Monday, 16 September 2013

Insider’s guide to getting a job in tax

Insider’s guide to getting a job in tax
If you’re applying for work experience or your first job in taxation, you’re probably wondering exactly what companies’ are looking for in a candidate. What are the skills, attributes and attitude that will make you stand out above the field?

For the inside scoop on what tax industry recruiters are looking for, we spoke with Richard Knox, the head of people (tax and audit) at KPMG.

He says landing a dream job in taxation hinges on a candidate’s passion, commercial acumen and ability to think outside the box. Having a traditional background in law and commerce is not as important as your ability to understand the issues and communicate effectively with clients. Read on for more insights on how to score your dream job.

What are the most important attributes you’re looking for in a candidate?


Richard Knox, KPMG
Richard Knox, KPMG
RK: KPMG is heavily focused on diversity at the moment. We’re really looking for a diverse range of candidates with a diversity of thought, a diversity of background and a diversity of experience – all attributes that could benefit our clients.

We also think that problem-solving ability is central, and value graduates with the ability to work around a problem and communicate an idea with conviction and passion.

We’re looking for candidates who are passionate about taxation, but can apply that passion to particular commercial sectors. If someone is really passionate about the mining industry, automotive industry or financial services sector, and can offer a deep knowledge of that area, then they’re a good candidate.

What’s the ideal pathway for a career in taxation?

RK: People often assume that taxation is generic, when it’s not generic at all. Although a Commerce and Law double degree is the traditional background for a taxation career, arts students do really well in both corporate and expat tax space.

Also, research and development groups often hire engineering and science graduates, while candidates with an economics background are the most qualified for a job in transfer pricing. Again, it all depends on the type of tax that someone is interested in doing.

If you come from a non-conventional background, what is the best path towards a career in tax?

RK: Firstly, it’s important to be passionate about taxation as a career regardless of your background. Understanding the most pressing issues and being able to explain them to a client in a convincing way is key. Secondly, I would suggest completing a work placement with one of the firms in the area, or entering into a vacation program at a major firm.

How have perceptions of the ideal taxation graduate evolved over the years?

RK: These perceptions change in line with the external market. More than ever, a broad commercial view is really important. It’s no longer about the technical skills, it’s about being able to apply those technical skills in a commercial context, to help clients solve problems.

What are the biggest mistakes a potential candidate can make?

RK: The common mistake that we see is a lack of preparation. We often notice candidates failing to do due diligence and follow basic business etiquette. It’s important to understand the fact that you’re no longer on campus, but in a very different world.

What tips would you give a graduate looking to embark on a taxation career? 

RK: The tips that I’d give to any graduate to set them up for success would be previous work experience, even if that doesn’t relate to taxation. It’s also important to demonstrate the ability to network and to come and meet us at various recruitment fairs. If you can network with me, you can network with the client – it’s a valuable skill.

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