A Day in the Life: Entry-Level Tax Associate at a Big Four Accounting Firm

A Day in the Life: Entry-Level Tax Associate at a Big Four Accounting Firm was originally published on Vault.

8:00 AM: Arrive at work. I like to get in a little earlier than others (most other people in the office get in around 9:00 a.m.). This gives me a chance to check e-mail and voicemail, take care of administrative tasks, check my open items from the previous day, and make a general plan for my day. If things are slow, this is the time I read WSJ or other sites for news regarding my clients.

9:00 AM: The office is jumping and the phone calls are starting to come in. At this time, I often have meetings with my manager and senior to discuss work in progress. These meetings will usually touch on the following: list of open (i.e., unfinished) items on tax returns, general tax matters for clients, tax technical issues requiring further research, and client management issues and administration. My manager will generally prioritize these items and the senior and I will form a plan of attack.

10:00 AM: I'll most likely address the tax return open items and perform any research on technical tax issues; the senior will deal more often with general tax matters and client relationship items.

Preparing a corporate tax return is relatively straightforward. While corporate tax returns can be quite complex, you can more or less prepare a corporate return line-by-line, same as an individual return. The primary challenge in preparing a corporate return is ensuring that you have complete, full, and accurate information from the client. This is more daunting than it sounds. Information necessary to complete a tax return can come from numerous sources within a company, not just the accounting and tax departments. The larger the company, the more potentially difficult it is to get all of your information. As a result, most of the hours I bill on tax return preparation projects are spent not on actually preparing the return, but on tracking down all of the necessary information. I'll generally put together an information request that, after a brief review by the manager, I will e-mail to the client.

Tax research is generally more straightforward than tax return preparation. The firm has every possible tax research tool and source, from print to electronic to digital to human. The ironic thing is that most of the research items you get at this level are ones for which answers are already known. Managers give you these research items pretty much knowing what the likely outcomes will be: you just confirm the suspicion with actual Internal Revenue Code sources, tax court cases, or other citations. Sometimes you'll get a unique and challenging assignment, but the new topics are usually researched by groups within the firm that specialize in that technical area.

In any case, these activities could easily take up the rest of my day, depending on how cooperative the client is or how difficult the information is to get.

1:00 PM: Lunch.

2:00 PM: Another e-mail and voicemail check, after which I'll resume my activities from the morning. At this point, I probably will have spent a good amount of time on the phone with client personnel trying to track down information. In the best-case scenario, the client will have sent me back my information request with at least some information; realistically, the information request will get back to me no earlier than two or three days after I send it.

I spend some time making sure that the information we do have is correctly entered into the tax preparation software our firm uses. And at this point, I'll hopefully have some answers or information regarding the research I performed on the tax issues. If so, I'll try to schedule some time with my senior and/or manager later this afternoon to discuss my findings. Throughout the day, I'll be gathering and organizing my work papers for inclusion in the client's file.

4:00 PM: If all goes well, I'm having a brief meeting with my senior and/or manager discussing the research I performed. This discussion will hammer out how this issue could affect the tax return. Often, this discussion will result in my drafting of a technical memorandum that outlines the issue and our findings. These memos are pretty interesting because they represent more strategic and interpretive thought than plugging numbers into a tax return. The research and memos feel like the real meat of tax work.

6:00 PM: Finishing touches on my draft memo (the manager always has modifications), organizing my work papers, checking off my open items for tomorrow, and preparing my timesheet for the day. This will all probably take me 30 to 40 minutes, and then I'm off home. Incidentally, I should note that I'm usually working on multiple tax returns and other projects at one time. So there's usually a lot of juggling going on, putting a premium on my time management and organizational skills. And if this was busy season, my leaving time wouldn't be anywhere near 6:00 p.m.—it'd probably be closer to 11:00 p.m.