Preparing for your first tax season can be a challenging task. While most have the technical knowledge to do the work, they often lack the confidence that experience provides. To help those facing their first tax season, I sat down with Erich Holmes, senior accountant in the Tax Services Department at Rea & Associates in Medina, Ohio. Erich has four years of experience in public accounting and he focuses on providing income tax services for individuals, partnerships and corporations.

Describe your first tax season experience. Did the experience turn out as you thought? If not, why?

Holmes: I worked about 60 hours a week during my first tax season, mainly on individual tax returns, with a few corporate returns thrown into the mix. As a first-year staff accountant, I was able to interact with seniors, managers and partners. Although the interaction was sometimes intimidating, it was definitely encouraged. My personal experience was a little different than expected, since I helped prepare returns in two different offices. Learning each office's processes was difficult. Trying not to confuse the two was even harder. Luckily for our new people, we've created consistent processes across all offices.

What were some of the challenges you faced?

Holmes: It was challenging to know what questions to ask and when to ask them. You often hear the phrase, "There is no such thing as a stupid question." However, when you are trying to prove your worth and show others you know what you are doing, you try not to ask questions you perceive as "stupid." At times I felt I couldn't ask questions because I perceived them as stupid. I felt I was supposed to know the answer, or the person I needed to ask looked extremely busy. Yet asking those questions is part of the learning process. You have to ask them, no matter how you feel about it. If you don't know the answer, then ask the question.

How did the demands on your time affect the work/life balance?

Holmes: During my first accounting class at Mount Union College, I heard horror stories about how bad tax season is and how much you have to work. By the time I finally got to my first tax season, I was pretty prepared for the long hours. Because I was aware of the increased workload so far in advance, I was able to balance my regular activities outside of work with the increased time spent at work. The demand on your time definitely forces you to stay organized.

What processes/tools did your firm offer that you found helpful?

Holmes: The Quickfinder was my best friend during tax season. It was easy to read and comprehend. I relied on it for answers to tax issues when I wasn't sure of the answers. Although it worked really well for me at that time, I've come to realize that you can't rely on it to give you answers on more in-depth tax situations you'll encounter in the future.

Rea's review process was also helpful, because it allowed me to learn from my mistakes and get feedback from the reviewers. In addition, it helped me understand why we had to treat tax items a certain way, and it built my confidence overall in the tax preparation area.

What do you do differently now to prepare for/manage the demands of tax season?

Holmes: Mainly, I try to stay current on different tax law changes. Knowing what is going on in the current year helps me keep an eye out for certain things that may change in the upcoming tax season. This helps me be more effective and efficient.

What advice can you offer young accounting professionals experiencing their first tax season?

Holmes: Always remember you have an excuse - it's your first tax season - and that just might get you out of a lot of trouble.

No, seriously, the best advice I can share is to strive for continuous improvement, never stop learning, have fun and enjoy the journey. While that's part of "The Rea Way," it is sound advice for all new accounting professionals.

During your first tax season, you are given the tools and support you need to get the job done. The challenges most people face come from insecurities of not having done it before. Tax season is like any sporting activity you participate in - you have a lot of nervousness and butterflies before the game, but as soon as the whistle blows, those butterflies disappear. It's all business from there on out.

Good luck!

Brian Swanson is the director of marketing and business development for Daszkal Bolton LLP in South Florida. Reach him at (561) 953-1486, or @DaszkalBolton.

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