In house tax - market update
The local economy has been steadily growing in recent years; and skill shortages are now commonly seen across many industries and professions and this seem to be showing no sign of slowing. Skills shortages create workplace pressure, and this is especially true within the tax world, where skill shortages are especially prevalent. Organisations need to be clear on how best to tackle the immediate gaps and ideally address this for the longer term.
It is certainly true to say that it is a candidate driven market and these skills deficiencies are a continuing challenge for employers recruiting into in-house tax teams. A few years ago, an employer may have received a handful of CVs per vacancy and now you will be lucky to receive one or two totally relevant applicants. That said a move in house is still seen as a very attractive proposition for many tax specialists.
At Longman Tax Recruitment we have observed a couple of interesting market trends.
Firstly, the number of organisations in the North who have in-house tax functions has grown in the last couple of years. We are now seeing a regular pattern whereby a business "dips it's toe in the water" and brings in its first tax specialist having thought about it long and hard - and then in many cases within a couple of years they have look to recruit one, or perhaps two, more tax specialists once they have seen the value the first recruit has brought to the business.
Another recent trend we have observed is that most in-house roles we fill are with candidates who have previous in-house experience whereas once upon a time the primary pool of candidates for such roles came from the big 4 / group A firms. Maybe this is just a reflection that there are more in-house tax professionals in the region nowadays or perhaps it is a recognition of the slightly different skill set that someone in-house has from some-one in the profession.
So, in-house tax teams and indeed the accounting & tax profession in the North continues to be busy and grow. Tax is an increasingly higher profile topic of discussion, higher on the agenda than ever for many CFOs/FDs, particularly in areas such as new penalty regimes (including possible corporate criminal offences), tax digitalisation & Brexit. The tax environment continues to move at pace and tax professionals must keep up with the changes. As organisations face these new challenges the demand for skilled tax people will continue to rise and new career opportunities will present themselves too.
Career guidance if you are newly qualified
Ian Riley, Director of Longman Tax Recruitment and former tax professional, answers some of the key questions facing newly and recently qualified ATT and CTA's.
What's the first thing you typically say to someone who is newly qualified?
First and foremost, it must be a massive congratulations! Everyone in the tax profession knows how tough the exams are and how much hard work is required to get though them – so enjoy the moment. Then the key thing, I believe, is to make sure you take stock and start having a think about what you would like to achieve over the next few years, the direction you'd like your career to go in the long term and how you can use your qualification to best effect.
Why is this such a crucial time?
The career decisions you make as a newly qualified are probably amongst the most important you will ever make. At this stage of your career you will have more options open to you than at any other point which can be quite overwhelming especially in light of the amount of messages and calls you will no doubt receive from recruiters. However, it is important to take time to consider your longer-term career aspirations to make sure that you are in a role that is going to help you achieve your goals. For example, during my tax career I worked in M&A tax from starting as a graduate through to newly qualified and then on to manager grade in the following years. Had I wanted to move into another area of tax at this point it would have been very difficult, given 6 years in a specialist area and the higher earnings as a manager. Some thought and advice when I qualified about my long-term goals could have avoided this situation.
So, what's your overall advice?
We recommend to candidates that they take some time out review their situation and consider their options. We certainly don't advocate rushing into any decisions but it is a good idea to think about what you like about your current role, what other areas of tax appeal to you, how ambitious you are and what your longer term aspirations are both in terms of career satisfaction and earnings potential.
How can I get more specific personal advice?
I think the key here is to find a recruitment consultant who knows the tax market and who you feel you can trust, someone who wants to work with you over the long term and build a relationship with you. A good consultant will provide you with balanced advice over the course of your career, act as a sounding board for your own thoughts and be able to tell you about the full range of career opportunities right across the market so if and when you do move you can make an informed decision. In addition, sometimes it is necessary to think strategically and plan a move to get more of the right type of experience to help you end up in the job you aspire to – again a good consultant can help you here. Rather than simply scanning the job boards or responding to messages on social media, I would strongly recommend taking a proactive approach and seek out a recruitment consultant who you can build a good long term relationship with.
What is the current tax job market like in the North?
The market for newly and recently qualified CTAs and ATTs is very buoyant with demand exceeding supply (due to demographic changes and a lack of trainees joining the profession a few years ago). So, if you choose to look for a new role may well get the chance to have several meetings with organisations of different sizes and in different disciplines.
