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How to Become a Specialty Tax Advisor

How to Become a Specialty Tax Advisor

Specialty tax is a lucrative field in which you can play a critical role in the financial success of your clients and partners.  If you are seeking a career path that combines your academic skills with real talent and initiative, then working in specialty tax could be the job for you. Read on to find out more about the role and how you can get started.       

What is the Role of a Specialty Tax Advisor?

In its simplest terms, specialty tax advisors are financial experts with advanced knowledge of specialized tax accounting and tax law. They play a consulting role in helping clients navigate complex tax landscapes and make informed financial decisions. Because of the varied nature of the role, there are several potential routes into the industry, including disciplines like engineering, law and finance.

With ever-evolving tax laws and economic landscapes, the demand for specialty tax advisors continues to rise. This career suits individuals with an eye for detail and opens opportunities to work closely with teams across many innovation-forward industries.

Key Skills Needed to Become a Specialty Tax Advisor:

One of the most fundamental hard skills necessary to succeed as a specialty tax advisor is comprehensive knowledge of federal, state and local tax laws. You will be making recommendations that can impact bottom-line results and, therefore, must be highly competent. In addition, it is important that you have:

    • An inquiring mind and the ability to learn quickly and understand incredibly complex technological processes
    • A sound understanding of the legal landscape around multi-state level tax laws, which will encompass state statutes, state-level administrative authority, and state-level judicial interpretations.
    • The ability to work closely with other departments in a business, such as R&D and marketing
    • The initiative to proactively seek out new opportunities for clients
    • The organizational skills to work alone, manage your own workload, juggle multiple projects, and complete tasks to deadlines driven by the client
    • The confidence and people skills to work in a client-facing role, dealing with people from many different backgrounds 
    • An ability to work discreetly and sensitively on highly confidential projects
    • Excellent written and spoken communication skills to explain complex issues to those without specialized knowledge and non-tax professionals


If you’re thinking about becoming a specialty tax advisor, there’s no single set path, but there are some required qualifications depending on the field you choose to specialize in. Specialty tax advisors can come from a wide range of academic backgrounds, and typical qualifications are very broad. Depending on your area of specialization, a bachelor’s degree in accounting, engineering legal or finance can be suited. 

You can enhance your employment prospects by adding an advanced degree such as a master’s, a Juris Doctor, or certificate programs aimed at taxation or some specialized areas.

Initially, it’s key to have a knowledge of the processes happening within specialist industries. This will allow the individual to effectively advise on how the specialty taxes can be applied to the client. 

Licensing and certifications for specialty tax advisors:

Credential requirements depend on the scope of your job as a tax advisor and the niche you choose to specialize in. As a relatively small industry, joining a reputable firm can be important in finding your feet in the industry, and while some qualifications will likely be required by employers, others aren’t usually necessary but can open up more opportunities: 

    • Enrolled Agent (EA)- Specialty Tax advisors who represent their clients in dealings with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) must hold IRS Enrolled agent certification. Since the EA license holds federal recognition, requirements do not vary by state. 
    • Certified Public Accountant (CPA)CPA licenses require passing a national exam and a state exam in the state you will practice. The requirements for becoming a CPA are set by a state’s Board of Accountancy and include passing a 4-part national CPA exam and finishing 150 college hours of coursework in accounting.
    • Accredited Tax Advisor (ATA) – The Accreditation Council for Accountancy and Taxation (ACAT) offers a voluntary accredited tax advisor certification program- the ATA credential demonstrates your advanced abilities. You will need at least three years of tax-focused work experience to obtain ACAT certification as an accredited tax advisor.

Depending on the area of specialization, the following licenses and credentials may be required:

    • Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED)- LEED certification is a globally recognized symbol of sustainability achievement and leadership. Project teams with a LEED certification inform and benchmark their sustainability goals and achievements. 
    • Home Energy Rater (HERS rater) – A certified Home Energy Rater is a person trained and certified by an accredited Home Energy Rater Provider to inspect and evaluate a home’s energy features. 
    • Juris Doctor (JD)- Completing a JD program will provide the credential it takes to become a lawyer and work on the legal side of specialty tax advice.

Get relevant work experience in a related field:

One of the aspects that makes specialty tax advice an exciting and appealing career path is the level of accessibility for people with relevant backgrounds. While most specialty tax advisors tend to have at least one college degree, you do not require any particular level of experience to start your career in the field. Successful tax advisors tend to benefit from practical experience and develop this knowledge through:

    • Internships while enrolled in college
    • Entry-level jobs 

As a rule of thumb, many employers consider one to three years of experience to be a significant level. Employees of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) or those working in the tax department of a major financial institution can get the exposure, training and knowledge to handle complex tax matters. 

Salary Expectations

The range of titles and functions that specialty tax advisors can hold is extensive, and salary ranges can vary widely depending on many important factors, including education, certifications, additional skills and experience. 

The average Tax Advisor salary in the US is $95,149 but the salary range typically falls between $86,385 and $105,447. Entry-level positions can start at $70,000 per year.

Career Opportunities

The beauty of working as a specialty tax advisor lies in the flexibility to tailor to your expertise and choose the extent you want to specialize – you can deal with a wide range of industries and products across your career. However, if there is a role or industry that particularly suits your interests or qualifications, you may wish to become an in-house advisor, specializing in just one area. 

As you advance in your career, you will have the opportunity to progress into management and leadership roles if you wish to. Highly experienced and top performing individuals or employees can work towards managing director and c-suite opportunities.

How do Specialty Tax Advisors Differ from Tax Advisors?

Specialty tax advisors work closely with clients on the intricacies of specialized tax benefits, ensuring clients maximize their tax incentives legally and ethically. While tax advisors help businesses and individuals on all aspects of tax, specialty tax advisors possess in-depth knowledge and expertise for particular tax benefits.

For example, choosing to specialize in R&D tax will see you working at the forefront of innovation across multiple industries, including aerospace, manufacturing, engineering, and software development. This involves managing the end-to-end process of identifying areas where clients can claim against the specialty tax, to working with the client to complete and submit R&D Tax Credit claims – from initial kick-off meetings with clients through filing R&D Tax Credits.

A key to success in the career is in-depth knowledge of all relevant tax regulations and applications, ensuring compliance and minimizing the risk. As a specialty tax advisor, you can work with businesses of all sizes – from small enterprises and medium sized businesses to Fortune 1000 companies.

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