Retail Tax PreparationIf you've seen retail stores like H&R Block or Jackson Hewitt, you're familiar with retail tax preparation. Essentially, customers bring in their tax information, and a tax preparer will complete the tax return while the customer waits. This job typically doesn't pay much ($8-25/hr, depending on experience), but also doesn't require a college degree or CPA license. This is a great place to start if you don't have an accounting degree, but wish to gain experience in the field.
Public AccountingIf you've heard of the "Big 4" accounting firms (KPMG, Deloitte, Ernst & Young, and PricewaterhouseCoopers), you're aware of public accounting. In this career path, you will help prepare taxes, perform tax research, and consult with clients regarding various tax issues. Clients tend to be large corporations, partnerships, or high net worth individuals. The job atmosphere is very fast paced, and during busy tax compliance seasons, you will work long hours. Those in this field usually have a Bachelor's or Master's degree in accounting. While a CPA license isn't required to start your career, you will need to pass the CPA exam and obtain your license if you wish to work your way up in a firm. Salaries start around $45,000-50,000 but can get as high as $200,000 or more if you work at a firm for many years and become a partner.
Tax ResearchBeing a tax accountant isn't only about preparing tax returns. As a tax research consultant, you generally assist in tax planning and focus on more complicated issues that require research within the Internal Revenue Code ("the code"), legislation, and various other authoritative documents. This career doesn't have the peaks and valleys of a typical tax accounting job, however it's a little bit more difficult to find your way into this career. Generally, professionals on this career path have experience in tax preparation and have already done a bit of research and consulting prior to entering this career. If you're involved in tax research, you will generally find an area to specialize in. As a specialist in a particular area or industry, you can command a salary of $100,000 or more. Generally, those in this field not only have a Bachelor's or Master's degree in accounting, but also a CPA license.
Hopefully this article has given you some insight into a few of the different directions you can take once you decide you're interested in a tax-focused career. Keep in mind that even within the above career paths, there are several subsets of career directions that offer different experiences and opportunities.