Realistic Character Occupations: My Experience as a TAX AUDITOR

To win readers over we need to write characters so authentic they feel like real people. How do we do this? By brainstorming a character’s backstory, personality, needs, desires, and their day-to-day world. Lucky for us, one aspect of their daily life is a goldmine of characterization: the type of work they do. 

Think about it: a job can reveal personality, skills, beliefs, fears, desires, and more, which is why Becca Puglisi and I created The Occupation Thesaurus, a writing guide that profiles 124 possible careers and the story-worthy information that goes with each. Because they couldn’t conceivably cover all possible occupations, I’m helping Angela & Becca supplement their project and sharing my experience as a TAX AUDITOR (Anonymously, for obvious reasons). Maybe this career will be a perfect fit for one of your characters.

You can find the full list of Contributed Occupation Profiles and check out The Occupation Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Jobs, Vocations, and Careers at Writers Helping Writers.

OCCUPATION: TAX AUDITOR

OVERVIEW
As a tax auditor, I was responsible for reviewing returns to determine if the correct tax owed was paid. This involved interviewing people, analyzing and interpreting documentation, interpreting laws and explaining verbally and in writing any changes made to the return. I usually worked solo; very seldom was I part of a team effort for a case. It involves an extreme amount of paperwork, both physically and on the computer. It was vital to state only facts, leave all ‘opinions’ out of the paperwork. I dealt with other divisions regularly who did not understand my job or how I worked. Most would occasionally be a witness in court. Some audits lead to a criminal investigation.

NECESSARY TRAINING
College education, with at least a minimum of accounting classes. Background check for most of these jobs, no matter what country. Extensive on-the-job training. Yearly training on tax, office skills, and personality skills.

USEFUL SKILLS, TALENTS OR ABILITIES
DETAIL ORIENTED, EMPATHY, EQUANIMITY, FOCUS, FOREIGN LANGUAGES, GAINING THE TRUST OF OTHERS, GOOD WITH NUMBERS, GOOD INTERVIEW SKILLS, GOOD LISTENING SKILLS, MULTI-TASKING, NEGOTIATION, NOTE TAKING, ORGANIZATION, PUBLIC SPEAKING, READING PEOPLE, RESEARCH, SPREADSHEETS, STRATEGIC THINKING, THINKING WITH A CRIMINAL MIND-BUSINESS WISE, WRITING (CLEAR AND CONCISE)

SOURCES OF FRICTION
Anger at what the auditor represents; a government is taking their hard-earned money
Preconceived notions of what an auditor is like can set a bad tone. Incompetent, mean, non-sympathetic, racial or class profiling, dumb, ‘a monster,’ etc.
Being too friendly or religious with the auditor for whatever personal reason, leading to an awkward work environment
Delicately dealing with a taxpayer who is discovered to be lying
Confusion and/or stalling of the audit due to receiving incomplete information or useless documentation from third party hearsay (accountant or lawyer) instead of dealing directly with the source (taxpayer)
Lack of cooperation by taxpayers refusing to talk or give documentation
Tension with family or friends because if an auditor hears something about a tax scheme, tax wrongdoings, etc, he is obligated to report it, and is not allowed to give tax advice
The other side of the coin, if an auditor finds out someone is committing criminal activities, the authorities cannot be notified, which could leave an inexperienced auditor biased during the audit
Arguments with coworkers, management, or taxpayers because of the constant agency policy and tax law changes, which can be interpreted differently
Complaints by management or taxpayers the complex work is moving too slow
Intense rivalry, backstabbing, misunderstanding of job skills, and a lack of cooperation and teamwork by employees in other divisions who look down on the auditor (and vise versa) because they believe their job is superior (very territorial)
Jealousy among coworkers because of the type of work being assigned
Isolation at work or home because the auditor must keep everything they hear to themselves, due to privacy laws
Being looked down by family and friends for what one does for a living

WRITERS SHOULD KNOW…
Most people, when they find out who you work for, say “are you for real?” Of course we are “for real”. Do you think we’d say we work for the taxman if we didn’t? It’s a serious conversation downer. Some employees use pseudonyms due to the possible danger involved or they refuse to tell people they are a tax person.

Turnover in this industry seems to go two ways: either you quit within a couple of years, or you stay until retirement. Taxpayers will treat an auditor based on their feelings for the government. If the taxpayer is patriotic or respectful of government’s positions, they will treat the auditor the same way. If the taxpayer hates paying taxes (of course no one wants to pay taxes), or doesn’t trust the government, they can be disrespectful, rude, insulting, or even threatening to an auditor. This treatment can take a toll on personality and make the auditor untrusting, even suspicious of everyone. Most auditors have an outside hobby that exudes a totally different personality from their work personality, in order to escape the daily grind and remain sane.

Angela & Becca’s note: a big thank you to this Street Team member for generously sharing their experience in this job role!

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