What can you expect from a career in Tax?

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As a tax expert, you’ll certainly hunt down creative solutions to some surprising problems. Here’s a look at careers in tax and what you’d do in a day at the office.

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Looking at careers in tax

Imagine your life as a tax advisor

Tax at a glance

Tax is an unavoidable fact of life – it affects every person, company and organisation. Everyone wants to save money on their tax bill and everyone wishes someone else would do the paperwork for them. That's where tax professionals come in.

People employ tax firms to:

  • Know tax law
  • Find creative ways to save money
  • Do all the calculations
  • Do the paperwork
  • Explain what they're doing in simple terms

Careers in tax: Different roles explained

A tax role has two main parts: compliance and consultancy.

Compliance

Compliance is the nitty-gritty of tax – the paperwork. One key compliance job is to complete your client’s tax return according to the current regulations and file it on time. Depending on your specialism, you might do calculations, accounting and paperwork for things like setting up family trusts or estate planning. At the beginning of your career, you can expect to focus on compliance while you learn the ropes.

Consultancy

Consultancy is the problem-solving side of the tax business. Tax advisors make sure their clients’ finances are tax-efficient (simply put, they find ways for their clients to pay the minimum tax possible). It means knowing tax regulations inside out and being able to take advantage of all the available tax structures, tax breaks and loopholes. This is what you’ll focus on as a qualified tax advisor.

There are three main tax areas:

  • Corporate tax – managing tax for companies or corporations. There are specialisms within this, such as transfer pricing.
  • Personal tax – managing tax for individuals. Specialisms include estate planning and high net worth individuals.
  • Indirect tax – managing tax on goods and services, such as VAT on products. This is different from tax on personal income or company profits.

Your day-to-day work

On an average day at the office, you might do some of these things:

  • Work on or check over a tax return for a client
  • Review a change in tax legislation and report back to your colleagues
  • Collate information on a client’s tax position to prepare for a meeting
  • Correspond with HMRC to sort out any queries about a client’s taxes
  • Meet with a client to explain their options for tax efficiency
  • Explain to a high net worth individual how their country of residence will affect their tax
  • Calculate your client’s potential taxes to work out which financial arrangement is most tax-efficient
  • Set up a family trust or plan the best way for someone to leave their estate when they die

Work-life balance

In principle, tax is a nine-to-five job but you will need to work hard. In your first few years, you’ll work towards qualifications as well as do your job. You’ll do most of it in your own time.

Tax has very busy periods, particularly in January when tax returns are due. You can expect to work some evenings and weekends.

What types of firms can you work for?

Accountancy firms

These firms usually offer their clients full accountancy services, including audit, risk management and corporate finance. They range from medium to large. The largest are the Big Four (DeloitteEYKPMG and PwC) which also offer a range of consultancy services. 

Tax advice firms

Often boutique and specialist, these focus on tax. They may cater to companies or individuals.

In-house

Some companies have in-house tax professionals to handle their own taxes. Depending on the company’s size, the tax department could be one person, twenty or hundreds.

Skills and qualifications

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1. Communication

When you work in Tax, you need to explain complex regulations in a way non-specialists can understand. Clear written and verbal communication is an absolute must.

Gathering examples:

  • Telephone jobs, such as calling alumni for donations or volunteering for a peer support line, develop your verbal communication skills and grow confidence
  • Join a debating society, a student council or even an improv group
  • Join a student magazine or take responsibility for a society website. Successfully advertising an event online is a great example of your written skills

During the application process:

  • Don’t rush your application questions. Make sure your answers are clear and well-structured. The same goes for your CV. Use the STAR method – Situation, Task, Activity, Result
  • In your interview speak clearly and confidently, and connect with your interviewer through body language and eye contact
  • Learn more about the application process with Bright Network Academy

2. Numeracy

You don’t need to be a maths genius - plenty of humanities students get into Tax. But you do need to be comfortable with numbers.

Gathering examples:

  • Luckily you use numeracy all the time in daily life. For students, the big one is budgeting food, rent and bills - especially if these are split with other housemates
  • You can also volunteer as a treasurer of a club or society

During the application process:

  • Don’t be afraid to use prosaic examples on your CV or at an interview. If you can explain your successful budgeting techniques, that’s plenty
  • If you’re faced with a numerical question, take a deep breath and think through how to approach it before you dive in

3. Time management

To be successful, you’ll need to prioritise tasks, meet deadlines and take personal responsibility for a professional workload.

