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    Audit and Tax Career Paths in Public Accounting: An Analysis...
    research summary posted February 24, 2015 by Jennifer M Mueller-Phillips, tagged 05.0 Audit Team Composition, 05.04 Staff Hiring, Turnover and Morale 
    Audit and Tax Career Paths in Public Accounting: An Analysis of Student and Professional Perceptions
    Practical Implications:

    Competition for talent that requires students to make a professional career-track choice at an increasingly early stage in their development can lead to harmful “job market unraveling” that has been observed in other professional fields (e.g., law, medicine).  To the extent aspiring public accountants can make well-informed career track decisions, individuals and public accounting firms should benefit from improved person-job fit.  In this study, we provide systematic survey evidence about tax versus audit career alternatives which should be helpful to future accounting professionals.  We also note that ‘career track choice prior to internship’ appears to be an increasingly prevalent aspect of the public accounting labor market that would benefit from additional research.

    For more information on this study, please contact Derek W. Dalton.


    Dalton, D. W., S. Buchheit and J.J. McMillan. 2014. Audit and Tax Career Paths in Public Accounting: An Analysis of Student and Professional Perceptions.  Accounting Horizons 28 (2): 213-231

    Theory of Planned Behavior; person-job fit; career choice; audit versus tax
    Purpose of the Study:

    Accounting students increasingly select their public accounting career path, either the audit or tax ‘track’, during university study.  Frequently, a career track decision is made prior to a public accounting internship.  We wanted to learn (1) how students make this important career decision and (2) whether the factors important to students’ audit vs. tax career choice seemed reasonable based on the perceptions of practicing accounting professionals.  In short, we wanted to learn whether students’ employment expectations matched professionals’ perceptions of job reality.

    Design/Method/ Approach:

    We gathered initial perceptions using a survey involving Masters of Accounting students during the fall of 2011.  Results helped us develop a relatively comprehensive survey for 171 upper-level accounting students at two large public universities during spring semester 2012.  The upper-level students largely had not yet made a ‘career track’ decision.  During the summer of 2012, we provided a similar survey to 310 public accounting professionals who had, on average, 10 years of work experience.  Respondents were evenly split as to professional track and were distributed across a wide distribution of employers (e.g., Big 4, national, regional, and local firms).


    Student career path choice is associated with students’ perceptions of job characteristics such as

    • Professional travel requirements,
    • Expected amount of client interaction, and
    • Long-term career opportunities in industry

    In large part, student perceptions agreed with those of practicing professionals; however, career misconceptions were noted.  Contrary to evidence from practicing professionals, students believed that:

    • Tax is less ambiguous than audit,
    • Tax is more difficult than audit, and
    • Auditors are more extroverted than tax professionals.
    Audit Team Composition
    Staff Hiring - Turnover & Morale