Author Topic: tax accounting career advice (apologies in advance for a wall of text)  (Read 1523 times)

Cheddar Bob

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I left Big 4 public accounting and started as a Senior Tax Analyst for a public company in December.  In some ways, the new job has not played out the way I thought it would.  Hoping to get some advice, especially from accountants on the forum.  Should I look at other opporunties?  Am I, as MMM would say, just being a complainypants?  Details below.

I know its probably pretty atypical, but I had a great experience working in Big 4 public accounting for a little over 2 years (started right after grad school).  I worked in the Tax function, but my group was not compliance related so I did not experience busy season or do much work related to tax returns.  Instead, I was involved in M&A and was really more a consultant than an accountant.  A lot of my work was organizing information received from clients and maintaining project status trackers.  While the work was related to the tax-aspects of M&A, it was not very tax-technical.  I liked the job because the hours were very reasonable. I don't think I ever worked more than 55 hours in a week and I was probably at 45 hours a week on average.

There were two downsides to this job, though.  One was the travel.  I never got on a project that required week-to-week travel for an extended period of time (i.e., 6 months), but it was going to be inevitable.  There were a few times where I would be told on a Thursday that I'd need to be at X place on Monday.  The unpredictability made it really hard to schedule events during the week.

Another downside, related to travel, was that my group was spread out across the country.  If I wasn't traveling, I was working from home and interacting with people through email/IM/phone.   While everyone was great about being available and answering questions, there's only so much interaction you can have when everyone isn't in the same office.

The reason I left was that I couldn't see myself doing the traveling consultant gig long-term.  I wasn't burned out and probably could have stayed on for a couple of more years, but I felt it was important to transition to what I could actually see myself doing long-term so I could build up relevant experience.  So I decided to leave public and go to industry and work in a corporate tax department.  I figured that learning provision/compliance would be more useful long-term.  During the interview process, I explained that I really didn't have any experience in provision/compliance but I wanted to learn and follow this career path.  The place that hired me thought it was sound reasoning, liked my background, and offered me a job with a market salary and a "Senior" designation, which honestly they didn't have to do since I didn't really have relevant experience.

Fast forward 4 months into the new job now, and I'm not sure if this company is the right fit for me.  The biggest issue has been the training.  During the interview process I was explicit about how I basically didn't know anything about provision/compliance and that I wanted to be able to just walk up to someones cubicle and have a discussion versus phone/IM/email.  I am the most junior person in the department and have been receiving most of my work from two more-senior Seniors.  Just about every time I get minimal explanation on the task/file and am told to just "roll it forward" / "figure it out from the prior year/quarter file".  And once I make the updates, I get minimal feedback on the quality and it flows on to some other thing, the big picture of which is also not explained to me.

On one of these projects, where I given a file and told to "figure it out", I asked for more explanation.  I asked if I could get a general overview and explanation of where the inputs in the file came from.  I got an explanation, which was really helpful.  But then when I had a quarterly "check in" with my boss, I got feedback that I need to spend more time just looking at the files and trying to figure it out on my own.  My boss said that he understood that I probably thought this was "inefficient", as I'm spending time trying to figure something out when someone could easily explain it to me in far less time.  But he said that other people had work of their own and there just wasn't time to explain everything.

I understand where he is coming from, and I certainly don't want to take time away from people who are, admittedly, doing more important tasks than I am.  But I think its a fair request to maybe get a little more explanation (i.e., more than like 5 minutes chatting or a paragraph in an email) up front when given a task.  As I complete my work, I am definitely learning some things (and my boss said he was happy with my work), but I also feel like I am just plugging numbers in certain spots because that's where it was last year.  And once I turned in a file for review, it seems like that's the end of it, unless a major revision is needed.  I'm not getting specific feedback and there's no avenue to really discuss the work and how it fits in the big picture.

I just don't get the sense that developing/mentoring is a priority.  At my prior job, it was the complete opposite, and people felt a responsibility to develop others and give feedback.  Everyone I worked with at my old job (from seniors to senior managers to partners) would go over files with me, ask if I understood the concepts behind the work, and would even ask questions to test my knowledge (by tweaking something in the fact pattern and then asking how it would affect something). 

At the check in with my boss, he apologized if they were boring me to death, as not a lot of work has been passed down to me.  He said that they are still trying to figure how to spread work around, as the department was only like 4 people as of 2 years ago and is now about 8.  He also said that it's been tough to push down work as a lot of stuff he just figures is easier/faster for someone else to just do it versus pushing it down.  This was kind of concerning, as when I was interviewing, they had mentioned that the department was understaffed for too long and that they wanted to grow as to spread the work around and not have everyone be as swamped (they hired another Senior around the same time as me).

