Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Five essential business skills to get you ahead

How would you design a phone for deaf people? How many piano tuners are there in Melbourne? How heavy is the Empire State Building? And how would you answer these seemingly impossible questions if asked in actual interviews?

The last one is a question worth pondering if you want to demonstrate your own potential to prospective employers – they are undoubtedly looking for more than just academic achievement in your taxation course.

Mastery of your tax training is just the starting point for recruiters looking to hire the best talent. Companies are on the hunt for well-rounded, business-savvy agents capable of looking beyond trade technicalities. Here’s our list of five of the most important qualities employers value in their people.

1. Problem solvers

The questions posed above invite interviewees to demonstrate their creative ability to overcome workplace challenges and problems, and how to adapt to changing circumstances or the unexpected.
Thinking about instances in your life where you have been flexible in solving a problem can be a good starting point when it comes to showing employers you can think on your feet.

2. Effective organisers

Good organisation is key to being able to manage projects, making it a fundamental skill for any new recruit to demonstrate. The ability to break down a large project into separate stages, estimate the work and time required, delegate work and keep projects on track, on time and on budget is a core competency for larger firms especially.

3. Digital savviness

A basic requirement among management recruits is proficiency in a range of core software. Spreadsheets are fundamental to tax and accounting, but understanding shortcuts and being able to manipulate data quickly will help you stand out as a future high-flyer.
Database management and the ability to use data-visualisation tools have also emerged as important skill sets to possess as data becomes more central to every organisation.

4. Commercial smarts

Understanding what makes the wider industry in which you work tick, and where the sector is going, demonstrates your ability to look beyond your tax training and marks you out as one to watch. It shows initiative, appreciation of the bigger picture and engagement with the tax and accounting world beyond just your taxation education.

5. Good communicators

A recent study among 50,000 company recruiters revealed that communication skills were the most important factor in hiring managers. Learning to work effectively by listening carefully and speaking and writing effectively is a skill you can consciously improve.
Mastering your ability to work with clients and colleagues is just as important as mastering your taxation education to ensure you enjoy an effective and long career.

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Friday, 12 December 2014

Acing your first annual performance review

If you’re about to complete your freshman year in a full-time taxation position, you’ll know there’s nothing more daunting than your first annual performance review.

This age-old management practice aims to foster improvement by offering constructive feedback, but it can also be a catalyst for serious stress. However, acing your first performance review is easy if you stay calm and make the effort to prepare. Here are three strategies for passing this professional-development rite of passage with flying colours.

Do your homework

Performance reviews spark anxiety when you feel like you’re not in control. That’s why it’s critical to spend some time assessing your own achievements, goals and professional milestones – as well as any areas that could use some improvement.

Taking time to conduct a self-assessment will show your manager that you’re willing to accept feedback and do whatever it takes to improve. If you’ve already anticipated the issues your boss might discuss with you, you’re less likely to feel blindsided.

Don’t be afraid to voice your needs

Your first performance review isn’t just a method of gauging your strengths and weaknesses – it’s also an opportunity to ask for support. Whether that means discussing a staffing issue that impacts your workload or asking if you can enrol in a taxation course to brush up on a new aspect of legislation, identifying how your employer can help you thrive is likely to earn you respect.

However, it’s equally essential to demonstrate to your manager that you’re prepared to take responsibility when it comes to meeting the demands of your role. A positive attitude and a motivated spirit are the hallmarks of a high performer.

Focus on how your accomplishments add value

Many first-time employees think listing their achievements is enough to win a glowing performance review. But if you’re hoping for the kind of meeting that might result in a pay rise, you’ll have to demonstrate how your successes create value.

Did you come up with a new procedure that improves accuracy or invent a processing technique that saves your colleagues time? Identifying the ways in which your contributions create measurable gains for your agency can help you reach your professional goals.

Performance reviews might cause anxiety, but they’re also a tool for evolution and growth. The employees who prepare, identify problem areas and illustrate the ways in which they’ve created value are most likely to see this process pay off.


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Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Surviving first day-itis

Landed your first part-time summer job or work-experience position at a tax and accounting firm, and nervous about settling in? Don’t worry – that feeling is totally normal. Here’s a survival guide on how to make a great impression in your first week.

Remember that you’ve already been hired

David McKellar, an experienced chartered accountant, taxation services specialist and director at Allied Business Accountants in South Melbourne, points out that the first thing to remember is that the interview is over, which means you’ve already succeeded in convincing them you are made of the right stuff.

“Relax, because you are now a part of the team, and the people you are meeting are your colleagues and will, in time, become your friends,” he says.

Be confident and ask questions

Everyone had their own first day at work, so you will probably find your co-workers going out of their way to make you feel welcome. Confident body language, such as a smile and a firm handshake, will help put them at ease too.

