is far less travel required and less initial client contact. This is not to say that you are locked in a dungeon doing returns all day and forbidden to have client contact. However, as an associate you will likely be limited to client emails and phone calls for a while depending on the size of the firm. So if you were looking forward to donning that Olivia Pope inspired wardrobe to impress your clients, you may need to reconsider. One advantage of working in tax is being able to have a dedicated work space. No shade, but using an communal work space during flu season gives me anxiety.
The work that auditors do requires more of a logical and evidence based approach. Working in auditing requires a skeptical and objective mindset. Remember, the goal is to provide assurance that the financials are not materially misstated. If you enjoyed your intermediate and audit accounting courses in college, this may be the lane for you. You also need to be able to conceptualize that a client’s books could be misstated by $1,000,000 and that may be deemed ” immaterial”. I simply cannot wrap my brain around this, but I digress.
Tax accountants take more of a research based approach. There are less gray areas in tax (there are still a few) because regulation typically guides the process. The tax accountant is more of a messenger in that they are reporting to the IRS what the client provides to them (within the law). In short, if Mr. and Mrs. Jones report two young children as dependents, the tax accountant isn’t going to their house to verify the existence of those children. Primarily, tax accounting focuses on minimizing the client’s tax liability–within the boundaries of the law, of course.
Choosing Your Lane
Ultimately, choosing between audit and tax comes down to your personality and the type of lifestyle you desire. Long work hours will be a part of either decision you make so do not choose based on that. If you desire a career that emphasizes teamwork, requires extensive travel, and involves client contact–auditing may be your lane. If you prefer more stability and routine in your schedule, you don’t mind working alone, and you have a knack for problem solving, tax may be suitable for you.
If given the opportunity to try out both, you should definitely take it. I always thought I would prefer to work in audit until I interned in audit and realized it was not for me. It is important to note that in public accounting, auditors and tax associates work together on projects quite frequently. There is a nice comradery between both sides at my firm and I trust that many firms are like this. If you do not have the opportunity to intern in both audit and tax, try speaking with associates from either side. Getting a glimpse into their careers could be helpful in making your own decision.