Practice or Industry? Advice for Newly Qualified
Before you make a career decision between practice and industry, consider these 2 things:
i) What type of tax work do you enjoy?
ii) What do you want from your career as a tax professional?
Thinking about a career move is not always as straightforward as gauging your current tax technical ability and level within a firm, importantly it's also about you as a person – what makes you tick, what you need to make you happy at work and how this fits with your long term career aspirations and goals.
It's encouraging that the demand for high quality tax professionals continues to grow in both practice and industry. Both sectors offer great potential for tax career development, but when you're newly qualified it can be difficult to decide based on limited experience. This article attempts to highlight what to consider before making the leap in one direction or another. Of course, an experienced and specialist recruiter in tax can provide further insight, and once you have identified a consultant you feel understands you, they can be an invaluable source of friendly, independent advice and support not just at the start of your career but throughout.
Many tax professionals who do eventually move into industry do so because they are attracted to working for a household brand first and foremost, followed by the appeal of developing a broader tax skill set than that typically required within practice.
Here's how the work differs
Practice offers you the opportunity to work with clients from a range of industries, allowing you to hone your tax technical skills while being exposed to a variety of sectors. With opportunities for equity and recognition within the world of tax, practice suits candidates with a clear linear vision of their career progression aspirations. You will be in a position where if you hit business development and financial targets and pass your qualifications, you will move up the chain. You will be working at the forefront of changes in tax legislation and therefore a role in practice provides you with excellent learning opportunities, as well as good structured progression prospects. You can have a mixed compliance and advisory role or pure advisory.
Typically, you will specialise in one specific area, whether this is M&A, private client, corporate tax or VAT for example. The benefit of this is that you become a specialist in a particular area of tax that can translate across a range of sectors. Naturally, there is expectation you stay up to date with tax technical knowledge and enjoy delivering specialist advice.
Working in-house provides tax technical challenge but with the added benefit of offering broader exposure to a company. You will have the opportunity to work closely with other departments such as wider finance, legal and marketing and see first-hand how they interact. An in-house tax role could potentially be a stand-alone position with limited resources to call upon compared to practice, whereby you are surrounded by technical expertise to help. Particularly within a smaller in-house tax function, this would give you the opportunity to diversify your tax knowledge, which can appeal to confident, technically ambitious candidates. If broader variety in tax skills appeals to you, industry could be the way to go. As you would expect, inhouse teams do vary in size, you may prefer to join a large inhouse team led by a head of tax whereby there may be more opportunity to move sideways to ultimately progress.
It's worth noting, often the best combination of factors to achieve success in industry is solid grounding from practice together with an interest in the industry sector you choose to work in.
If you know you enjoy face to face interaction with clients, you will undoubtedly experience more of this in practice than in-house. In practice you are answerable to your clients and this translates as pressure to deliver timely technical advice, achieve targeted billings and complete inevitable timesheets.
In an in-house role, you will still have the opportunity to engage with others, but it will be with colleagues as opposed to paying clients. In-house roles do not require completion of timesheets or achievement of financial targets; instead you will experience more autonomy and (at times) a more relaxed working environment due to no client pressures.
If social connection is important to you, and you are someone who has a flair for business development then practice remains a good choice. These highly valuable skills are an essential part of career progression in practice; maintaining and building client relationships are the life blood of a successful, sustainable firm. In comparison, when you work in-house the requirement is to raise the profile of the tax team amongst colleagues and other departments which requires a different skillset.
Long hours can be expected in both sectors. Generally speaking, the main difference is there is more flexible working from home in practice than industry and this is typically because in practice you are answerable to your clients and required to be responsive to their needs. More and more practices do offer flexible working and working from home with no requirement to be in the office 9-5 Monday to Friday.
In industry the expectation of long working hours is equally as high because of the professionalism demanded. As a tax advisor in an inhouse team you are an integral part of the finance function, therefore your input will likely be required vertically and horizontally by a variety of colleagues. With no hard and fast rule, we continue to see a real mixture of work patterns in-house with some clients requiring people to be at their desks every day, and others having a more relaxed approach facilitating remote working.
There is no doubt that in the past 2 years there has been a shift towards embracing flexible work patterns to satisfy employee lifestyle demands and improve staff retention.
Some tax professionals working in practice can get frustrated that they are unable to see a piece of work through to completion because of the "part rather than the whole" approach. In contrast, when you work in-house, you get the opportunity to identify the problems within a business and be able to deliver and implement strategic decisions to create long term solutions. It's a chance to see the bigger picture and use your tax knowledge to make a difference in the larger scheme of things. Another attraction of an in-house role for some candidates is that it can occasionally lead to a promotion into a different non-tax specific management role within the business. We have known candidates in the past whose career has progressed in an unexpected direction e.g. becoming an FD or even a CEO of a group company.
