Historically, tax trainees came from backgrounds in accountancy or audit, but modern recruitment practices allow for young people to join the profession directly. In this article, we take a look at what pursuing a tax career would mean for you in the immediate future.
How do I know if taxation would be a good career for me?
Taxation is an excellent career for the academically-minded. It requires a high level of attention to detail, good English and maths skills and the ability to communicate. Although many people assume that it is a ‘maths job’, actually the vast majority of work is law based. Therefore, if you have an interest in maths and law then this is the job for you.
What sorts of things do tax advisers do?
There are six major types of tax and most advisers specialise in only one. Depending on the specialisation, the job will differ greatly. Generally speaking, most advisers are either corporation tax specialists (people who deal with company taxes) or personal tax specialists (people who deal with people). There are also specialists in VAT, Inheritance Tax, Stamp Duties and Capital Gains Tax. Most advisers have at least a basic knowledge of all the main taxes.
A typical personal tax adviser will complete tax returns for their clients each year as well as dealing with ad hoc queries on things like PAYE codes, National Insurance contributions, tax when you sell a property, inheritance tax and how to deal with Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs. Such a wide range of possible topics requires the adviser to be able to think on their feet.
Tax law is continually evolving, so part of a tax adviser’s job is to keep up-to-date with the latest changes so that they can properly advise their clients. To supplement your own monitoring of these developments, there are professional courses available to help you stay on top of things.
Initially the learning curve can be quite steep because of the amount of information to take in. However, most companies balance this by first assigning you simple tasks such as basic return preparation, filing and other administrative duties before they let you loose on their clients. For the first couple of years, be prepared for a lot of studying while you get to grips with the law.
Where do tax advisers work?
You can find tax advisers working in the following places:
- An accountancy/financial services practice
- A specialised tax advice company
- ‘In-house’ at a large company outside of the financial services industry
- At home for themselves.
Where do I start?
Firstly it is very helpful to have achieved good grades in school and/or university. GCSE and A level results are important and while a degree is not strictly necessary for a taxation career, it is useful, especially if you wish to work for a big company. Good grades in irrelevant subjects are better than bad grades in relevant subjects.
If you can find a local company who is willing to offer you a week of work experience, then take it. Get a feel for working in an office, in an accountancy practice or with a tax adviser. This will look good on your CV and will help you to see whether you are well-suited to a career in taxation.
Do a bit of research using the career resources at your disposal. If you’re reading this, you’re probably already clued up, but I’ll list some anyway: your university careers centre and careers fairs; insight days; your network of professionally established acquaintances; the internet. If you only use one careers resource, try the Inside Careers website, which encompasses all of the information listed above, from outlining your options through to advice about applying for the vacancies on its jobs board. The employer directory can be used as a starting point for learning about the number and range of tax employers out there.
How long does it take to qualify?
There are two major professional bodies who deal with tax: the Association of Taxation Technicians (ATT) and the Chartered Institute of Taxation (CIOT). Most employers will pay for your training at a professional college and may also offer you time off to study.
The length of study period depends on your employer’s expectations as well as your aptitude for taking exams. Most people I have met have qualified with both the ATT and CIOT within 3-6 years. You can find more information about these exams later on in this guide.
What kind of salary can I expect?
As with any job, salaries vary depending on specialism and location. As a rough guide, a beginner in London specialising in corporation tax could expect a salary of around £26,000. Salaries in all specialisms can rise quickly as you pass your exams and it is by no means unusual for qualified partners to earn £120,000 and more. Read more about salaries in tax.
What kind of opportunities are there once I qualify?
As tax is continually changing, tax advisers tend to remain in their chosen specialism for many years. However, it is possible to move from one specialism to another. Advisers working for accountancy companies sometimes decide to sit accountancy exams such as the ACA or ACCA and move into the audit department. Some advisers decide to specialise in expatriate tax or cross-border transactions, which can lead to opportunities abroad. The CIOT also offers an Advanced Diploma in International Taxation. Tax is a very flexible profession!
Some companies are happy for you to be involved in their marketing activities so your desk job doesn’t have to involve too much deskwork.