For taxation professionals, choosing whether to work in the private or public sector is a difficult yet exciting choice, as both options present many career options. As tax professionals plan their career paths further, it is important to understand what it is like to work in both sectors and then decide which area to focus on based on their interests and professional goals.
Understanding taxation jobs in the public sector
Tax professionals who work in the public sector provide service to the public at large. Public accountants provide consulting, auditing, advisory, and tax services to a wide variety of clients with many kinds of financial needs. Typically, these professionals are licensed as Certified Public Accountants.
In the public sector, tax professionals analyze accounting systems, perform research tasks to collect financial evidence, and consult on common compliance issues. These professionals will likely gain experience in a wide variety of industries and may even alternate between multiple types of businesses on a given day. It should be noted that even the public sector has quite a bit of nuance. Some professionals will inevitably move toward the taxation of individuals, while others conduct tax services for entities such as corporations and partnerships.
Tax accountants in the public sector work closely with tax returns and other types of tax record keeping. They may audit existing returns, create new documentation, and meet with other stakeholders to ensure complete compliance with federal, state, and local tax codes. These individuals may find work in a fixed location but will often need to visit client sites to perform audits and other in-depth research.
Understanding taxation jobs in the private sector
In the private sector, tax professionals are concerned with the financial dealings of businesses, agencies, governments, and nonprofit organizations. Organizations employ or contract out to these professionals to handle specific tax compliance responsibilities.
Tax professionals in the private sector handle a number of transaction types, which are often determined by the function of the organization. For example, a tax accountant looking after a business will analyze and audit accounts payable and receivable. Professionals who work at a nonprofit, on the other hand, will encounter much different compliance tasks, such as charitable registration renewals.
Individuals in the private sector have many career paths open to them. They gain specialized knowledge throughout their careers, making them qualified candidates for senior positions, like chief financial officer, senior tax accountant, and senior financial analyst. These types of positions tend to be highly stable―there’s always a need for tax compliance specialists. Private sector accountants travel infrequently, tending to work from the same office on a daily basis. Individuals who possess a familiarity with business systems will likely do well in the private sector. That said, working in the public sector can still be extremely rewarding, especially for individuals who want to contribute to the public good.
Deciding which path is right for you
Choosing to continue to work in one sector or make a switch is an important decision for veteran tax professionals. However, the initial choice does not need to define their entire career trajectory. In fact, many employers value professionals who possess experience in both sectors.
In the short term, the decision to work in the public sector may come from a desire for more variety in daily tasks. A public tax professional meets many different people and works on cases of varying complexity. There’s always a new challenge to solve. Those who decide to work in the private sector may value the stability that comes with working from the same office, for the same portfolio of clients every day.
Many tax professionals begin their careers in the public sector and transition to the private sector over time. Financial stakeholders in the business world value the experience gained in the public arena because these professionals have a well-rounded understanding of the tax code.
How an Online Master of Science in Taxation can advance your career
Whether you want to continue along your current path or make a change within the world of taxation, an advanced degree can help you gain focused knowledge and help you build on the relevant skills. The Online Master of Science in Taxation (MST) from the D’Amore-McKim School of Business at Northeastern University can prepare students to succeed in both private and public sector tax positions. The online program modality provides students the flexibility to pursue further education on their own time, without having to leave their careers. To learn more about Northeastern University’s Online MST, download a program brochure here.
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