Prior to beginning this internship, I had zero exposure to tax in any way. While many of my fellow interns have taken a tax course in school, I have not. Sometimes this worried me, as I could not help but feel as though I was coming in at a disadvantage — like I was already behind. But I spoke with some classmates who had taken a tax course and had an internship in tax, and they all echoed the class was nothing like the real thing. They told me that tax was all about adapting to the situation and working with others to produce a final product. They were right.
I have discovered tax is a big project, completed by a group. Each individual in the group has a specific role, and each role is vital to the completion of the project. The more I work at it, the more similarities I find to the sport of swimming, which I compete in at my school. Swimming is very different from most sports. You are on a team, yet you compete as an individual. The better you perform as an individual, the more points you score for your team. Therefore, to win meets, each individual must perform to the best of their ability to provide the greatest number of points for the greater good.
The tax process is probably most similar to a relay in swimming. There are four swimmers on a relay and when the first swimmer hits the wall, the next one dives in and continues the race. Essentially, each swimmer is completing one leg of the relay. This is just like the tax process. It begins with one person preparing the return and sending it off to the next for review. The return goes through a series of reviewers before it is finally delivered to the client. The process acts like a relay, with each person completing one step in the process until the race is finished.
Cohen & Company’s culture also draws another huge parallel to swimming. During a relay, or any race, every swimmer not in the water is cheering for those who are racing. They want the absolute best for two reasons. One, they genuinely want to see the person racing do the best that they can; and two, the better that swimmer does, the more points the team scores. At this firm, everyone is cheering for one another, even if it is not in the form of jumping up and down and screaming. Each person I have come across has lent their support in any way they can. The most common phrases I hear are “how is everything going,” and “let me know if there is anything I can do to help.” These two phrases have been monumental in helping me learn the tax process. I never feel as though I cannot ask a question about my work, or like I must struggle through everything on my own. Each person here wants to see me do a good job because they genuinely want to see me succeed, and when I do a good job, it makes their job easier, too. When I complete a return correctly, that’s one less thing on their plate to deal with.
I have always loved how swimming is an individual yet team sport. Everyone works together, yet competes on their own. Discovering tax is very similar has been one of the most pleasant surprises of my internship, and this is an area I can see myself enjoying for years to come.
John Louria, Grand Valley State University