When we think of Tax as a career, we think of the Big Four and The City, but there is another option for bright graduates interested in the sector: Government. Here, a graduate from the Civil Service Fast Stream with HMRC and the Treasury tells us about their experiences.
I knew nothing about tax when I joined the civil service so I wasn't sure what to expect when I was put into HMRC by the Fast Stream. However, after a year there and another in the Treasury I’m not sure I could sell the sector any more enthusiastically. I’ve worked with parliament and abroad; advised ministers on issues affecting everything from all taxpayers to a handful of aggressive tax avoiders. In addition to the work, I've found that these are great places full of interesting and bright people.
Like many graduates, when I was desperately trying to work out what I might want to do after university I also felt the siren call of the financial sector. But it's important to remember that finance is not just a private sector career, government needs and uses every type of finance professional. The whole financial world of tax, banking and all financial services has another side which offers just as much challenge and professional opportunity as the private sector. What's more, the lifestyle doesn't differ like you'd think, my old boss at the Treasury, now of Deloitte, always said that we worked just as hard as the private sector but much more efficiently, ideal for bureaucracy-shy graduates.
The range of things you can do in finance is much broader if you include some time in government in your career
Importantly, if you want to be a financial professional, the government will also train you to a high standard. HMRC has a tax professional programme for graduates that gives practical experience as good as any private sector programme and which will get you the same qualifications.
Also remember that the range of things you can do in finance is much broader if you include some time in government in your career (and vice versa, I keep an eye on private sector jobs). It isn’t hard to move in, out and around government or the private sector and if you keep up your contacts you’ll be able to jump back. I know ministers and senior officials take private sector experience seriously, they look for it and they trust people with it. It also genuinely helps to make civil servants better at forming policy, dealing with stakeholders and negotiating with big companies.
On the other side, government - no matter how open we try to be - looks like a black box to much of the private sector. So, if you understand how Whitehall thinks and works, you can serve your clients with a skill few have. Working in government will show you things you can’t do in the private sector: public policy making (representing the UK in European Council negotiations), the opportunity to work on different scale (in place of auditing a company, working on the welfare budget) or where finance and tax bleed into everything else (e.g. playing a role in immigration, local government, foreign affairs or health).
Use our insightful Career Path Guides to learn more about working in the Accounting, Audit and Tax sector, including what skills you need, what employers look for and how to stand out.