It’s also important you show yourself to be a good student. This doesn’t mean you’ll be expected to remember everything – just that you are willing to listen and learn from others. McKellar stresses that you shouldn’t be too shy or scared to ask questions:

“Listen carefully to instructions, and if you don’t completely understand, ask for more explanation or assistance. No one will mind if you don’t understand, but they won’t be impressed if you waste your day trying to figure things out."

Be punctual

In that first week, it can feel like every car on the road is trying to get in your way. To avoid arriving late on your first day, a good strategy is to rise 30 minutes earlier than you think you need to – just in case anything unexpected slows you down. It’s also a good idea to plan your route ahead of time, and do a ‘test commute’ to get an idea of the traffic conditions you will be up against.

Final impressions also count, with McKellar suggesting it's important for new starters to leave their co-workers with a glowing impression of the new kid on the block.

“When finishing for the day, thank your supervisor and other people around you for their help and tell them you will see them tomorrow. Whatever you do, don’t be that person who sneaks out of the office.”

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Tuesday, 2 December 2014

Four tips to help you avoid becoming a workaholic

It’s only natural to want to make a great impression at work, particularly when your career is just beginning. But you’ll only sabotage your future prospects if you burn the candle at both ends. Here are four tips for getting your work done on time while still maintaining a good work-life balance.

1. Time management

The 2014 Australian Work and Life Index revealed that more than half of full-time workers feel rushed at work. For accounting and tax professionals, this can become a major issue during the busy end-of-financial-year season.

You can avoid this trap by creating a prioritised task list each morning. This will make you better at setting goals and priorities, and you’ll also feel the buzz of accomplishment each time you tick off an item.

2. Delegation

Taking on as much as possible might earn you points in the short term, but it’s also the surest way to burn yourself out. Delegation goes hand in hand with good time management – it’s hard to achieve one without the other.

Start by looking at your key strengths. If you’re good at leadership, ask if you can do more project-management tasks, leaving the number crunching to others. And don’t be shy about seeking help – asking questions shows you are willing to learn and improve.

3. Set boundaries

The Work and Life Index also found that nearly a third of full-time employees regularly sacrifice personal time for work duties. There will be periods when the team has to clock up extra hours to meet a tight deadline, but if you’re always the last person to leave the office, you may be putting your health and relationships at risk. Remember that a good career isn’t just about a good salary – it should also give you time to enjoy the rewards.

4. Switch off

Just as your phone’s battery needs to be recharged regularly, so do your own. After you leave work, let calls go to voicemail and try not to check your email until the next day unless you’re monitoring an urgent issue. Downtime at work is also very important. You can keep alert and productive by spending at least 10 minutes every hour away from your desk – preferably outdoors where you can get some exercise and sunlight.

Your life shouldn’t be all work and no play. Maintaining a good work-life balance is simply good for your health – and your career.


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Monday, 24 November 2014

The benefits of on-the-job networking

Most job-networking advice follows the same script: hit the pavement, connect with industry peers on social media, get yourself known. But what can you do to advance your career without jumping ship.
Here are five tips on how to get all the benefits of networking without leaving your current company.

1. Join company clubs and groups

If you work for a mid-sized or larger firm, it’s likely they have clubs and groups that bring people together from different areas to share knowledge, skills and experience. Do they have meet-ups and team sports outside of work? This can be a good way to have fun while getting to know your colleagues better.

2. Polish your skills

One of the best ways to gain a competitive edge within your own company is to join a group or association. Workshops, seminars and conferences can give you a bird’s-eye view of industry trends and best practices. If the extra skills and knowledge you gain can benefit the company, your employer might even be prepared to pay for the cost of membership.

3. Volunteer

This is another good way to broaden your horizons – and career options – without joining the throng of job hunters. Unpaid or pro-bono work can show that you are sensitive to social causes while also raising your profile with colleagues and managers. If you can get them to join in as well, it can be a good way to bond with them.

4. Nurture relationships

Everyone wants to carve out a great career path, but some forget this can only be achieved by doing the right thing by their colleagues and the company. Getting ahead in your career depends very much on the relationships you build along the way. Polish your listening skills, look for opportunities to make other people’s jobs easier and provide a helping hand whenever possible. It will pay dividends later.

5. Be thankful

A quick ‘thank you’ email takes only a few seconds and shows the recipient you appreciate what they did for you. Other small gestures – such as treating a colleague to lunch or bringing a cake to the office – might seem a little cheesy, but they can go a long way towards making you a valued and well-liked person around the office.

Also keep in mind that hiring and training a new employee is expensive, and most companies are willing to invest heavily in retaining their best staff. If you can give them reason to do so, the rewards can be great.


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Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Five early career milestones to hit

It’s never too early to start identifying or striving to reach career milestones. Here are five classic career goals you should aim to achieve during your first few years as a graduate.

