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.

Give yourself the edge with free Student Membership

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

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

Find out about Student Membership.

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.

Student Membership
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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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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.”

Student Membership
Give yourself the edge with free Student Membership

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

Find out about Student Membership.