Monday 28 April 2014

Small firm or corporation: What’s right for your tax career?

Small firm or corporation: What’s right for your tax career?
Taking that very first step in your tax career requires many decisions. One of the most important is whether your initial role should be with a small firm or a corporation.

There are countless firms that can provide you with your first foray into the tax world, and the size of the business can be a clue to the type of workplace you can expect. Here are some general guidelines.

Working for a small firm

Because there are fewer people in a small firm, you will get to know everyone and will probably work directly with most of them. This is great if you feel more secure when you’re familiar with the team members who are driving the business.

  • Day-to-day functions: Employees in small firms tend to work across a number of clients and usually perform some ancillary tasks to support their job, including administration. Prepare for variety and expect to wear a number of hats.
  • Skills: Multitasking and being a quick learner are two skills you should already have. If not, you’ll pick them up swiftly in a small-firm environment.
  • Personality traits: People who like being part of a team and being able to see how their contribution directly adds value to the business will enjoy this environment.

Working for a corporation

Working for a corporation, such as one of the Big Four, has many benefits including established career development programs and opportunities to work internationally. This situation is ideal for ambitious employees.

  • Day-to-day functions: Corporate employees generally have specific roles and are assigned tasks appropriate to that role. Your work will be guided and may focus deeply on specific areas. This may be repetitive for some, but could also lead to specialisation.
  • Skills: Being able to work autonomously and follow process is a key skill. Those who have leadership skills tend to move into management positions. 
  • Personality traits: Those who are ambitious can make their mark through high performance and good networking. By the same token, those who are content to be a cog can also find the anonymity of being in a big company attractive.

These are just some of the generalisations related to small firms and corporations. Of course there will always be some crossover, with small firms taking on corporate traits and vice versa, as well as medium-sized businesses that may be a blend of both.

The key is to figure out what you want and then find the workplace most likely to give you what you seek. As you and the nature of the workplace change, this will more than likely affect your choice.

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Monday 21 April 2014

Need-to-know presentation skills to boost your career

Need-to-know presentation skills to boost your career
A well-presented idea, argument or paper has the best chance of being received in the way you intended. What presentation skills do you need to optimise your position?


The best presenters project confidence, which comes from being comfortable. If you’re nervous, find a friend in the audience and smile at them. Then relax.

Confidence is composed of three elements:

  • Body language: Sit or stand up straight and face the audience. Release any tension in your body and try to spend your presentation looking at the audience rather than at your notes. It’s okay to pace or move around if you need to, but any movement needs to be measured.
  • Voice: Use a loud and clear voice if there’s no microphone – clarity is the most important with or without an amplifier. Many people will rush their words when nervous, so be mindful of the flow and pace of your presentation. Factor in some pauses so what you’re saying can sink in.
  • Rapport: Build a rapport with your audience. Many presenters break the ice with a joke or an anecdote, or use techniques such as rhetorical questions to engage them.


The content of a presentation is also important. Good content is similarly composed of three elements:

  • Novelty: The content must be new or sufficiently different to engage the audience. If your topic is unavoidably dull, spruce it up with props, images or humour that present it in a new way.
  • Structure: You only have a limited time to do your presentation, so a good structure can be an effective way of conveying complex ideas. Form a skeleton by looking for patterns of logic and a sensible order in which the audience might come to an understanding of the material.
  • Expertise: You need to know the material inside out and be familiar with the way you will present it. Once you’ve worked out the structure and words, practise your presentation. It will also help with your confidence when you get on stage.

Get to know how you behave in front of an audience and then accentuate the good parts and reduce undesirable habits. If you find you get nervous when people look at you, use visual aids they can stare at instead. If you find you talk too fast, invest in a metronome and practise speaking at a slower pace. And if your hands tremble, hold a prop like a pen to still them.

The way you present yourself, your work and your ideas will colour how your abilities are viewed in the workplace. Give your career the best chance by honing your presentation skills at the beginning of your career.

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Monday 14 April 2014

The road less travelled: Tax and sport

The road less travelled: Tax and sport
Cameron Barber is the director of MGI South Queensland. His clients include high-wealth individuals, small to medium enterprises and consolidated groups, and he has a special interest in family owned and operated businesses. In addition to industries such as property, building and construction, retail and hospitality, Cameron specialises in providing tax advice to professionals in the sports sector.

How did you become a tax professional?

I started out completing a business degree and really enjoyed the tax module, so post-university I completed the Institute of Chartered Accountants program then got straight into the Master of Taxation qualification at the University of New South Wales. Now I attend as many of The Tax Institute seminars as I can to keep up to date with issues relevant to our clients.

One of your specialisations is managing the tax affairs of people in the sports industry. How did that come about?

Cameron Barber
It really wasn’t something that I set out to do. I was initially referred some sports professionals by a contact, then we became known for expertise in the industry and were getting referrals from coaches, managers and other sports professionals across different codes. The MGI network across Australia now acts for many elite sports professionals.

How do the tax affairs of people in the sports industry differ from people with more 'regular' jobs?

Our sports professional clients often move between countries and tax jurisdictions, and have business interests and investments all over the world, so residency and source are always relevant. There are expenses that are particular to that industry and it’s important to correctly structure their different interests.

Has your interest in certain sports increased because of your clients?