Senior roles can pay extremely well in either sector. Differences in salary between in-house and tax practice roles depend on the level you reach on the career ladder. At assistant manager or manager level there can be excellent financial incentives when moving from practice to industry because the technical grounding and professional qualifications achieved and demonstrated within the profession are commonly regarded as the gold standard. Whilst the volume of tax specialists within an accountancy practice lends itself to plenty of opportunity to move up the ladder, there is often a hierarchical structure that rewards length of service within the business that sets the pace. In comparison, in-house tax teams typically hold a philosophy of rewarding people based on talent, effort and achievement, so this can be a more attractive route to higher earning potential.
Moving from practice to industry
It is possible to move from practice to an in-house role, particularly if you are newly qualified and coming from one of the Big 4 or Top 10 firms as you will be highly sought after. However, it is worth noting that if you progress to senior manager or above in practice it can be more difficult to make the move into industry at that point in your career. There are very few in-house head of tax roles that are filled by candidates leaving the profession at director level, nearly all such vacancies are filled by candidates who have already experienced working in-house at that stage of their career. So timing is critical: if you are attracted to industry it is something to be thinking about early on to ensure you are well placed and positioned to make the move and fulfil your career aspirations.
For a confidential, independent chat about your next career move please get in touch.
Home / flexible / agile working opportunities – aren’t you fed up commuting?
Although it might not have been at the vanguard of changing work patterns, the tax profession has made giant strides in recent years. Demographic and social changes, different work-life priorities of recent generations and massive technological advances have encouraged employers to embrace new working patterns that would have seemed "too good to be true" even ten years ago.
Now we regularly have tax vacancies that offer home-based working and many that offer very flexible work patterns to fit around specific candidates' personal circumstances and commitments. Previously these home-based roles tended to be at the junior end of the spectrum and more compliance focused but in the last couple of years we have seen increased numbers of more senior roles, e.g. in-house Head of Tax roles, which offer very flexible arrangements, including a substantial element of home working.
Many clients, both in practice and in commerce, have realised the productivity gains that a move towards more agile working can produce and we have had dialogue with many clients recently outlining the trends and patterns that we are seeing and discussing how they can adapt and make their organisations appeal more to future recruits.
From an employee's perspective, who hasn't totted up how much of their life they spend sitting in traffic or on public transport whilst enduring a terrible commuting journey and thought that there must be a better alternative? Well, nowadays there often is.
Clearly home-working isn't for everyone and there are cons as well as pros from both the employers' and employees' perspectives. If you would like to discuss the type of flexible working opportunities that are available, and the type of arrangements other candidates have been able to negotiate please get in touch.
How to impress at Interview
With the mass of information available on the web, it's sometimes difficult to navigate through the most important things to get across at an interview. Try this simple 7-point guide.
Make sure you're connecting your own experience with the company's central ethos or goals; recruiters are not only looking for skills and experience, but they are specifically looking for certain personality types.
When you're answering questions during an interview, don't be vague, this simply won't do especially in the world of tax or finance. Have a think about some concrete examples from your own experience. Incorporating specific details will boost your credibility and impress your interviewer.
3. Technical questions
Be prepared to answer some technical questions but don't be thrown if you feel an answer you gave wasn't great. Sometimes clients are just looking to explore the boundaries of your technical skills rather than expecting a particular "right" answer. Also, sometimes they like to see how candidates react to a "curve ball" question they don't expect them to be able to answer.
4. Be confident
It's important to be your own advocate. If you find yourself tripping up at any point, take a deep breath and own it, don't be afraid to start an answer to a question again.
5. Have a conversation
While we will always say, "preparation is crucial", it is possible to overdo it. Make sure you're always treating the interview as a conversation and answering questions, rather than reciting anecdotes. You're only human, so let this come through.
6. Smile and be enthusiastic
Show some passion and excitement about potentially working with a new employer. If you can't find this within you, you're applying for the wrong job. Be honest with yourself don't waste peoples time if the job isn't really what you're after.
7. Swot up
This is probably the most important tip, don't skimp on the research. Check up on all resources you can to fully prepare yourself. The more research you do the clearer you will be in own mind what you're looking for in a job and importantly what you can deliver for a new employer.