1. Get really good at what you do

It doesn’t matter which tax courses you’ve completed at university or how much you think you know, as a new employee you’ll quickly become aware of just how much you need to learn. Seize every opportunity you can to broaden your knowledge, including gaining insight from bosses and colleagues, as well as sharpening your skills from the taxation education your employer offers. One day you’ll wake up and think to yourself, “You know, I’m now actually pretty good at my job.”

2. Get that first promotion (and the second and third)

No matter how minor it is, that first title bump creates the momentum that will hopefully push you all the way to the top of the tax industry. Don’t waste a minute starting your ascent up the ladder.

3. Work overseas

Take advantage of being young – and relatively commitment free if you’re working for a firm that offers overseas postings. Aside from the excitement of living somewhere such as New York or London, you’ll develop a new maturity and a broader, well-rounded outlook on life and work.

4. Manage others

Once you’ve learnt how to manage yourself, you’ll face the much more complicated task of managing others, which, depending on how good you are at it, can be either incredibly frustrating or wildly rewarding. Remember that if you’re good at managing yourself and your workload, you can always rely on having a job. But if you have the far rarer skill of also being good at managing others, you can rely on having a highly paid and high-powered executive position.

5. Add to your qualifications and expand your skill set

After spending almost a couple of decades in full-time education, it can be tempting to take a long sabbatical from study and focus on gaining real-world experience. However, you’re unlikely to reach many of the future milestones if you don’t expand your skill set, either by undertaking further tax training in the form of a CTA1, CTA2A, CTA2BCTA3, Graduate Diploma of Applied Tax Law or Master of Taxation, or by pursuing qualifications in complementary fields, such as people management.

In today’s crowded workforce, you need to demonstrate you’re a go-getter from the get-go. While you don’t need to adopt all the milestones suggested above, you should have a clear set of goals you’re actively working towards if you want to reach your full potential.

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Monday, 17 November 2014

Landing that graduate position

So you’re hunting for that elusive graduate position, wondering what employers in the tax industry want and how can you impress them. Here are three pieces of advice, plus some career words of wisdom straight from the horse’s mouth.

1. Having a good personality matters

If you’ve managed to graduate with your degree firmly in hand, you’re probably more than up to the technical side of the job. What employers will be keen to establish is whether you’ll be a good cultural fit. Try to establish a good rapport with them and let your personality shine through.

2. Don’t place too much emphasis on your tax education

Trust us, your employer understands you only completed one or two tax courses and have largely forgotten what you learnt. There’s no need to talk up your skill set given they’ll be enrolling you in taxation education if they decide to hire you.

3. Exaggeration is acceptable – lying isn’t

Interviewers expect you to talk yourself up – it demonstrates you’re keen to get the position – but they won’t appreciate being seriously misled. Make sure you don’t cross the line by pretending to have a Master of Taxation when you actually don’t.

Here’s what two respected tax professionals look for in their job applicants.

Daleen Van der Merwe, HR manager at DKM

“When employing graduates, we pay more attention to whether their attitudes and personality are such that they will fit into our existing team, rather than focusing just on their academic record. They need to be the type of person who is prepared to ask questions and be ready to learn. They also need to be comfortable with starting at the bottom and have realistic expectations.
“We’ve found that those who’ve done extra study, such as a Master of Taxation, straight after their undergraduate degree are overqualified and inexperienced. We prefer that people come to us and then do the CTA1 program while working here.”

Martin Booth, partner at Moore Stephens

“I used to focus heavily on the academic side, but then found that I also had to give thought to cultural fit – is the person going to have the ability to get along with other staff? Are you going to be confident putting them in front of clients? That said, you still need to have a fairly good CV behind you.
“If someone took the initiative and did the CTA1 at their own expense before applying for a job here, that would certainly be to their advantage. The issue many employers have with Gen Y is not so much a lack of skills as an attitude of entitlement. So someone who is going to invest their own time in broadening their skill set, either before or after being employed here, would always be looked favourably upon.”

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Thursday, 13 November 2014

Getting the most out of your Gen Y colleagues

The common perception surrounding today’s graduates is that they are entitled, unmotivated individuals who know nothing of hard work. So how can you best work alongside the bright young things that are your Gen Y colleagues? Here are five quick tips on how to work productively with younger staff.

1. Treat them as people first

Senior staff may be content to quietly toil away at their desks all day, but young workers also want to work in a place where they can connect with others. Before asking whether that spreadsheet is ready first thing Monday morning, ask your Gen Y colleague about his or her weekend. Make it clear that you see them as real people, not just cogs in the corporate machine.

2. Challenge their skills

Young workers have oodles of energy, so don’t be afraid to use it! Despite the stereotype, Gen Yers are eager to learn. The best option is to give them stretch assignments that will challenge their skills, while still making sure they get support and recognition along the way. They are the leaders of tomorrow, so you will also be laying a solid foundation for their future.