Another issue has been the general culture of the department.  At my prior job, everyone was super professional, didn't gossip much, and didn't bring the personal lives into the workplace.  At this new job, it is very gossipy.  The department had a "team building" event last month.  We all went to a restaurant for dinner and then had drinks after.  Most of the time was spent making fun of other people in the company.  "This guy cares too much about the company", "this is guy is an idiot, how did he not know X?", "our auditors are assholes".  Those kinds of comments.  I realize this is probably the case at most companies, and those gossip opportunities just weren't there at my last company because not everyone worked in the same office.  But it is definitely annoying. 

Also at this team building event, two people (a Senior and Director) just casually stated that they had popped an Adderrall one night to get through the year-end close.  The head of the department, a senior VP at the company, just laughed.  I was kind of shocked at this, as we aren't exactly Wall Street.  Also, I'll eventually have to do that kind of work, so it is concerning to think that people are using drugs to get the work done.

Again, apologies for the wall of text.  But I am wondering if this experience is typical in accounting?  Are there any truly red flags here?  It's not like I'm being berated at work, my performance has been fine, and the hours have been very reasonable.  But I just haven't felt really comfortable and just feel like its inevitable that I'll leave.  With that said, if I hang around for 2-3 years, I definitely will have built up a solid background that should really help getting the next job, where I will probably focus more on cultural fit/training/development.

Thanks for reading.

East River Guide

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I don't think many people appreciate the differences until they make the jump but I don't think what you are experiencing is that uncommon.    But there are plenty of M&A tax jobs where you don't have to travel and give you plenty of direct mentoring.  Part of that is being in one of the hubs so maybe it is more a matter of location than occupation?

Cheddar Bob

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I don't think many people appreciate the differences until they make the jump but I don't think what you are experiencing is that uncommon.    But there are plenty of M&A tax jobs where you don't have to travel and give you plenty of direct mentoring.  Part of that is being in one of the hubs so maybe it is more a matter of location than occupation?

I didn't look into it that much.  Another reason why I wanted to switch to provision/compliance is that I wanted build a foundation in the fundamentals of Tax.  These are things that every corporation must deal with.  I wouldn't rule out returning to M&A/consulting work in the future but I figured it was good to learn provision/compliance while I'm still pretty early in my career.

walkwalkwalk

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This was an interesting read as I will start at a family office (read private company) as a tax staff in May. I worked at a small CPA firm so my experience so far, about 3 years, was completely different from  your Big 4 experience. Mostly llcs filing as partnerships and scorps and the individual returns to go along with them.

Hopefully my experience with the ability to ask questions will be better than yours so far. I will try to update you once I am settled in my new job.

BTW, Are you a CPA? I am but I don't know if it really helps me besides getting my foot in the door.

East River Guide

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I don't think many people appreciate the differences until they make the jump but I don't think what you are experiencing is that uncommon.    But there are plenty of M&A tax jobs where you don't have to travel and give you plenty of direct mentoring.  Part of that is being in one of the hubs so maybe it is more a matter of location than occupation?

I didn't look into it that much.  Another reason why I wanted to switch to provision/compliance is that I wanted build a foundation in the fundamentals of Tax.  These are things that every corporation must deal with.  I wouldn't rule out returning to M&A/consulting work in the future but I figured it was good to learn provision/compliance while I'm still pretty early in my career.

Your old firm should have given you the chance to do that.   The tax compliance/provision people are always jammed during busy season. Maybe they would take you back?

Sibley

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I was in regional/midsize firms, doing some tax mostly audit. I'm now in internal audit. I've added notes with my perspective, from an experienced Senior auditor to a staff II level, since it sounds like that where you are..

I left Big 4 public accounting and started as a Senior Tax Analyst for a public company in December.  In some ways, the new job has not played out the way I thought it would.  Hoping to get some advice, especially from accountants on the forum.  Should I look at other opporunties? NO. Stay at least a year. You don't want to be a job hopper. Am I, as MMM would say, just being a complainypants?  Details below.

I know its probably pretty atypical, but I had a great experience working in Big 4 public accounting for a little over 2 years (started right after grad school).  I worked in the Tax function, but my group was not compliance related so I did not experience busy season or do much work related to tax returns.  Instead, I was involved in M&A and was really more a consultant than an accountant.  A lot of my work was organizing information received from clients and maintaining project status trackers.  While the work was related to the tax-aspects of M&A, it was not very tax-technical.  I liked the job because the hours were very reasonable. I don't think I ever worked more than 55 hours in a week and I was probably at 45 hours a week on average.  Yes, this is atypical, and thus you need to be aware of this in comparing to any other tax job.

