President, Beta Alpha Psi, James Madison University
Editor's note: This is part of a series of guest posts from members of the James Madison University (JMU) chapter of Beta Alpha Psi, an honors fraternity for accounting students. These posts will cover topics of interest to accounting students. If you have a question you'd like a Beta Alpha Psi member to cover, please email VSCPA Communications Specialist Chip Knighton.
In the popular film The Matrix, Morpheus asks Keanu Reeves's character, Neo, to make a critical, life changing decision: either take the blue pill and go back to your normal fabricated life, or take the red pill, and face reality and save the world. Although not AS dramatic as this situation described, we as students preparing for the "real" world have some very essential decisions to make. For those of us in accounting, that can be directly related to choosing between careers in audit or tax.
For many students, the only exposure to the topics of audit and tax boil down to the experiences we have in a single audit class and a single tax class. So how do we make such a critical decision based on such limited information? The truth is, it is difficult to know whether audit or tax will be the best fit for any given person without actually having real-life experience in the field. Yet, there are still a few tips to help you make a more informed decision and decrease your chances of frowning behind the wrong desk.1. Analyze your strengths and weaknesses
The first and most obvious step: pay attention in your audit and tax classes. You need to give both topics an equal chance and equal effort so that you will have a well-rounded view of each course to fairly assess your strengths and weaknesses. Don't just say, "There is no way I am doing tax it's so hard", which is something I have heard frequently, but actually give both a chance and don't let a difficult professor or grade make the choice for you. With that said, the majority of people will make their decision at this stage as they realize whether they are more inclined as a "tax person" or an "audit person".2. Gain perspective
Ask as many questions to as many people as you can. You (or your parents) pay your professors to teach and prepare you for your careers so use them! Most of your professors have in-depth knowledge and personal experiences as tax and/or audit professionals. Next, especially for those of you in Beta Alpha Psi, come out to every professional event possible and delve into the minds of firm employees and their perspectives between audit and tax. But be wary, many people will have personal biases supporting their field of expertise so take the advice, thank them, and combine the different perspectives to compare similarities/differences and pros/cons in the responses you've received.3. Apply for internships (rotational if offered)
You wouldn't marry a girl without meeting her first right? Well the best way to "date" a company and a certain position is by interning with them. You will get a quick glance at what life with the firm in that particular position would be like if you happen to join full-time. Also, if possible choose a rotational internship which allows interns to try out various positions in tax, audit, or IT/advisory so that they may have a glimpse into a variety of career paths.4. Look for flexibility
The bottom line is firms want to make their employees happy. Seek out companies who are willing to be flexible with your career decisions. Worst comes to worse, you may realize you have made the wrong career decision and wish to switch from one position to another. If you follow this tip and initially join a flexible company, there should be no problem. They would be more than happy to accommodate your needs as long as you are a strong performer. Keep them happy and they will make you happy.5. Identify what personally fits YOU best
Here are a few very basic and GENERALIZED differences I have learned about between audit and tax for entry level positions:Audit: majority of time spent at client-site, more travel, shared personal desks and area, more client interaction, more team work, client interaction not completely positive (no biases or offense intended)
Tax: majority of time spent in company office, less travel, own personal desks and area, less client interaction, less team work, client interaction slightly more positive (no biases or offense intended)In closing, I believe a tax partner I spoke with at Ernst & Young said it best, "Tax is like driving a car forward planning for what is ahead, while audit is like looking in the rear view mirror and checking on what was behind."
Paul Hong is an accounting graduate student at James Madison University and president of the Eta Delta chapter of Beta Alpha Psi. He is a student member of the VSCPA. He has interned in the finance department at Minnieville Animal Hospital in Woodbridge. He chose audit.