Demand for tax professionals of varying experience levels is surging as the economic rebound caught many firms flat-footed.
A recent survey by CPA Trendlines, a market research firm, found that 27 percent of firms reported having trouble filling tax jobs, up 4 percent from last year.
“The economy turned around faster than accountants thought it would,” said Rick Telberg, the firm’s CEO, in an interview with eFinancialCareers. “Business is busier than they had been staffing for.”
Both major accounting firms and corporations are stepping up their hiring or have recently been adding staff. Frank Fusaro, the co-founder and president of the search firm The Forum Group, has openings for more than 20 tax professionals in the New York City area. Shortages exist in other parts of the country too, according to Fusaro.
“Demand is getting back where it was in the halcyon days” before the economic slowdown, Fusaro said in an interview, adding that people are seeing salary bumps of between 15 percent and 20 percent to move jobs. “Employers in both public accounting and corporate America are having problems finding workers.”
Part of the problem is a lack of supply. Data from the AICPA shows that there were 2,822 students enrolled in masters of taxation programs in the 2009-2010 school year, the lowest number since 2001-2002, a trend the group called a “concern.” About 25 percent of new accounting graduates are assigned to work in taxation, the AICPA says.
The shortage of tax professionals comes at a time when demand for their services is rising as cash-strapped governments ratchet up their collection efforts against businesses and wealthy individuals. Companies are also facing heightened media scrutiny of their tax practices.
Grant Thornton has added about 12 junior-level tax professionals at its downtown New York City office in the past year and remains on the hunt for mid-career professionals who can serve as mentors to their less-experienced colleagues, according to Amy Vega, a senior manager involved in the hiring process.
“There is definitely a need for that middle level,” she said, adding that new graduates should not delay taking their CPA exam because they will find it difficult to make the tine to study once they start working. “There is no time to study and no time to have a life. Get it behind you and move on. They should also seek out mentors early in their career.”
Even during the best of times, finding experienced tax professionals is difficult. The long hours, especially during tax season, can take their toll. Firms such as Grant Thornton try to develop a sense of camaraderie during those stressful times by ordering dinner and throwing parties for staff who are working late.
Over the long haul, however, a tax career can be lucrative.
Tax managers with five to seven years of experience can command salaries of $125,000 to $150,000, while tax directors are being paid $200,000 to $300,000, said Mitch Feldman, the president of search firm A.E. Feldman Associates, in an interview.
“Last year, we placed a partner for a million-three,” he said, adding that there is a need for tax professionals across many skill sets. “There is not a lot of supply, and there is plenty of demand.”