3. Acknowledge their achievements

Another popular stereotype is that young people are self-absorbed. But weren’t most of us self-conscious and hungry for approval early in our own careers? Let them know you appreciate their contributions, however insignificant. If they feel valued, they will also feel more positive and motivated.

4. Be flexible

Your Gen Y colleagues grew up in a world that indulges them with an almost endless variety of ways to access information and complete a task. This doesn’t mean letting go of all structure, but you will get better results from your Gen Y workmates if you let their creativity and initiative flourish, just as long as they are clear on what they need to deliver. Give them space to work smarter, not harder, and they will be more productive and satisfied.

5. Be socially responsible

Generation Y is already rising through the ranks as the next wave of leaders and policymakers. They have grown up in an age of rapid social change and pressing environmental concerns, and they want to take a leading role in shaping their future. Jump on social media to discover which issues matter most to them. Make the workplace green – reduce paper usage, conserve energy and put in bike racks for staff who pedal to work.

Remember that Gen Yers really do want to make a contribution and forge a valuable, lasting career. Are you ready to offer the flexibility, support and recognition that will convince them to stay with you?

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Monday, 10 November 2014

Public or private: Which pathway are you suited to?

A key decision for accountants and tax advisors early in their careers is whether to choose corporate or public practice. Deciding between the two really comes down to what motivates you in the workplace and how well you think the two career types would suit your personality.

The people’s person

Public practice is arguably the more challenging of the two, offering you the chance to get to grips with lots of different companies, clients and business sectors. It’s a great opportunity to garner broad knowledge about the commercial world and international tax, in many cases requiring you to liaise with colleagues from other countries and jurisdictions.

The financial rewards can also be higher. The big firms are recruiting enthusiastically, which means opportunities to develop your career are in abundance, and there is usually a clear path for those determined to make partner.

However, public practice can be highly demanding, sometimes stressful and often requires periods when you work long hours and are travelling away from the office and from home.

Private preferred

Corporate practice offers the chance to learn about a business and an industry sector in greater depth. While the monetary rewards are not always as high as public practice, there is still scope for bonuses, share schemes and other perks.

A better work-life balance is one of them, not only due to the fact that you can typically expect to work more predictable, nine-to-five hours, but also because the more progressive companies will offer other benefits such as flexible working. There is also every chance that with such highly valued and specialised skills your job will be highly secure too.

Not everyone is suited to the corporate side. It can mean the professional challenges are less diverse and are often not fast-paced. A long tenure at one or two companies may not be for everyone either.

The opportunities for career advancement on the corporate side, however, are bright. For example, tax professionals are increasingly in demand at publicly quoted companies to help finance professionals with their reporting.

A background in accountancy is increasingly important in the boardroom as well. It means those looking for senior roles can expect to be considered for the top jobs – 95 per cent of Australian CFOs say this increases the likelihood of someone being appointed to the executive board.

No matter which accounting pathway you choose, hard work, further education, perseverance and dedication will see you thrive.


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Monday, 20 October 2014

Breaking down the proposed new international tax laws

In this post-GFC age of austerity, public anger has been steadily mounting over multinationals – especially high-profile technology companies such as Apple, Google and Microsoft – using elaborate cross-border tax structures to minimise their contributions to government revenues in many of the nations in which they operate.

Inevitably, democratically elected governments have become more determined to tackle profit shifting and tax avoidance. In early September, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) proposed a set of draft rules, as part of its ‘Base Erosion and Profit Shifting Project’ (BEPS),  to “end the erosion of tax bases and the artificial shifting of profits to avoid paying tax.”

The new normal

The OECD argues that the current situation, which involves around 3000 tax treaties, is no longer tenable, especially given the digital economy that nations – particularly first-world ones – are increasingly operating in.

In order for governments to easily identify patterns of tax avoidance, multinationals will need to divulge to tax authorities all earnings and activities for each country they operate in. Digital companies will be prevented from “inappropriately” benefiting from being excluded from permanent establishment status in a nation and entering into “artificial arrangements” relating to sales of their goods and services in order to avoid permanent establishment status.

As the OECD puts it: “This would be relevant where, for instance, an online seller of tangible products or an online provider of advertising services uses the sales force of a local subsidiary to negotiate and effectively conclude sales with prospective large clients.”

New rules

While yet to be fleshed out, new rules will be developed to embody the following principles. According to the BEPS report:

i) Companies will no longer be able to game the tax treaty system as the new rules will involve “ensuring the coherence of corporate income taxation at the international level”. This will be achieved “through new model tax and treaty provisions to neutralise hybrid mismatch arrangements”.

ii) Transfer pricing will be clamped down on with the new rules “assuring that transfer pricing outcomes are in line with value creation”. This will be done “through improved transfer pricing documentation and a template for country-by-country reporting”.

iii) Already wondering about loopholes in the new rules that could potentially be exploited? Be warned that the OECD proposal calls for “a report on the feasibility of developing a multilateral instrument to amend bilateral tax treaties” in order to “counter harmful tax practices”.

