People commonly associate accounting with tax preparation. For many individuals, preparing tax returns is the primary or only reason they need an accountant. Tax season is the time when national chain tax preparation services appear in seemingly constant advertisements. As an aspiring accountant, you may wonder how working for a tax preparation company compares to working at an accounting firm.
Required Education and Preparation
One major difference between working for an accounting firm and working for a tax preparation company is the education and career preparation required for each position. Jobs at accounting firms often require candidates to have advanced degrees and qualifications, including certification as a Certified Public Accountant (CPA). In fact, the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicts that candidates for jobs in high-profile and prestigious accounting firms will continue to face steep competition.
Some national chain tax preparation companies, like H&R Block and Jackson Hewitt, have their own in-house training courses for candidates without relevant professional experience, though they may or may not be required for more experienced candidates. The aspiring workers may have to pay for these courses, which can cost up to a few hundred dollars. Depending on the company, taking the class may not guarantee that the candidate will be hired upon completion. However, tax preparation companies are often less selective than the most respected CPA firms. Some of them don’t require a degree or previous accounting experience at all, just completion of their own income tax preparation course.
Work schedule is another difference between these types of jobs. Positions at CPA or accounting firms are typically meant to be permanent. Accountants in these work environments work full-time, and about 20 percent work more than 40 hours per week, according to the BLS. Tax season may equate to longer hours for these employees, but so will other events, like the end of the budget year.
Positions at chain tax preparation companies are often seasonal. After all, these companies specialize in tax preparation rather than in providing a broad range of accounting services. Though some employees are certainly around longer, many are hired only for tax season. They often work part-time rather than full-time, and the hourly pay for these tax preparers is typically far less than the mean hourly wage of $34.86 that the BLS lists for accountants. Some former tax preparers at national chains report being paid in the ballpark of $8.00 to $10.00.
If you aspire to be an accountant and work in various aspects of the field, from auditing to budgeting, then working for a national tax preparation company probably isn’t your dream job. For aspiring accountants in college or transitioning from another career, though, a job with a tax preparation company may be able to help you gain some professional experience and decide whether tax preparation and accounting is a career path you would enjoy while earning some extra money.