This page has been written by Shona Mach
, the relevant Careers Adviser for this occupational area. To see how you can meet Shona, or any of our advisers, visit our website
Tax offers graduates looking for an intellectual challenge in a constantly changing business environment rewarding career opportunities.
A tax adviser uses their problem-solving skills and knowledge of changing tax legislation to provide advisory and consultancy services to clients, ensuring that they pay their taxes in the most efficient way. They explain complicated legislation, and its implications for their clients, in simple terms.
Tax advice is about planning forward and restructuring a client’s organisation or personal financial affairs so as to minimise tax liabilities in the future. It also involves being aware of the economic climate and investment opportunities. In an increasingly global working environment this can involve both an international perspective and some international travel.
Tax professionals work at HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) to make sure that organisations and individuals pay the correct amount of tax at the right time.
The Graduate Market in 2015 report compiled by High Fliers Research conducted in December 2014 showed that the accountancy and professional services sector:
- recruited the largest number of graduates in 2014 (4,174) - an increase of 16.3% on the previous year
- expected to have 4,624 graduate vacancies in 2015 (29% of these are likely to be filled by graduates who had already worked for that employer, compared to an average of 31% across all sectors)
- are offering a median starting salary of £30,000 in 2015 (equal to the median graduate starting salary across all sectors)
- received 21.3 applications per vacancy in 2014 (compared to an average of 39.2 across all sectors)
The larger employers look for graduates of any discipline with a demonstrable interest in business (an adequate level of numeracy is normally assessed during on-line testing). Some small employers tend to prefer graduates with accountancy degrees. In terms of geographic dispersal, many of the medium-sized companies are located in and around London, whilst the Big Four have locations across the UK.
Tax attributes profile
|Key attributes needed for the role||Where you could develop these skills or attributes|
|Interest and ability to work with numbers
Depending on your modules, this may be demonstrated through your academic studies.
Numeracy is usually assessed through psychometric testing. The Careers Centre has online practice resources.
Using the the University’s subscription to the Microsoft IT Academy can help to develop your skills with programmes such as Excel
Demonstrable interest in business, and commercial awareness
|Keep up-to-date with business and sector news, and develop this through extra-curricular activity in student-run societies such as the Playfair Project and the Management Society
|Strong communication & interpersonal skills
CAPOD offers courses on these kinds of skills regularly within its Professional Skills Curriculum.
Taking on positions of responsibility in student-run societies will give you the chance to put these into practice
|Ability to organise time and work methodically whilst paying attention to detail
|Leadership qualities and effective team working skills
|Ability to negotiate and use creativity and flair to solve problems
|Ability to present complex information in a way which is easily understandable
||These are most likely to be developed and evidenced through your academic studies.
|Attention to detail and a methodical approach to work
Other key attributes demanded for the role: do you possess them?
- Integrity: a keen moral awareness and commitment
Nature of sector or roles
Tax advisers need to be able to undertake reasonably complicated numerical manipulations. They also need to be able to respect confidentiality, have good attention to detail and operate both creatively and logically. The ability to understand complex legislation and apply it is essential. It is also crucial to be able to create good working relationships with both clients and the HM Revenue and Customs.
To work as a tax inspector for the HM Revenue and Customs an inquisitive and challenging approach is required, as is high analytical ability. In addition to the skills mentioned above, a robust personality is also important if you are to defend legislative interpretations against tax consultants. You may need to interview individuals in difficult circumstances.
Employers include firms of chartered accountants (providers of professional services), solicitors, banks, commerce and industry. Government employers include HM Revenue and Customs and HM Treasury.
The Prospects website has good tax adviser and senior tax professional/tax inspector job descriptions, and Inside Careers has a useful guide to working in Tax. The Chartered Institute of Tax (CIOT) has a series of career profiles on its website.
Networks - why and how to use them
Networking is particularly important and can really help you succeed with your applications. If you have been in contact with someone working for an organisation you are applying to you will have extra information to back up your case for why they should employ you.
Attending the Management and Finance Careers Fair and individual employer run events are great ways to make valuable connections. Use these opportunities to introduce yourself to representatives; ask for their business card so you can make contact in the future.
Use social media sites such as LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter to keep up-to-date with employers and the sector.
St Andrews graduates have gone on to work in tax-related roles for Deloitte, KPMG, Brodies, Sun Life Financial, EY, Standard Life Investments, PwC, HMRC, Shell, Grant Thornton and Accenture, to name but a few. These alumni can make extremely useful contacts, giving you an "edge" with your applications and interviews. There are several ways to make contact with alumni.
- Saint Connect- the new networking platform which allows you to connect with University of St Andrews alumni. Find out how to use Saint Connect by viewing the 'Video Tour' (bottom right-hand side of Saint Connect screen).
- Join the Accountancy & Tax Group to find mentors and to receive updates on events, competitions, jobs and other sector related news
- LinkedIn – Alumni Tool. This feature shows the career paths of 30,000+ alumni. By using the search field you can several hundred alumni with 'tax' in their profile. Watch the YouTube video on how to use this resource.
- Graduate recruiters - ask if they can put you in touch with any alumni now working for their company
- Friends and family - ask around your immediate social network for any contacts in organisations which interest you
- This networking video produced by Cass Business School gives excellent tips on effective networking
Have a look at the Network with Alumni section of our website for more advice and information.