There were two downsides to this job, though.  One was the travel.  I never got on a project that required week-to-week travel for an extended period of time (i.e., 6 months), but it was going to be inevitable.  There were a few times where I would be told on a Thursday that I'd need to be at X place on Monday.  The unpredictability made it really hard to schedule events during the week. This is typical in public accounting. If you don't like it, then better to know it early.

Another downside, related to travel, was that my group was spread out across the country.  If I wasn't traveling, I was working from home and interacting with people through email/IM/phone.   While everyone was great about being available and answering questions, there's only so much interaction you can have when everyone isn't in the same office. You are correct, but at the same time, this is how the industry is moving. Learn to adapt, or find a different field.

The reason I left was that I couldn't see myself doing the traveling consultant gig long-term.  I wasn't burned out and probably could have stayed on for a couple of more years, but I felt it was important to transition to what I could actually see myself doing long-term so I could build up relevant experience.  So I decided to leave public and go to industry and work in a corporate tax department.  I figured that learning provision/compliance would be more useful long-term.  During the interview process, I explained that I really didn't have any experience in provision/compliance but I wanted to learn and follow this career path.  The place that hired me thought it was sound reasoning, liked my background, and offered me a job with a market salary and a "Senior" designation, which honestly they didn't have to do since I didn't really have relevant experience. Translating titles from public accounting to private can be interesting. You truly may be a Senior in that environment.

Fast forward 4 months into the new job now, and I'm not sure if this company is the right fit for me.  The biggest issue has been the training.  During the interview process I was explicit about how I basically didn't know anything about provision/compliance and that I wanted to be able to just walk up to someones cubicle and have a discussion versus phone/IM/email.  I am the most junior person in the department and have been receiving most of my work from two more-senior Seniors.  Just about every time I get minimal explanation on the task/file and am told to just "roll it forward" / "figure it out from the prior year/quarter file".  And once I make the updates, I get minimal feedback on the quality and it flows on to some other thing, the big picture of which is also not explained to me.

On one of these projects, where I given a file and told to "figure it out", I asked for more explanation.  I asked if I could get a general overview and explanation of where the inputs in the file came from.  I got an explanation, which was really helpful.  But then when I had a quarterly "check in" with my boss, I got feedback that I need to spend more time just looking at the files and trying to figure it out on my own.  My boss said that he understood that I probably thought this was "inefficient", as I'm spending time trying to figure something out when someone could easily explain it to me in far less time.  But he said that other people had work of their own and there just wasn't time to explain everything.

You're missing an important point. Your training is designed and meant to be, in large part, self-study. You are meant to look at the file, and prior year files, and try to figure it out. You are not going to get, and should not expect, hand holding. If you were staff working on my audit, asking for this kind of help would actually lower my opinion of you. I EXPECT a certain degree of independence, and from your description, you're not showing it. For brand new staff, I understand that they need more guidance, but you're not brand new out of college. And even brand new staff out of college should be learning quickly so that they can be more independent. It's a requirement of the job.

In terms of learning the big picture, many newer staff simply are overwhelmed with the details to be able to see or comprehend the whole. I don't know you, and don't know if that's the case for you, but in general I'm not going to waste my time when I know it's not going to stick. I'll give you context, but it'll be just for that piece that you're doing. For staff that I know have the basics down, I'll try to start giving them more, but if I'm overwhelmed then it's less likely to happen.


I understand where he is coming from, and I certainly don't want to take time away from people who are, admittedly, doing more important tasks than I am.  But I think its a fair request to maybe get a little more explanation (i.e., more than like 5 minutes chatting or a paragraph in an email) up front when given a task.  As I complete my work, I am definitely learning some things (and my boss said he was happy with my work), but I also feel like I am just plugging numbers in certain spots because that's where it was last year.  And once I turned in a file for review, it seems like that's the end of it, unless a major revision is needed.  I'm not getting specific feedback and there's no avenue to really discuss the work and how it fits in the big picture. So, you're learning, and your boss is happy, and you don't get work returned to you. That means you're doing it generally right. While it's not the greatest, what you're describing is fairly common.
 Big picture stuff you learn with time. 4-5 months is not enough time.


I just don't get the sense that developing/mentoring is a priority.  At my prior job, it was the complete opposite, and people felt a responsibility to develop others and give feedback.  Everyone I worked with at my old job (from seniors to senior managers to partners) would go over files with me, ask if I understood the concepts behind the work, and would even ask questions to test my knowledge (by tweaking something in the fact pattern and then asking how it would affect something).   Not every company does that. Yeah, it was great. Remember that accounting firms in general,
 whether audit, tax, or consulting, are massive training machines. Private companies do not do this. They take advantage of what the accounting firms do.