Of course, not all the proposed BEPS rules may be adopted, but given the political climate it seems almost certain that many will. And tax professionals, as well as those who provide tax courses and tax agent training, will need to adjust the way they do business appropriately.


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Monday, 6 October 2014

Putting a wise head on a young career

Most people who are successful end up that way because they’ve sought out mentors to show them how to reach the top. Australia’s current prime minister, for example, always treated his old boss, John Howard, as a sort of father figure and regularly sought his advice during his quest to occupy The Lodge.

The advantages of having a sage adviser

A mentor can be viewed as a kind of workplace parent – someone who can warn you against making short-sighted moves that could damage your career and instead encourage you to do those things that may be uncomfortable at first but will reap great rewards in the future.

Experience is a valuable thing. And while there’s no substitute for earning it the hard way, there’s also no rule against leveraging the wisdom of others.

A true mentor will provide honest feedback on how you’re performing and offer suggestions on how to improve your performance. They may also introduce you to people in their own network who can further your career.

The right time for outside input

There is an old saying that when the student is ready, the teacher appears. The 21st century version is that when you feel you have something to learn – be it technical skills, management skills or even life skills – you’re ready to seek out a mentor.

The mentor marketplace

People often agonise over where to find an appropriate mentor, but it’s really not that hard. In fact, if you think about it, you’ve almost certainly been mentored throughout your life by relatives, former teachers and sports coaches.

Many companies have mentoring schemes in place. If yours doesn’t (or you’d prefer to venture outside it), you can find a mentor through Chartered Accountants Australia, CPA Australia or the Australian Businesswomen’s Network.

Alternatively, you can simply contact someone you admire – even if you don’t know them – and ask them if they would be interested in mentoring you. After all, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

There are no hard and fast rules about what makes a good mentor. If the individual in question is someone you respect, can teach you what you want to know and help you get where you want to be, they’re almost certainly good enough for your purposes, regardless of their location in the org chart, industry reputation or educational qualifications.

The mentor–mentee relationship

Like any other relationship, mentor–mentee relationships go through phases. In the early days, there may be a lot of enthusiasm on both sides, with the mentor flattered that someone is so interested in what they have to say and the mentee eager to learn all they can.

Over time, that initial enthusiasm will fade and interactions might become less frequent. And, if the mentor has done his or her job properly, at some point the mentee will have learnt all they can. At this stage, the parties involved may decide to stay in touch or go their separate ways.

However the relationship unfolds, the mentee should always show the appropriate gratitude and respect towards the person who has chosen to help them out.

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Monday, 29 September 2014

Five resources for salary research

Salaries vary significantly from state to state and from one firm to the next. Along with starting pay, you’ll also want to find out how much you can potentially earn as you climb your chosen career ladder. For example, while tax accountants and tax lawyers attract roughly the same starting salary, the latter can expect to earn $50,000 more when at the top of their field.

Here are five resources to get you started in your search.

1. MyCareer

This popular job-search website pulls its salary data from positions advertised in the last 90 days. It also allows you to drill down to the relevant sub-sector – for example, under the ‘Legal’ category, you can find the average salary range of lawyers specialising in taxation.

2. Hays

With offices in Australia and New Zealand, the Hays annual salary guide covers payroll trends in both countries. Tax accountant salaries in the ‘Commerce and Industry’ and ‘Professional Practice’ sectors are listed by geographic location, and further sub-categorised according to length of industry experience. Legal salaries cover both in-house roles and top-tier, mid-tier and small private practice firms.

3. Robert Half

Robert Half International publishes an annual Salary Guide containing comprehensive salary information for finance and accounting jobs in Auckland, Brisbane, Melbourne, Perth and Sydney. Data for small, medium and large firms is included under each job category. If you are interested in an in-house tax accountant role within the mining sector, that’s also covered. You can also find out how much salaries have changed since last year.

4. Robert Walters

Now in its 15th edition, the Australian version of the Robert Walters Global Salary Survey looks at both permanent (per annum) and contract (per hour) pay ranges for tax accountants and tax managers, as well as legal professionals (albeit not specific to tax law).

5. PayScale

The salary data on this website – which includes tax professionals – is self-reported by employees, so the figures may not be the most solid. However, the site does give you the option of generating a salary report that tells you how well you are doing relative to your industry peers – in exchange for your own salary data, of course.

Snagging a salary package within the tax sector that ticks all the right boxes can be tricky, but these resources can at least ensure you are coming to the negotiating table with the right information on hand.

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Monday, 22 September 2014

Scoring maximum points in assessable class participation

University isn't just about acing your exams and carving a career path. It’s important you don’t forget the here and now, and that includes participation in your weekly classes – an important contributing factor in most university curriculums. 