Yes, absolutely. As with most clients, you develop a close relationship with them, so seeing someone you work with on TV or in the papers (for the right reasons) adds to the interest in the game.

What does a typical day for you look like?

In respect to sports professionals, they generally lead busy and demanding lives so rely heavily on their professional advisors. This often means liaising with their management, financiers, lawyers, insurers and investment advisors on a daily basis. We often assist with tasks completely unrelated to tax.

What's your favourite part of the job?

The variety of issues you can face on a day-to-day basis and the satisfaction you get from delivering the best possible outcome for your client.

What advice would you give to tax professionals who want to specialise in the sports industry?

You truly are a trusted advisor, so know the issues they face and be prepared to assist in non-tax-related advisory.

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Monday 7 April 2014

The essentials of professional email etiquette

The essentials of professional email etiquette
You only have one chance at a first impression as your tax career advances, and if that chance comes via email you’ll need to know how to conduct correspondence in a professional manner.

Whether you’re applying for a job, work experience or a position in a graduate program, chances are your initial contact will be via email. These days, cover letters, requests and applications are often conducted in writing to be delivered to the recipient’s inbox.

Smarten up your email correspondence by remembering these dos and don'ts.


  • Use the subject field to summarise the contents of your email: This helps with categorising your email.
  • Address and sign off formally: Err on the side of formal rather than familiar. Start with ‘Dear Mr/Ms/Dr [Surname]’ and end with ‘Sincerely’ or ‘Kind regards’. Their reply (usually less formal) will indicate the level of engagement. Try to stay one notch more formal than that.
  • Start a new paragraph for each new idea or action item: Each paragraph should be one to two sentences long and serve a purpose. Don’t waffle, and be as concise as possible. It should be clear who you are/what you want if the recipient only scans the email.
  • Check your email before sending it: Make sure your spelling, punctuation and grammar are up to scratch, and also check if attachments are actually attached. You may want to read the email aloud in a neutral voice prior to sending to ensure it makes sense without the context of tone.
  • Use an email signature: Even a basic signature with your contact details looks professional. This keeps your contact details at the ready for the recipient.


  • Use an email address that may reflect badly on you: Remember that email address you had when you were 15? Don’t use that one for your professional correspondence. 
  • Use emoticons, slang or curse words: Even if you know the recipient very well, the email may need to be forwarded to others who don’t know you at all. Keep all correspondence as formal as possible.
  • Forget why you’re sending the email: The email has a purpose. Make sure everything in it serves that purpose, whether supporting you for a desired role or trying to elicit an answer from someone.
  • Pester the recipient: Just because an email is easy to send doesn’t mean you should repeatedly ask for updates. If you are concerned at the lack of response, especially if the recipient said they would get back to you by a certain time, pick up the phone. If the recipient is unavailable, you may be able to talk to someone else.

Learning to use email in a professional manner will serve you well beyond the application stage. Developing good habits now will help you communicate to clients and colleagues in a more effective way.

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Wednesday 2 April 2014

Lessons from high achievers in the tax profession

Lessons from high achievers in the tax profession
Last week, The Tax Institute celebrated three high achievers at the Tax Adviser of the Year Awards. What can you learn from them?

The Tax Adviser of the Year Awards honours three members of The Tax Institute at various stages of their careers. They exercise best practice and show excellence in their role as a tax professional. However, it’s not enough to be good at your job. These three winners go above and beyond in various ways. Here are some lessons to take on board for your career.

Emerging Tax Star: Matthew Andruchowycz, CTA, Wallmans Lawyers

It is unusual to have someone with less than five years’ experience reach senior associate level. The judges called Matthew “extremely proactive” and praised his “great range of independent and complex work ability”. The clincher, however, was his dedication to the industry outside his job, taking voluntary positions in various committees with The Tax Institute, showing “a strong commitment to professionalism and ethical standards”.

Lesson: Show commitment by getting involved with the industry outside your day job.

Tax Adviser of the Year: Wayne Plummer, ATI, PwC Australia

Wayne’s accolade came from his “leadership, collaboration, impressive technical work, technical excellence and impressive references,” according to the judges. As well as his top-level performance on the job, he also contributed to the development of tax law and administration through authoring and presenting a number of technical papers and “has continued to help and support others in their careers and the development of their tax knowledge”.

Lesson: Focus on your areas of strength and build a reputation on this foundation. Share your expertise where you think it will be of benefit to others.

Chartered Tax Adviser of the Year: David Russell, CTA AM RFD QC

David’s notable track record of contributing to the tax industry and having held leadership positions in many areas – including as president of the Asia-Oceania Tax Consultants’ Association, International Tax Specialist Group and The Tax Institute – impressed the judges. It was his commitment to listening and advising, however, that cemented the win. One reference stated, “David is a mentor for junior members of the bar, and a valuable sounding board for senior members.”

Lesson: Develop a reputation for consistent high performance. Hone your soft skills, including your leadership and mentorship skills.

While technical excellence is a key part of every tax professional’s skill set, it is what the professional offers in the way of giving back that distinguishes him or her from people who are merely ‘good at their job’. There are a number of ways to contribute to the tax industry, from volunteer work to authoring and presenting papers, from mentorship to leadership, with different opportunities available at different times in your career. If you want to excel, find these opportunities and pursue them.

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