Career

Tax vs audit: how to choose a career path in accounting

10 min read
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As an accounting student, you're faced with many decisions before graduation. Where will my dream career start? In which function do I want to focus? Accountants have plenty of job flexibility and your career could go in many different directions. CPAs can work in many different job functions and in diverse industries. Many accountants and CPAs who land in public accounting consider tax or audit as a career function. Are these areas right for you? And if so, which is a better fit?

It really is all about the right fit – which one better accommodates your lifestyle and career goals? What’s going to make you happy? While tax and audit can functionally be very different from each other, there are some common values you need to take into consideration. In this article, we'll share advice on how to choose between the two accounting functions. 

Audit vs tax: what's the difference?

Audit and tax are two very different specialties in accounting. Here's a high-level overview of what each function entails.

Auditors review financial statements to ensure their accuracy and compliance with appropriate regulations. After this review, auditors are responsible for communicating findings with the client. To work in audit, you need a strong attention to detail and significant knowledge of audit standards and regulations, especially those most relevant to your client's business. Furthermore, you'll need to be able to think critically to identify and solve any problems with the financial data. 

When you tell friends and family that you're interested in a career in accounting, they'll most often assume you're talking tax. Similar to auditors, tax accountants also review financial statements and data, but for the purpose of preparing and filing state and federal taxes. To succeed in tax, you'll also need great attention to detail. Effective communication skills are key to sharing tax implications with clients, since this greatly impacts their business's finances. 

How to choose audit vs tax

We've weighed in on the differences and similarities between audit and tax. Now, here are important considerations as you prepare to decide between the two.

Test the waters in both

Before deciding audit vs tax, you should have a first-hand understanding of how you perform in both specialties. Get internships in both tax and audit. There’s nothing wrong with that, and there’s no better way to scope out these careers than actually being in them.

If you're unable to snag an official internship in both functions, consider meeting with a colleague on a different team to learn more about their experience. 

Match your career interests with your lifestyle

Your job satisfaction may be directly connected to how well the role matches with your personal lifestyle. Answer the following questions -- your answers may help decide audit vs tax for you. 

  • Do you want to be the road warrior who gets to travel to different cities and constantly meet new people, or are you more comfortable being in a local, centralized firm location?
  • Do you prefer a smaller or larger firm?
  • Are you looking to start a family someday and will need more flexible work hours? 

Auditors often travel to the client, so you're more likely to rack up the air miles in this role. If you're exploring tax, never forget about tax busy season. From January until April, tax accountants are expected to work incredibly long hours and have intense work schedules. 

Find your passion

Both tax and audit span just about every industry you can think of. If nonprofit work motivates you, work for an organization you're passionate about. If finance, retail or manufacturing really catch your interests, go do tax or audit for one of them. The size and industry of your accounting firm or organization can make or break your accounting experience.

What if I make the wrong choice?

If you choose to explore one function and learn that it's not for you, that's okay! It’s called a learning experience – you learn from it, and you move on to something better. You are not tied down to only working in tax or only working in audit your entire career. In fact, it’s rare now to work at one place or even one industry until retirement. Get your experience (typically two years before getting your CPA license), then pick your options. For example, if you spent your first two years in tax and hated it, then show employers how transferable your skills are and switch to audit.

Keep in mind…

If you have a strong work ethic and do your job well, the firms likely don’t want to lose you. If you feel like something is “missing” and want to explore another track, employers are usually willing to have those talks with you.

 

No matter which road you take, the benefit of a CPA license is undeniable. CPA licensure expands your knowledge within your functional area and is the highest designation in accounting - a great step for continual career advancement. 

Becker can help you pass the CPA Exam and earn CPA licensure. Learn more about our CPA Exam Review courses. 

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