Believe it or not, there once was a time when students at tertiary institutions would meet regularly with their professors on a one-to-one basis or, at most, with just one or two of their classmates. After tutorial groups expanded to accommodate anywhere up to 20 people, tertiary institutions were forced to find a way to encourage everyone in these groups to prepare for and participate in discussions. They did this by setting aside a certain amount of marks for ‘classroom participation’.

Here are five tips that will help you earn maximum marks for this part of your course assessment.

1. Show up

It sounds straightforward enough, but with the demands of other courses, work and personal commitments, it can be very tempting to skip a tutorial here and there. Avoid that temptation as participation is impossible if you’re not present. Also, show your classmates and teachers you take tutorials seriously by turning up on time, staying until the end and switching off your phone.

2. Prepare

Do the required readings and any homework that’s been assigned. Think about the issues that are likely to be discussed and anticipate the kind of questions that might be asked and how you would respond to them.

3. Fake it ’til you make it

It’s well recognised that contributing to discussions is easier for some groups than others. Extroverts are much more comfortable sharing their thoughts than introverts. Historically, it’s been much more accepted for men to express strong opinions than women. And those from Western backgrounds are typically more comfortable debating with an authority figure such as a teacher than those from Asian backgrounds. Nevertheless, in school – as in the workplace – you’re going to need to learn to speak up, even if you initially find it unfamiliar and uncomfortable to do so.

4. Play well with others

Your mark isn’t determined by the total amount of time you spend speaking, so don’t dominate the discussion. Make your observations succinctly and respond maturely if your classmates or teachers disagree with you. Also don’t put down other people or respond to their contributions with condescending remarks.

5. To be seen as extraordinary, contribute something extra

Everyone has done (or should have done) the background reading, so they’re not going to be particularly interested in you simply repeating something you’ve read. Instead, provide an individual analysis of the material everyone has consumed and raise an issue or make an argument that will take the discussion in a new and interesting direction. Trust us, even if your classmates don’t appreciate it, the (no longer bored) teacher who’s handing out marks for classroom participation will.

As esoteric as the discussions you may be having are, rest assured that being ‘encouraged’ to take part in them via marks for classroom participation is to your ultimate benefit. Learning how to formulate a compelling case, distinguish between strong and weak arguments and analyse data will stand you in good stead throughout your career, as well as all other aspects of your life.

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Sunday, 14 September 2014

What employers really want to hear when they ask about your weaknesses

For some graduates, it's the toughest question in an interview: what are your weaknesses? How should you answer? And what do potential employers really want to hear?


There was a time when saying you were a perfectionist or a workaholic were the only acceptable answers to the question of weakness. But unless you are a perfectionist or workaholic (and have supporting evidence), those answers are now considered insincere. We asked some employers in the tax sector to explain what they really want to learn when they ask this question.

Leave rehearsed answers at the door

James Fabijancic, tax graduate recruitment partner at Deloitte's Melbourne office, agrees that rehearsed answers don't cut it anymore.

“We don’t want applicants telling us their weakness is working too hard or being a perfectionist,” he says. “We want to hear real stories, and importantly how applicants are taking steps to overcome any weakness and make themselves better."

He says the process of working through challenges is more important than what those challenges are as Deloitte’s culture is “built on working towards outcomes to address clients’ problems”.

Provide solutions, not excuses

Rob Basker, tax partner at Deloitte's Sydney office, says the question is less about weakness and more about how the candidate handles any situation by meeting it with a solution.

“We approach our interviews as exercises in getting to know each other, and to ask questions about situations to test what an individual has done or would do if they were in certain situations,” says Basker. “This way we can see how he/she would approach the matter in question, from thought to finish, to see if they are innovative or if they would create a 'moment that mattered' for our clients and our team.”

Addressing weaknesses is key

Other employers, such as Grant Thornton, no longer ask the weakness question, preferring instead to focus on the skills that graduates do have and building on that through professional development.

KPMG, on the other hand, is more specific. They ask candidates about what steps they have taken to address criticism they have received in the course of their work or studies, and whether these steps have resulted in change.

“We would look for a mature response where the candidate would acknowledge the criticism and recognise that people take the effort and time to share feedback to help people improve,” says a KPMG spokesperson. “If a candidate acknowledged and agreed with the criticism, then seeking out opportunities to undertake similar tasks to demonstrate improved capability and addressing the criticism would reflect positively.

“If a candidate didn’t agree with the criticism received, then we would expect a candidate to undertake a process of validating the criticism with other people as opposed to discarding the criticism as unfounded. Ultimately, a response that reveals the candidate is committed to self-improvement and continued personal development through action would be a good response.”

Again, this suggests that a question of weakness is not about the specific trait you have, but how you handle an issue.


No matter what weaknesses you have, never fear – your self-awareness in the process of acknowledging it and your capacity for self-improvement in how you address it are what employers are really interested in.