How to gain experience/internships
Relevant work experience is not essential but it can put you at an advantage and allow you to describe to potential employers your reasons for wanting to train as an tax adviser or tax inspector.
- HM Revenue and Customs normally offers an 8 week Summer Internship for penultimate year students. The application form will be live from 22 September 2015.
- The large professional services firms run structured tax internship programmes which can often lead to a graduate job offer. Details of these programmes are available from the firms' websites including Deloitte, Ernst & Young, KPMG, PwC, Grant Thornton and BDO. The 'Big 4' tend to open their applications for summer internships at the end of July of the previous year. PwC introduced deadlines for some vacancies in 2014, but applications are usually accepted on a rolling basis until the vacancies are filled. This means that popular offices (eg Edinburgh and London) fill more quickly than some others. Regularly check the employers' websites for vacancy updates. Although summer internships tend to be aimed at penultimate year students, check these larger firms' websites for details of insight days for students of earlier years.
Other ways to get experience/Opportunities for 1st and 2nd year students:
- Student Ladder lists work placements aimed at first and 2nd year students. Check out the Consultancy/Professional Services category
- Potential employers will also be impressed by other types of work experience and involvement in extra-curricular activities, where you can show how you have developed relevant transferable skills or 'competencies' such as teamwork, communication, leadership and commercial/business awareness. A Treasurer role can give you useful experience managing the accounts for a student society or sports club.
How to get a (graduate) job
- Accountancy firms provide a number of routes to consider. You may undertake the Association of Taxation Technicians (ATT) qualification before moving on to the Chartered Tax Adviser (CTA) qualification - this will take approximately 3 years in total. An alternative is to study for a Chartered Accountancy (CA/ACA) qualification in combination with, or followed by, the appropriate tax qualification. The Institute of Chartered Accountants in Scotland now offers the ICAS Tax Professional (ITP) programme which can result in a dual CA/ITP qualification in 3 years. Similarly, the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW) offers a joint ACA CTA programme taken over 3-4 years. Each of the qualifications require completion of examinations along with specified types of carefully monitored and recorded work experience.
- Graduate training schemes are common in this sector. The larger employers look for graduates of any discipline but some small accountancy firms prefer relevant degrees. Support is typically provided by employers in the form of financial support and time to attend the courses and exams. The 'Big 4' tend to open their applications at the end of July, for graduates to commence work in September of the following year. PwC introduced deadlines for some vacancies in 2014, but applications are usually accepted on a rolling basis until the vacancies are filled. This means that popular offices (eg Edinburgh and London) fill more quickly than some others. The vacancy situation can also change throughout the year as each business evaluates its requirements - it is not unknown for a few vacancies to be advertised up until a couple of weeks before the start date. There may also be opportunities to start working at other times of the year, eg in the spring. Regularly check the employers websites for vacancy updates. The professional bodies' websites below are important sources of up-to-date vacancy information for medium-sized and smaller firms.
- The HMRC Tax Professional Development Programme takes four years to complete and is open to graduates of any discipline with (or expecting) a 2.2 degree. In 2015 the application process opens on 22 September with a deadline of 24 November.
- In 2014 the HMRC also advertised for a number of Data Analysts to build profiles of information and look for unusual patterns. Applicants needed at least a 2:2 degree in a numerate subject, eg operational research, maths, statistics, physics, chemistry, decision science, management science, computer science, econometrics, engineering, business intelligence or similar).
To find out about a range of vacancies:
- Refer to the Inside Careers guide to Tax
- Use the directories of training vacancies on the professional bodies' websites:
These websites also contain Tax vacancies:
- Keep an eye out for our Events (including our Careers Fair)
Applications, interviews and assessment centres
Graduate training schemes (Professional Services Firms)
The selection process for tax graduate training schemes varies between employers, but is typically in three or four parts:
- An online application form
- Online tests
- Interview - often by telephone or skype; may be face-to-face and included within AC
- Assessment Centre (AC) - sometimes including interview with partner/director
- Interview with partner/director
You need to be aware of what the recruiters are looking for. Typically, large employers use 'competency-based' selection processes but there have been some developments: EY uses strengths-based recruitment and Deloitte assesses intellectual capability, values and motivations. Read employers' websites and brochures carefully.
HMRC Graduate Programme (Tax Professional)
You will need to complete an application form and the selection process has three stages. Full details can be found on the HMRC website.
There are four stage 1 tests which may include:
- civil service initial sift test
- numerical reasoning
- verbal reasoning
- work style questionnaire
You will be asked to take an online analytical skills test and a deductive reasoning test.
A 1-day assessment
Relevant Postgraduate Study
A postgraduate qualification is not normally required or expected by companies employing trainee tax advisers from any degree discipline in the UK.
Key Links and Resources
- Target:City and Finance
- Inside Careers: Chartered Tax Advisers
- The Careers Centre subscribes to Going Global, a specialist website with information and job vacancies worldwide, found via Access MyCareer on the Careers Centre website.
Relevant Careers A-Z pages
- Inside Careers: career information and graduate jobs for your career in taxation
- TARGETjobs: a guide to the sector
- Graduate Jobs - Tax Advisor job description, salary data and links to relevant jobs.
Professional Bodies, Trade Organisations & Journals/Magazines