Working for The IRS: Learn More About This Government Employer

As aspiring tax experts, students enrolled in the Online Master of Science in Taxation degree program from Northeastern University’s D’Amore-McKim School of Business might consider a job at the forefront of U.S. tax practice: working for the IRS. For many tax professionals and recent graduates, this may be a perfect fit. Learn more about the benefits and drawbacks of working for this employer below.

What is The Internal Revenue Service?

Even without a degree in taxation, most Americans are familiar with the IRS, the chief tax collection agency of the federal government. As of its 2015 fiscal year, the IRS employed almost 80,000 people and operated on an annual budget of $11.4 billion. Its headquarters is in the heart of Washington, D.C., mere blocks from the White House and the Washington Monument. However, its employees are spread across the country in various federal offices and even a few international locations.

While the primary role of the IRS is to administer the U.S. tax code as it applies to businesses and individuals, it accomplishes its mission in a variety of ways, and therefore hires from a broad range of professions. The IRS lumps its careers into one of the following categories:

  • Accounting, budget, and finance
  • Administrative and clerical
  • Business and tax enforcement
  • Executive and management
  • Human resources, Equal Employment Opportunity, and public affairs
  • Information technology
  • Law enforcement and investigation
  • Office of Chief Counsel
  • Research and analysis
  • Tax law specialists
  • Taxpayer Advocate Service

Clearly, there is a position for just about every specialty, particularly for those who already are well-versed in tax practice.

Roles of IRS Agents

The majority of people employed by the IRS are revenue agents involved in examination and collections activity. Not all IRS agents are law enforcement officers, but various divisions may assist criminal investigators like the FBI on cases of financial crime.

In general, the role of an IRS agent involves:

  • Conducting tax audits for criminal and civil court cases
  • Gathering information and intelligence through tax data
  • Forensic accounting and in-depth financial analysis
  • Writing detailed reports on findings for an investigation
  • Serving as an expert in court testimony

How to Become an IRS Agent

The minimum requirements of employment as an agent of the IRS involve formal proof of education, experience, and personal history.

At minimum, IRS agents must have a bachelor’s degree with at least 15 credit hours in relevant areas of study like finance, economics, business law, or tax law. Most IRS agents are educated and experienced in mathematics and quantitative reasoning, but also possess strong communication skills. Applicants must have graduated from college with a grade point average of at least 2.8.

Especially for high-level positions or criminal investigation units, IRS agents must pass a rigorous application and screening process before they can expect a job offer. This process often includes:

  • Written tests
  • In-person interviews
  • Job simulations and role-playing activities
  • An extensive audit of personal tax filing history
  • A psychological exam
  • Medical screening
  • Drug testing

Benefits of Working at The IRS

IRS employees receive wages and benefits on par with most federal workers. These include competitive salaries scaled according to location, as well as health insurance, a pension program, paid time off, and more.

Younger applicants and recent college graduates may find themselves in especially high demand at the IRS. As of 2015, more than half of the agency’s workforce was older than 50. By 2019, it’s estimated that more than 40 percent of IRS employees will be eligible for retirement. That could mean more jobs opening up in the near future, increasing one’s chances of being accepted. Of course, an older workforce isn’t always a benefit for those who make it into a job—only 3 percent of IRS staff in 2015 were under 30 years old.

Drawbacks and Alternatives to The IRS

Working in government often comes with a sense of stability compared to the private sector, but uncertainty among some departments has crept up in recent years. In few agencies is this truer than in the IRS, an organization as structurally important to society as it is controversial—much like the tax laws it enforces.

According to NPR, the budget of the IRS has been reduced by around $900 million since 2010, and it now employs 21,000 fewer employees as a result. Despite the passage of a landmark tax reform bill in December 2017 that is expected to create more work for the IRS, some members of Congress and the presidential administration of Donald Trump have continued to advocate for sizable reductions to the agency’s budget in the coming years.

The upshot for people applying to work at the IRS is that budget restrictions could make those jobs scarce. For those already employed there, political changes could make for a heavier workload without appropriate pay increases. Of course, this could just as easily shift in the near future if political attitudes change.

There are many alternatives to the IRS that tax professionals might consider when starting their career or changing jobs. Accountants, auditors, and tax professionals of all kinds are in high demand across the private sector, and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics expects the availability of these jobs to increase by 10 percent from 2016 to 2026, much faster than average. Wages and benefits for private companies hiring tax professionals are often competitive with the IRS, too. But tax professionals could apply their skills to public service in many other ways, whether it’s helping people prepare personal tax returns or working in local government.

While the IRS is the principal tax authority in the U.S., it’s not always the ideal destination for graduates of the online MST program. Students should dedicate ample time to researching a career path that fits well within their skills, abilities, and work environment preferences to come up with a close match.

The Online Master of Science in Taxation degree program from Northeastern University’s D’Amore-McKim School of Business can help you get started with a career in the IRS or another top tax authority – reach out to an enrollment advisor today to learn more about the program.



IRS data

IRS Jobs

The Balance – IRS Agent Career Profile

Bloomberg via IRS