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Monday, 8 September 2014

Tax training: How regularly should you invest in training your staff?

It’s perhaps unsurprising that those who spend much of their time assessing the merits of various forms of investment also tend to be enthusiastic about spending to develop human capital. After all, the return offered by a competent, well-informed staff member is obvious enough to have even the most tight-fisted executive reaching for the company chequebook.


Here, four senior staff members from leading accounting and financial services firms explain why money spent on tax training, such as the CTA1 Foundations, is money well spent.

Good staff demand it

Firms seek to recruit quality candidates and quality candidates seek firms that will provide them with the opportunity to develop themselves professionally.

“Our preferred candidates come from the top two universities and we look for graduates who present professionally, have good passes and are articulate in both written and oral forms of communication,” says Anne Goode, associate director at Moore Stephens.

Ross Forrester, a director at Westcourt who is similarly interested in recruiting high-calibre graduates, argues such individuals place a premium on training. “Young staff are hungry for knowledge, so much so that they place more value on a firm that will invest in helping them develop their career than one that will offer them a bigger salary upfront.”

Firms require it

“Accounting and financial services firms are knowledge organisations,” says Forrester. “An investment in staff training is needed to remain competitive in the marketplace.”

While noting all staff can benefit from tax training, Forrester points out that the returns are particularly high for those in the early stages of their career. “Staff coming from a low base of knowledge generate a better outcome per training dollar spent.”

Clients expect it

“Our clients have high expectations of our staff and assume they will be competent tax advisors,” says Leigh Dyson, senior manager at Barringtons. “We invest in training our staff in the expectation they will remain with the firm and develop into technically competent advisors. And while training is important for everybody, that first two to three years in someone’s professional development is probably the most critical period.”

Which course?

There’s no shortage of options when it comes to tax courses, but the Tax Institute’s CTA1 Foundations is highly endorsed by tax professionals.

“We looked at quite a few different courses but found CTA1 is something our graduates could apply immediately,” says Daleen Van der Merwe, HR Manager at DKM Group. “They feel they’ve learnt something, their self-confidence grows and the company is reassured that they’re being provided with a consistent standard of education.”

Many employers claim their staff are their most valuable asset, but the ones who are sincere demonstrate it by providing those staff with opportunities to develop their skills through a range of training options.


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Monday, 1 September 2014

Learning beyond the four walls: Tax courses that put your degree to work

You’ve spent years taking undergraduate tax courses – and maybe even postgraduate studies such as a Master of Taxation – and finally scored yourself a graduate position. You’re ready to hit the ground running, right?


Well, no actually. Most firms want their new recruits to do a course such as the Tax Institute’s CTA1 Foundations to bridge the significant gap between academic principles and workplace practice.

We asked four senior staff members from leading accounting and financial services firms such as Barringtons, DKM Group, Moore Stephens and Westcourt to explain why they expect their early-career staff members to undertake a tax course with a vocational focus.

Plugging the gaps

The taxation education provided at Australia’s tertiary institutions is of a high standard, but no matter how prestigious the university you went to or what grades you achieved, there is still plenty you need to learn.

“Universities touch on many aspects of tax in their degree courses,” says Anne Goode, associate director at Moore Stephens. “Within a six-month study period the level of detail that can be taught is limited. That’s why we enroll all our tax and business service graduates in CTA1 Foundations. It’s a way to refresh the university course material and complement the in-house training.”

More training equals faster advancement

If the thought of hitting the books five minutes after graduating has you rolling your eyes, consider the fact that undertaking a tax training course will allow you to take on challenging projects sooner than might otherwise be possible.

“Getting graduates to do the Tax Institute’s CTA1 Foundations gives them a general overview – or refresher – in Australian tax law and reduces their write-offs and the consumption of existing staff resources [in supervision] during their first six months on the job,” says Ross Forrester, director at Westcourt. “Once they they’ve completed the course they can move on from just the fundamental professional work to doing simple research tasks.”

Leigh Dyson, senior manager at Barringtons, echoes Forrester’s remarks. “Staff who have completed CTA1 Foundations have a much better understanding of the tax framework and key provisions and don’t require as much supervision or to have basic concepts explained to them. Once staff are enrolled in the course we can get them to start doing compliance-based work, such as tax returns and BAS, which require an understanding of key concepts.”

Boost your soft skills

“I can remember the days when a textbook had so much value – now you can Google everything,” says Daleen Van der Merwe, HR manager at DKM Group. “How do you differentiate yourself in that environment? It’s about having skills.”

Van Der Merwe believes a tax training course such as CTA1 Foundations can teach those skills, creating savvy, sure-footed operators rather than uncertain newbies who are going to cause “other team members’ time to be wasted fixing errors”.   

