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I spent an 11-hour day with a tax pro during tax season—here’s the most surprising thing I learned

Matthews and one of his clients
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Matthews and one of his clients

When I headed to H&R Block in late March to get an inside look into the day of a tax pro during busy season, I worried most of the day would be spent twiddling my thumbs.

It's not that I expected the office to be slow, but I thought the day would mostly consist of number-crunching and screen time.

It turns out, preparing taxes is a lot more social than I ever could have imagined. As I learned from tax pro Kwame Matthews, "50 percent of the job is people skills." The second half of being a good tax pro boils down to experience and expertise, he told me.

Matthews would know. He's been preparing tax returns for five years and estimates he's seen more than 500 clients at this point. He also manages two H&R Block offices, which means leading two different teams of 20 to 25 tax pros.

Tax professional Kwame Matthews
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Tax professional Kwame Matthews

The client meetings themselves were very social. As Matthews prepared the taxes, he and his clients chatted like longtime friends, about everything from the DMV and grandchildren to politics. After seeing the way he interacts with them, it's no surprise that many are repeat clients from previous years or referrals. People simply like to be around him.

The meetings were draining for me. I'm used to sitting in front of a computer and writing all day, with 15 to 30 minutes interviews sprinkled throughout the afternoon. Matthews, on the other hand, spends much of his day either interacting with clients or his own team of employees. And he has to be on — energetic and enthusiastic — no matter how exhausted or hungry he is.

Matthews had four client meetings that day, three of which I was able to observe. It was the final meeting, which also happened to be the longest, that I couldn't sit in on. While Matthews spent two hours working with his final client of the day, a seven-figure earner, I used the break to pop Advil and hydrate.

It was a long day
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It was a long day

Beyond the client meetings, Matthews is responsible for training and managing his employees and making customer service phone calls to clients who weren't happy with their in-office experience, both of which require soft skills.

Another big misconception about his job is that preparing taxes "isn't all math," he told me. "You don't have to be a math major to be a tax pro." Sure, you need to understand basic arithmetic and be detail-oriented, but your success in the profession more so boils down to your ability to "read and comprehend," he says. "And you have to have people skills."

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