In the last eight months at Canada Revenue Agency (CRA), my role as a Taxpayer Services Agent at the Burnaby Fraser Tax Services Office has been an invaluable learning experience. In my first full-time role with the Canadian federal government, I have been fortunate to learn about our tax system and see firsthand the numerous processes and security checks that CRA utilizes to ensure compliance and understanding of the Income Tax Act across the country. Though the job was structured with a defined role and responsibilities, I was able to experience a number of learning opportunities on both a professional and personal level.
During the first two months on the job, all of the co-op students were divided into two tax training courses where we learned about the federal and provincial tax systems, the more technical aspects of the T1 general form, and other standard tax credits that many Canadian taxpayers regularly apply to their individual income tax returns. In addition to the online learning modules and mock-up exercises involving real tax scenarios, the facilitator of my assigned course encouraged open discussion and dialogue in our training class as part of our overall learning experience. This method of learning enabled me to become more familiar with numerous tax concepts while offering different opportunities to meet other fellow co-op students in my assigned class.
Towards the second half of the course, our respective training classes were introduced to the different online systems and intranets that we would use once we “go live” on the phones. Go live” means that we would begin taking taxpayer enquiries ourselves once the training period ends. The first few weeks of going live was a bit intimidating, since one of the biggest challenges was passing confidentiality checks over the phone with taxpayers. This was intimidating since it would be our first time dealing with upset taxpayers who might be frustrated in not being able to access their CRA accounts. But this was exactly why the communications training during our first two months at CRA was important since it taught us more about call controls to provide professionalism and security over the phone.
Other features of the job include answering T1 general enquiries, referring more complicated individual income tax enquiries to more senior agents, determine and explain eligibility of tax credits and how they work, process mailing and address changes, determine rough estimates of timeframes of refunds and mailing requests.
I would also say that another intimidating part of going live initially was informing taxpayers of long timeframes. For example, for first-time filers (and especially non-residents), the processing timeframe to process their tax returns would take more time to review, and they may be upset about that. It would be our job to explain to them the reason for the longer timeframe (which is because we need to verify their information and to record their details into the system). This really helped because I learned how to deliver both good and bad news to taxpayers in a professional and objective manner. Furthermore, different staff members from the management level trained our co-op classes in the more technical administrative details, such as timesheet completion and other work policies expected of us on a daily basis.
An important aspect of my training was the communications component on the phone. As taxpayer services agents, we interact with numerous taxpayers from all walks of life. To ensure that we provide the utmost care and service on our calls, we learned about different communication styles to use when taxpayers call our general enquiries line and also learned to continually ask further probing questions to help taxpayers confirm and clarify their specific enquiries. In the final weeks of our training, our two co-op teams were matched with full-time employees to further review how phone calls were handled on a regular basis.
For future co-op students, I would suggest the following:
- Training could be a lot to take in, as the tax topics assigned to co-op students are basic but numerous. At CRA, we weren’t expected to memorize information but instead expected to know where and how to find the relevant information in the CRA systems to answer taxpayer enquiries.
- Don’t be afraid to ask questions during training! Asking questions always bring more discussion with the rest of the class.
Be open to meet new people from different backgrounds during training, and even after training as interacting with full-time employees is another great way for co-op students to experience working in a real office setting with people from different backgrounds.
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