Still need convincing about the wisdom of signing up for a post-university Australian tax course? We’ll give the final word to Ross Forrester: “CTA1 Foundations is not an intimidating course for younger staff, but it is an effective one, allowing them to better operate in a professional firm. And it sets them on a pathway to the CTA2, which gives them the knowledge needed for a professional advice firm.”


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Friday, 22 August 2014

What's the right amount of time to stay with a company?

Asking how long you should stay with an employer is like asking how long a piece of string is: it depends on how much (time) you need.

According to McCrindle research, the average Australian employee's tenure is just over three years, and those who belong to Gen Y remain in their roles for little more than two and a half years.

While the days of starting work and retiring with the same company may be coming to an end, that doesn't mean you should scratch the two-year itch. You need to consider a number of factors before jumping ship.

Why am I considering working for another company?

A lot of people find themselves stuck in a rut and subsequently feel as though working for another company is their only escape. Common reasons for leaving include:
  • I no longer find my work challenging or enjoyable.
  • I don't get paid as much as I should.
  • I don't get along with my colleagues/I don't like the company culture.
  • I can't attain the flexibility I need to fit my lifestyle.
  • I've decided to take my career in a different direction.
If you work for a small company, the allure of working for a big-name firm can be tempting, especially if accompanied by greater financial rewards. Be sure you're comfortable with the change in culture, clients and role. Working for a big firm looks prestigious on your resume, but there may be fewer chances to make an impact or advance quickly, which could mean staying in a junior position longer.
 
Some employees like to switch to smaller firms because they feel they can make a difference. However, they could be giving up benefits such as a higher salary or study and travel opportunities.
 
Have I done all I can at my current organisation?
 
In many cases, the symptoms above can be remedied by a change of role rather than leaving for another company. Also think about untapped opportunities at your current workplace. Perhaps you could join a leadership program, or extend your education? These decisions may affect your willingness to move on.
 
With tenure you may also be able to negotiate better because you exert greater influence, so pushing for a pay rise or beneficial working conditions could become easier as time goes on.
 
What's the opportunity cost if I stay?
 
While the prospect of changing roles has its appeal, you also need to consider what you may be giving up by sticking around. This could be anything from better pay, conditions and opportunities to gaining a diversity of experience.
 
Starting anew may also be the easiest way to jump into a higher salary bracket, leverage beneficial working conditions, secure a new career title and expand your network rather than doing this over time in the same workplace. This makes the question of 'how long?' a question of 'how patient are you?' and 'what will you do today to make it happen?'  
 

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Thursday, 21 August 2014

Acing your interview: Commercial awareness

A job interview is about more than just how you and your skill set will fill an available role. Many employers will want to know how commercially aware you are – and that requires some preparation.
Here are some common topics you should cover, and the research you’ll need to do to ensure you are adequately prepared to answer all types of questions.

About us

It goes without saying that you should investigate the organisation that may well become your employer. This research will give you an idea of what the organisation does, as well as how they want to be viewed in the marketplace.

The company’s website is an obvious place to start. Check their ‘About us’ page, but also any newsletters, media releases and blogs from recent months to get an idea of their history and the kind of activities they engage in. Employers will appreciate a candidate who is well versed in their company’s ethos and has a firm grounding in how they operate day to day. Consider who their typical clients might be, who their direct competitors are and what the key differences between this company and their competitors are.

Also try to get a sense of their culture. You can do this directly by speaking to people who work there. This is easier if there is already someone within your network employed at the company – you can take them out for coffee and have a chat – or there may be opportunities at networking events to find someone from the organisation.

Indirectly, take a look at networking platforms like LinkedIn. Do employees tend to stick around in their roles? Are they promoted from within? Have they been given educational opportunities while at the organisation? What do they have to say about their managers and colleagues?

Public knowledge

How people outside the organisation view it is also important. You can get a sense of this from the company’s social media engagement. What sort of messages are they trying to send? How do they engage with the wider community, and vice versa? Are they socially savvy? Do they even have a social presence?

News and media coverage over the last year may also give you some insight. Use a search engine to trawl through news coverage of the organisation from the past year. Is the coverage positive or negative? If the coverage is largely different from the messages on the organisation’s website, that will also tell you a few things about your potential employer.

Industry insider

Getting a feel for the industry in general is also a good idea so you have context for where the organisation sits. Media coverage is a good indicator, but delve a little deeper for insight from industry associations, journals and conferences. If you’ve started early by getting involved in the industry as a student and attending networking functions and industry events, you’ll have firsthand knowledge to draw on.

You may also find that competitors have a thing or two to say about the organisation. Although you need to view these comments with a contextual lens, you can often get a sense of how your potential employer is regarded within the industry.

Dedicated research will allow you to see the current issues and changes affecting the industry, as well as how your potential employer compares to its competitors. Being commercially savvy means knowing why you’re interested in the industry – and why you want the job on offer.


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If you are a tertiary education student, The Tax Institute can help you progress in your career journey.

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