Gathering examples:

  • During your degree, you need to juggle several different pieces of work or revision for several modules. Think about the techniques you use to manage your time successfully in these situations
  • You also need to manage your time to fit in other responsibilities such as chairing a student society or working part-time

During the application process:

  • Get your application in well before the deadline
  • Be on time for your interview
  • Tackle in-tray exercises methodically. Practice in advance – you can find tests online

4. Commercial awareness

Organisations want their employees to be honestly enthusiastic about their jobs. Commercial awareness shows you’re interested in your industry and you'll be able to keep up with changes as you work. Sign up for Bright Network's weekly commercial awareness update to stay in the loop. 

Gathering examples:

  • Read. Get your hands on any relevant journals and compile a list of expert bloggers
  • Look out for trends. You should be able to discuss industry news and explain why it interests you
  • Act on what you discover. If you hear something talked about, research it further. If you can, organise a debate or seminar or invite a guest speaker

During the application process:

  • Research the company before you apply. What’s unusual about it? What attracts you? What are the different paths for graduates?
  • By the interview stage, you should have an excellent grasp of the company; key competitors, recent successes, reasons for any stock movements and so on
  • Don’t ask your interviewer any questions where the answers are available online or in company reports

Learn more about how to improve your commercial awareness with this Bright Network Academy module, led by commercial awareness author, Chris Stoakes.

5. Problem-solving skills

In Tax, you often need to get creative. For example, if you want to reduce the tax a client pays there are a huge range of tools you could recommend, such as trusts and tax-free investments. It’s up to you to find a clever solution.

Gathering examples:

  • You solve problems all the time in your everyday life. Think about times when you’ve hit a snag – maybe a funding shortfall for a trip, a member of a project group who called in sick at the last minute or two colleagues at your part-time job who wouldn’t stop arguing. What did you do to fix it?
  • The more you try to do, the more problems you’ll run across! Get involved in anything where you have to take on responsibility. Problem-solving examples are guaranteed

During the application process:

  • There aren’t any special tips for this one. You’ll be given tasks and problems to solve. You’ll be watched as you work. Think carefully, take your time, and be creative

6. Attention to detail

In tax law, the regulations say exactly what they mean – and you need to interpret them exactly that way. That means paying attention to every word. 

Gathering examples:

  • Science students have it easy here – experimental techniques and computer programming require attention to detail and give evidence of your success
  • Take on tasks such as proofreading for the college paper or keeping records for a student society

During the application process:

  • Proofread your application thoroughly – weed out every tiny spelling or punctuation error
  • When your interviewer asks you a question, make sure you’re clear on what you need to do. If you’re not, ask for more detail

7. Organisation

You’ll be facing large, complex tasks during your career in Tax. You need to be able to break them down into sections you can tackle methodically.

Gathering examples:

  • Everyday examples of organisation often involve technology. Think about the apps you use to keep yourself organised. How did you select them, and what do they allow you to do?
  • Take on managerial responsibilities at a job, such as setting up shift rotas or allocating tasks
  • Get involved in organising an event for a student society

During the application process:

  • Don’t be afraid to think aloud. When you’re asked to solve a problem at an interview, explain your thought process. Even if your answer isn’t perfect, your interviewer can see your methodical approach. 

Getting a foot in the door 

A visit to one of the Big Four accountancy firms is a good first step towards your tax career – even if you don’t plan to work somewhere like that. Try to win yourself a place on one of their introductory programmes. You’ll need to apply in the first term of your first year at university.

A summer internship will also get you off to a great start. Again, check out the Big Four and look at smaller tax firms to see what they have to offer.

Salary 

As a graduate trainee in tax, you’ll earn around £25,000 to £35,000. You can expect a pay rise of about £10,000 when you qualify as a CTA.

Tax has a clear career progression and your salary should rise steadily. After five years you might be earning £50,000 and after ten years it could be £100,000. Partners in the Big Four can earn over £1 million.

What to do afterwards

A tax career can give you the business experience to move into business consultancy roles. It can be quite hard to move sideways into a related accountancy role – you may have to re-qualify or take a significant pay cut.

Once you’ve built up some experience, there are ways that you can take your accountancy career elsewhere.

You could move into a civil service role which can offer a good work-life balance and benefits. Or you could strike out on your own. As a freelance tax professional, you’re likely to handle personal taxes or those of smaller companies. You can set your own hours and work from home.

To sum up…

  • Tax is a career where communication skills are even more valuable than numeracy.
  • Day-to-day, you’ll navigate tax law to find creative ways to boost your clients’ tax efficiency. You’ll explain complex regulations in simple terms. There will also be paperwork and calculations where you’ll need to be meticulous.
  • The salary is competitive and the job security is high – after all, there will always be taxes.
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