At the check in with my boss, he apologized if they were boring me to death, as not a lot of work has been passed down to me.  He said that they are still trying to figure how to spread work around, as the department was only like 4 people as of 2 years ago and is now about 8.  He also said that it's been tough to push down work as a lot of stuff he just figures is easier/faster for someone else to just do it versus pushing it down.  This was kind of concerning, as when I was interviewing, they had mentioned that the department was understaffed for too long and that they wanted to grow as to spread the work around and not have everyone be as swamped (they hired another Senior around the same time as me). Sounds like they have to figure out how to delegate. A lot of people are pretty crappy at it, so no surprise.
 Plus, they've exploded the size of the department over a short period of time. They need time to figure out how to cope.


Another issue has been the general culture of the department.  At my prior job, everyone was super professional, didn't gossip much, and didn't bring the personal lives into the workplace.  At this new job, it is very gossipy.  The department had a "team building" event last month.  We all went to a restaurant for dinner and then had drinks after.  Most of the time was spent making fun of other people in the company.  "This guy cares too much about the company", "this is guy is an idiot, how did he not know X?", "our auditors are assholes".  Those kinds of comments.  I realize this is probably the case at most companies, and those gossip opportunities just weren't there at my last company because not everyone worked in the same office.  But it is definitely annoying.  Yes, it's annoying, yes it happens, and yes it happens everywhere. You didn't see a lot of it at the Big 4 firm because you were working remotely. But trust me, there was politics and gossip at manager/partner levels at the very least. 2 years at an accounting firm is not going to be quite enough for you to learn your job well enough to be able to notice some of what's happening around you, especially when you're remote or travelling.

Also at this team building event, two people (a Senior and Director) just casually stated that they had popped an Adderrall one night to get through the year-end close.  The head of the department, a senior VP at the company, just laughed.  I was kind of shocked at this, as we aren't exactly Wall Street.  Also, I'll eventually have to do that kind of work, so it is concerning to think that people are using drugs to get the work done. This isn't good. And it's also a reflection on the fact that they haven't figured out how to use their staff efficiently.

Again, apologies for the wall of text.  But I am wondering if this experience is typical in accounting?  Are there any truly red flags here?  It's not like I'm being berated at work, my performance has been fine, and the hours have been very reasonable.  But I just haven't felt really comfortable and just feel like its inevitable that I'll leave.  With that said, if I hang around for 2-3 years, I definitely will have built up a solid background that should really help getting the next job, where I will probably focus more on cultural fit/training/development.

Thanks for reading.

Honestly, it sounds like you should have stayed in the accounting firm and switched areas to get more "typical" tax experience. From what I'm getting, you seem to what that faster paced environment. There are downsides of course, such as hours.

Cheddar Bob

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Thanks for the responses.

BTW, Are you a CPA? I am but I don't know if it really helps me besides getting my foot in the door.
I am as well.

Your old firm should have given you the chance to do that.   The tax compliance/provision people are always jammed during busy season. Maybe they would take you back?

Honestly, it sounds like you should have stayed in the accounting firm and switched areas to get more "typical" tax experience. From what I'm getting, you seem to what that faster paced environment. There are downsides of course, such as hours.

You nailed it with that last part.  I did not want to go through busy seasons and basically have no life outside of work for months at a time.  I wouldn't be able to handle it.  Also, I did realize that I lucked into a great group, in terms of people and certainly in terms of hours, so I knew that stuff wasn't going to stay the same if I switched groups.

I don't regret leaving my old job.  I just wasn't sure if I chose the right new job. 

timmiebe

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I just don't get the sense that developing/mentoring is a priority.  At my prior job, it was the complete opposite, and people felt a responsibility to develop others and give feedback.  Everyone I worked with at my old job (from seniors to senior managers to partners) would go over files with me, ask if I understood the concepts behind the work, and would even ask questions to test my knowledge (by tweaking something in the fact pattern and then asking how it would affect something). 
 Not every company does that. Yeah, it was great. Remember that accounting firms in general,
 whether audit, tax, or consulting, are massive training machines. Private companies do not do this. They take advantage of what the accounting firms do.

Completely agree, the biggest difference going into private industry from public accounting was the lack of training. I went to work for a public company and expected some kind of training but there was none. But that is also why companies like to hire people from cpa firms because they know that they have been well trained. Just give it more time, see what you think in a year.