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How to Improve Your Tax and Accounting Skills

Even tax professionals feel confused about accounting from time to time. In fact, it can take an accountant years of real-life experience before they feel they don’t have any more questions.

And guess what? That’s not true, because they always will.

That’s because the tax world is always changing. New developments can throw a spanner in the works just when you thought the machine was yours to play with…

But if that doesn’t mean you should throw in the towel on the whole thing. Especially not if you’re interested in a career in tax and accounting (which can be fun, lucrative and exciting if you play your cards right!)

Here are the easiest ways I suggest staying on top of the field, so that you can maximise your tax and accounting skills and rise to the top fast…

Nail your basics

Many smaller firms are willing to hire interns or junior staff who know the basics. So if you get these right, you’ll have a great foundation to enter an environment where you can learn new skills and build on what you know.

Basics financial accounting skills I’d recommend understanding first are:

  • Making adjusting journal entries
  • Fixed asset issues
  • Accrual to cash
  • 1040 instructions
  • Reading a K-1

In these early years, practice makes perfect. So remember, while it all might seem super complicated in the beginning, one day it’s going to just make sense because you’ve been doing it over and over again.

Volunteer somewhere

Perhaps you’re wondering how to get on-the-job experience. If you’re still studying or not getting a job easily, don’t despair.

Why not volunteer somewhere for a leg up in the industry? You could offer to do low income tax returns for a season, which might help you practice some of the skills I listed above.

You might even be able to shadow someone more experienced, which would be an invaluable opportunity to get answers to some of your questions.

Most tax firms have staff who have worked in the tax industry for years and are happy to help up-and-coming newbies understand the ins and outs.

I get it, working for free is no fun – even if you are learning on the job.

But think about it this way: the time commitment for tax internships can be as little as 3 hours a week. It’s either that or watch Netflix in your underpants…

If I was at the beginning of my career path, I know which one I’d choose.

Know where you want to be

There are many different kinds of tax professionals and accountants in the industry. No one size fits all, and though you might want to eventually be a Jill of all trades, start somewhere niche in the beginning.

According to a recent study, some of the keywords most desired in tax professional job descriptions include:

  • Tax preparation
  • Income tax
  • Bookkeeping
  • Internal revenue service

Tax preparation were by far the most desirable, sitting at around 20% of the keyword share.

Start with preparing your own taxes. Then perhaps prepare returns for family and friends. From here, you can volunteer as a tax preparer for a small firm or busy accountant.

Alternatively, if you’d prefer to focus on bookkeeping, see if you can get an internship with a small business. Learn all you can about various accounting software programs and take extra courses online to fortify your knowledge.

Outside of any formal studies or training you may be undertaking, I suggest that aspiring tax and accounting professionals spend at least 10 hours a week on brushing up their knowledge (5 hours of theory and 5 hours of actual practice.)

Depending on the way you like to work, you can either break it up by day and spend a couple of hours each weekday or you can knock out big chunks over the weekend.

Set goals and track your progress

It’s difficult to measure your tax and accountancy skills if you’re waddling into a sea of jargon with no direction.

Get laser-focused and create a roadmap that will take you from A to B.

A, for example, could be accounting graduate with little to no experience preparing tax. B could be accounting intern with extra tax qualifications.

Then, repeat the process. A is accounting intern with extra tax qualifications.

B might be accounting employee with extensive experience preparing tax.

Again, repeat the process.

And make sure your goals follow the SMART methodology:

S – Specific

M – Measurable

A – Achievable

R – Relevant

T – Timely

In plain English, make sure your goals have a set completion date, will help to propel your career aspirations and can be measured and achieved easily.

It’s useful to set yearly goals that you can then break up into monthly and weekly chunks.

For example, if your yearly goal is to get an accounting internship, your monthly goal might be to send out 8 applications (meaning your weekly goal is to send out 2 applications.)

You could design it another way, but make sure you have a clear process in timing and rewarding your progress.

Don’t forget to network

There’s bound to be a tax and accounting nerd on every corner of the web, every neighbourhood and even every street.

Team up with your tax buddies and attend networking events as often as you can. This will enable you to be the first to hear about new internship opportunities or professional meetups that will keep you ahead of the game.

If you’re feeling shy, don’t stress. You can still network online, and in fact, I recommend it. There are a ton of helpful Facebook groups for accountants and tax newbies that serve as great Q and A forums for those in need of extra TLC.

Join those groups and start engaging with your fellow community.

Who knows? You might even make a few friends!

Remember this industry isn’t just about numbers

The final piece of advice I would give to young ladies wanting to increase their tax and accounting skills is this:

Don’t get so caught up in the world of numbers and paperwork that you forget about the individual client.

The best tax professionals I know do business with a human focus and have great relationships with their clientele.

Most people who work with tax professionals want to know the tax professional has their best interests, and will speak plain old American English in a way they understand.

So don’t forget to brush up on your confidence and interpersonal skills.

You can become an expert in all the tax forms in the US, but if dealing with you is like dealing with a wet plastic bag – then nobody will want to do business with you.

Reacquaint yourself with why you wanted to get into tax and accounting in the first place, and that passion should shine through.

It will also be the fuel to help you increase your skills over the years so that you can remain focused on creating the career in finance of your dreams – even when Netflix in your underpants is calling your name…


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