When was the last time you took inventory of your career goals and accomplishments?
For many, that answer may be “never” or “last year.”
Sales tax professionals are in the fortunate position of being in a field with LOTS of career paths and options, especially right now! If you are like most in the sales tax field, you probably didn’t plan to become a sales tax professional, you fell into it. Sales tax is not a career typically discussed in school and there is usually not a standard progression of sales tax roles to follow and climb the ranks. 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.
That means it is even more important for you to revisit or shape your career goals and where you want to go in this field. Those with sales tax expertise are in high demand, especially post-Wayfair, so there is no time like the present if you are seeking a change!
Let’s explore how you can advance your sales tax career through investing in yourself and your skills by gathering your resources or through an industry change.
No matter if you hope to pivot to a different role within your current place of employment or move on to a different company or organization, no sales tax career will grow without continued education.
Education can take the form of keeping up with the latest sales tax news and legislation, reading blogs and articles from reputable tax firms, or attending trainings like webinars or seminars. We’ve consistently seen that those who attend Sales Tax Institute courses gain confidence and improve accuracy by solidifying their sales tax foundation with training.
Don’t hesitate to pause and take the time to pinpoint what you enjoy most about your sales tax work. If something stands out, pursue extra education about that topic to become the subject matter expert on it in your company or firm. It is something you will be able to use as leverage for promotions.
Beyond individual steps you can take to continually educate yourself, mentoring and networking can also be powerful tools to help you level up in your career. To find a mentor, you could reach out to someone you respect and admire in your company or firm or find someone external through networking at industry conferences or events. Serving as a mentor is also an excellent way to invest in your career as you will hone your leadership and teaching skills. We so believe in the power of mentorship that we made a mentoring program a core component of our Sales Tax Nerd Community membership here at Sales Tax Institute.
Making connections with peers at industry conferences and events can provide so much value to your career. Those you meet can become an extension of your team when you run into certain issues at work or a source of referrals.
A wide range of companies, practices, and organizations needs professionals with sales tax expertise. If you’re ready to make a career change or advancement, you could change industries in the sense that you move from one private industry to another—like from construction to retail.
Alternatively, you could make the leap from one industry “environment” to another such as moving from private industry to nonprofit work or leave consulting to go into public policy.
As you consider options, keep in mind the passions you have beyond your sales tax work. Could you combine them? For example, if you’re passionate about environmental sustainability, you could look for sales tax positions in companies that work to reduce plastic waste or build solar panels.
Let’s look at potential career options across industries to keep you excited about your work and your impact as a sales tax pro.
Working for a company provides a great opportunity to those just starting their sales tax careers to learn the ins and outs of sales tax and its impact on the company. As experience grows, there are typically advancement opportunities from entry level to tax manager or even tax director positions.
Sales tax managers and directors play critical roles in the company as a whole. They mentor and lead teams and shape sales tax strategy for the entire company, directly impacting the bottom line.
Private industry will expose you to many of the major sales tax functions:
The larger the tax department, the greater the chance there will be for specialization among these functions. Larger companies may have separate roles for each sales tax function while in smaller companies, one to a small handful of individuals might be responsible for them all. Specialty roles like Tax Technologist and Exemption Certificate Specialist do exist if that is the type of work that makes your heart sing.
When working in private industry, you might also have the opportunity to work with different tax types (like property or income) or progress through different tax types on a career path.
A government role will help you gain a wide breadth of knowledge in sales and use tax. Time management, problem solving, and being familiar with lots of different industries are all things you will learn.
You could hold a policy professional role and work directly with taxpayers to interpret their questions and then advise and instruct them based on tax laws, rules, and regulations. You could work as an auditor handling 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. Many states have auditors in remote states to conduct audits which also provides you with opportunities to demonstrate your independence. There are also more senior opportunities in government that could include the actual writing of sales tax laws and regulations.
One of the benefits of working in government is there are generally better hours than some other career paths. Government roles don’t generally work the weekends, so it can provide some nice balance.
You can definitely make a career staying within government or it can be a steppingstone in your path. There are a number of state auditors that left consulting or industry to become an auditor or vice versa, including some of our Sales Tax Institute faculty.
There is a growing demand for sales tax consultants in the post-Wayfair environment that have the expertise to guide companies through complex sales tax situations and evaluate risk levels.
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. Not all accounting firms have partners that specialize in sales and use tax, so it can be a real growth opportunity for the firm and for individuals who what to grow that practice.
You may even find a sub-niche within sales tax consulting to specialize in such as technology implementation service or an industry specialty such as manufacturing. Specialization allows you to consider part-time consulting or starting your own practice.
One aspect to consider in the consulting field is that as you progress, whether in a firm or your own practice, you typically will have sales and marketing responsibilities—you have to participate in growing the client base! If this is something 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 or a part-time partner to help guide your own practice.
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 as legal counsel for state departments of revenue or could be hearing officers. Attorneys can also be in the legislative area, working on writing proposed statutes or regulations. Also, just as taxpayers need attorneys to defend them, so does the state. These attorneys are usually in the Attorney General office and their client is the state Department of Revenue. If litigation is your passion, this might be a great starting point. Many attorneys in the state tax field start 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 for one that has a lot of audit issues. An in-house lawyer that knows sales tax can be invaluable. Tax technology firms also frequently have positions for attorneys with sales tax expertise that focus on their software content and functionality design.
And of course, you can work for a law firm. Some firms have SALT attorneys or tax groups that advise companies on complex multistate tax issues. State tax or sales tax specialist are typically either in the litigator role (they argue cases) or in the planning and 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.
Although many sales tax professionals have accounting or business degrees, there are so many other educational backgrounds that land in sales tax—from creative writing to foreign languages! If you love sales tax work, don’t worry about your educational background or past credentials. To advance your career, you simply need to be curious, have a mindset of continual learning, and be open to the wide realm of opportunities in the field.
Those who have the greatest success reevaluate their career 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.
Sales tax can be a fruitful, fulfilling, and interesting career path. You get to learn about your 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. Given that each state has its own ever-changing rules and each business has its own set of challenges, sales tax pros will never be out of work!
If you want to hear from a number of successful sales tax professionals who have had diverse and interesting career paths in the field, check out our Women to Watch in Sales Tax series.
What do you envision for your career and how can we help you get there? Email us and we’ll assist you in any way that we can.
Diane L. Yetter is a strategist, advisor, speaker, and author in the field of sales and use tax. She is president and founder of YETTER Tax and founder of the Sales Tax Institute. You can find Diane on LinkedIn and Twitter.