Here is an important question.
When was the last time you took inventory of your goals and accomplishments?
For many, that answer may be “never.” Or “last year.”
But those who have the greatest success, reevaluate their goals at least 2-4 times a year. They take stock of where they’re at today in relation to where they wanted to be and adjust based on the experience and knowledge they’ve gained along the way.
For some, their career goals might include a promotion while for others it might be that it is time to look for new opportunities.
Maybe you are thinking of a new career?
Perhaps you are hoping to pivot what you already know into a related, but different, role?
If you are similar to many in the sales tax field, you probably did not “plan” to become a sales tax professional. It isn’t a career that is talked about a lot in school. You may have fallen into the role, or came about it in some roundabout way. Because of this, it is even more important for you to evaluate your goals and where you may want your career to go.
You might be wondering if it’s a career path with enough options to keep you interested and advancing. Most people have no idea that there is enough to do with sales tax that it can be a full time job, let alone a career.
But, there are thousands of examples that it can be a fruitful, fulfilling and interesting career path that leads to much more. We’ll discuss many of the options a professional can take in their career growth.
The sales and use tax field provides many great options when it comes to career choices.
Sales tax is a booming field which means that there are many different options available to those who would like to specialize in this area. Although many sales tax professionals have accounting or business degrees, we see many other educational backgrounds in the people we meet. In fact, one of Sales Tax Institute’s faculty members – Jennifer Zimmerman – was an English and French major, started as an estate attorney, and stumbled into State and Local Tax.
Some of what makes sales and use tax interesting is that you need to be curious! This means that you are surrounded by peers that are smart, sharp and want to learn a lot.
Further more, you get to learn about the business from all angles – what it does, how it does it, and all the financial transactions that are involved. It is a field that needs someone that pays attention to details but can also see the big picture. Each state is different so you rarely are doing the same thing. And there is certainly no predictability to the work.
Working for a state revenue department can be a great place to grow in sales and use tax. Working as an auditor is one of the best training grounds available if you’re looking to learn how sales tax works. As an auditor, you’d handle a wide variety of situations that put you on the fast track to understanding sales tax laws and rules and how they apply to real-life scenarios.
A government role will help you gain a wide breadth of knowledge. In a government sales tax role, time management, problem solving and being familiar about lot of different industries is something you learn in this role. You’d audit all different types of companies: you could handle a telecom company one day, work with manufacturers the next, and then be scheduled to help retailers or even pig farmers! There are things you’ll see that you never would have expected – even things that have nothing to do with sales tax!
Having started my career as an auditor for the Kansas Department of Revenue, I can personally attest to what a valuable training ground working as an auditor can be.
One of the benefits of working in government is there is generally better hours than some other career paths. Depending on the state you work for, you might have very little travel but with others it could be a very heavy travel schedule. However, government roles don’t generally work the weekends so it can provide some nice balance.
You can definitely make a career staying within government and this might be right for you – or it can be a stepping stone in your path. There are a number of auditors that left consulting or industry to be an auditor or vice verse.
Private industry offers many job options for those looking to work in sales tax.
If you’re just starting in your career, working for a company can provide a great opportunity to start at an entry-level position, learn the ins and outs of sales tax, and move up to a tax manager or tax director position.
Some of the sales tax functions that are available in the private sector include compliance (preparing the sales tax returns), audit defense, research and planning, issue resolution (helping internal and external customers with sales tax questions), legislation liaison and tax technology.
In some companies these might be separate people and in others an individual might be responsible for all functions. Responsibilities can be split by either job duty/function, business unit if there are multiple ones, or even geographically.
When working in private industry, you might also have the opportunity to work with different tax types or progress through different tax types on a career path. The larger the tax department, the greater the chance there will be for specialization. If you want to do a little bit of everything, a smaller tax department might give you more opportunities. However, be sure to check what functions are outsourced before taking a role – the functions you may want to make your career on might not even be an option within the company.
The consulting world is very different from both government and industry for sales and use tax; it isn’t for everyone but it does offer many opportunities.
There are a number of different specialties you can choose from when consulting and you can get great exposure to different industries. The industry has really grown and the opportunities are numerous nowadays for those in the consulting world.
Similar to the roles in industry, consulting firm roles can have specific functions depending on what they offer to clients from outsourced compliance, audit defense assistance, research and planning, and tax technology. There are sales and use tax partners in the firms and there is a real career path if consulting is the path that fits your life.
One aspect to consider in the consulting field is that as you progress, you typically will have sales and marketing responsibilities. If this is something that you feel you would enjoy – consulting can be an excellent option for you. If it is something that scares you, find a mentor in the firm to help you. If this is something you know you could never learn to love – then consulting might not be the right environment for you.
If you have a law degree, there is also a path in the sales tax field – in all three of the environments we talked about above as well as in public policy.
If government is your interest, attorneys work in the Legal Department or could be hearing officers. They also might be in the legislative area – working on writing proposed statutes or regulations. And just as taxpayers need attorneys to defend them, so does the state. These attorneys are usually in the Attorney General department and their client is the state Department of Revenue. If litigation is your passion – this might be a great starting point. A number of attorneys in the state tax field that started their career in this role.
If industry is more your style, look for companies in industries that are not clearly addressed in the sales tax area. Or one that has a lot of audit issues. An in-house lawyer that knows sales tax can be invaluable.
If having several clients is more your path, law firms are a good place to look. Within a law firm, state tax or sales tax specialist are typically either in the litigator role – they argue cases, or in the planning/research role. Most attorneys in law firms handle a variety of tax types – so this is a good way to learn about not just sales tax but also income tax, property tax, excise taxes and even unclaimed property.
No sales tax career will grow without continued education.
At the Sales Tax Institute, we believe strongly in the importance of continuing education to aid in your growth as a professional. We’ve consistently seen that those who continue to get educated take important steps in their careers with confidence and speed. There are many ways professional education can help you excel in your career, no matter what environment you work in.
But there are many other resources available to you for training besides training courses and classes. Taking part in mentoring, either mentoring a young professional or being mentored, is an excellent way to grow no matter where you’re at in your career.
The sales tax field is always changing. Helping one another to always continue to learn and grow helps everyone. By doing this and mentoring those who are new to the field or in the early stages of their career, we are putting ourselves in the best position to pass leadership in the field on to the next generation.
As you can see – there are many paths that any one person can take in the sales tax field and they can all be stepping stones to an exciting and interesting career.
Today, direct hires happen into all the different areas. Different paths are very common and those who really want to, can find the path that is right for them – a sales tax one or something different.
We’d love to help you devise your path. What do you envision for your career and how can we help you get there? Email us and we’ll assist in any way that we can.