Successfully managing both a career and a family can be extremely challenging, so we’ve asked some Foster alums now working in Taxation how they do it. In this first installment, we hear from Michelle Peters, a Senior Tax Manager at Sweeney Conrad.
Michelle Peters, UW Foster class of 2013
Tell us about your work and family.
I started my career at a small CPA firm in the heat of busy season in 2014. At the time I still had my heart set on a career in audit, but this tax opportunity came up and I couldn’t pass it up! I fell in love with tax, every client was a puzzle and had their own unique story. I really enjoyed putting their tax returns together, working in a tight-knit office and directly with the shareholders. As much as I loved the people at my first firm, I realized that I wanted more of a challenge. I started at Sweeney Conrad in December of 2014 and have been here ever since! I dove right in, took all of the challenging projects I could find and before I knew it, found myself as a Senior Tax Manager surrounded by people who are like a second family to me.
My significant other and I have a 19 month old son who is the most amazing kid. He’s super sweet, curious and playful. I love running around with him playing chase, reading books and going on walks exploring the neighborhood. He loves to help us clean and cook, so he’ll season and mix up the vegetables that we make together for dinner. We love spending time with family and host a family BBQ once a month.
How do you juggle work and family, especially during the busy season?
I spend time upfront to plan my work hours, childcare, time for myself and family time. I focus on what’s most important to me on a daily/weekly basis and don’t give on those. Setting a routine is huge for me and just making sure I stay consistent with exercise and sleep. There are 24 hours in a day, 16 awake, so there is plenty of time to fit in what’s important (during the busiest times I try to cap my work hours at 12 hours a day). I save time during busy season by meal prepping, purchasing easy meals from the grocery store and cutting back on TV/social media. I also lean on my significant other. I have slow times during the year where I do more of the household duties, and during busy season he does more.
Another thing I do is flex my hours and make sure I take lots of 5-minute breaks during the day to refresh. Some days I wake up early and get my extra hours in before my son wakes up, some days I work extra after he goes to bed. I also like to work remote at least 2 times a week.
Busy season is both challenging and rewarding as a new parent. I have incredible clients who really appreciate what my team does for them and ask me how my son is doing! We build strong relationships with our clients and team members in this industry and it really keeps me going during the busy times.
Do you have any advice for someone planning to start a family and work as a tax professional?
My biggest piece of advice is to carve out time for yourself every day, and plan relief valves at home and in the office. It’s going to be an adjustment and for some it goes smoothly, while others have a harder time. To help set yourself up for success at work, review and set expectations with your superiors for how your responsibilities will be divided in your absence, and what your return to work will look like. Ask for what you really want, the worst they can do is say no! I was very fortunate to be able to work fully remote when I came back from leave (with full-time childcare at my home), and then I shifted to hybrid. Not having to get ready for work and commute saved me time that I could then spend with my family.
Talk to parents who returned to work after having a child and see how their experience was. It’s really telling if people are still at that company! Talking to other moms really helped me, and I worked closely with the principals at my firm to plug in other folks to help with my workload. I am very fortunate to have an incredibly supportive team. If my colleagues had a lull, they checked in to see if they could help with any of my work.
Know what the busy season hours expectations are at different levels. 50-60 hours a week (depending on the week) is very doable for a few months out of the year. Often the hours expectations are slightly higher for newer associates, but they tick downwards as you move up the ladder.
I found the flexible work schedule and generous time off to really helps make up for the tax season overtime. A lot of firms have moved towards hybrid work environments and even allow employees to work fully remote. Both are really nice to have at your disposal with kid(s). I took full advantage of working remotely when my son was young and it worked out really well for me.
In tax especially, firms are often able to allow part-time work if you want to cut back when starting a family. If you go this route, just be sure your workload gets cut down accordingly and set boundaries for your non-work days. I never went part time, but it’s a great option, should you want to reduce your hours. Reducing your hours might not be necessary though. You would be surprised how much more you can get done during the day when you have a cute little baby to get home to!
This is an important subject for any professional looking to start a family. Watch for more blogs in this series coming soon, and let us know if you would like to contribute.
Interested in a career in Taxation? Click here to find out more about Foster’s 9-month specialized Master of Science in Taxation program.