Thursday 28 January 2016

Tools and tips to help you ace group assignments

Group assignments are an essential component of learning, yet when group assignment is uttered its often followed by a collective eye-roll or groan. Thankfully, gone are the days of group assignments being the bane of everyones tertiary-education experience. Weve found the best tools and thrown in a couple of handy tips to help your group assignment run as smoothly as possible.

Online databases

Most universities and institutes will have an electronic resource database that students can access for free. This is where you and your group members can access hundreds of online resources, such as journals and case studies, which can support your studies and research.

Depending on the course you study, The Tax Institute has additional resources available from subject sponsors. For example, if you are studying a Graduate Diploma of Applied Tax Law you will have access to resources from sponsors such as Wolters Kluwer CCH and Thomson Reuters.

There are also a number of free or subscription-based databases and search engines useful for finding and accessing articles in academic journals, repositories or other collections of articles. For example, the Australasian Legal Information Institute is a free online resource with state-specific tax and law databases, news and journals.

Collaboration apps

From managing to-do lists to sharing links and files, Trello is a great project management application. Trello brings everything together in the one place and represents your assignments as boards. Creating a board is simple to do, as is adding lists and cards. This function makes it easy to organise work and breaks large assignments into manageable sections. You can assign tasks to fellow users and set due dates, or allow users to claim items they would like to complete. Trello integrates files not only with your computer but with just about every other platform, including OneDrive, Google Drive, Dropbox and many more. Trellos basic features are all available in the free version.

Slack is another great collaboration app that allows users to discuss ideas, ask questions and share files instantly with team members, all in the one place. Slack has different channels that allow for conversations to be organised in different ways from groups to topics. Slack's basic package is free to use. 

When youve complied all your research from online libraries and databases, you can use Evernote to bring all your documents into the one place. Evernote is a great app that allows you to save and share web articles with your group members, as well as take in-text notes. Evernote also has task-tracking capabilities, which allows you to discuss progress with your team. 

Allocate tasks to each member

Group assignments often go awry when theres zero accountability or if boundaries are blurred. Using a collaboration app, such as Trello, is a great way to assign roles and responsibilities to each group member based on their talents and strengths. In saying that, it is also important to be flexible when it comes to offering support and sharing the workload. The most effective collaborative projects are a game of give and take.

Set expectations from the outset

If you want to deliver an exceptional group assignment, communication is key. Setting clear time frames and establishing deadlines in advance will ensure that important tasks unfold smoothly. During your initial meeting, remind group members to flag issues and obstacles as soon as they occur. Once again, using an app like Slack can help create on open dialogue, set clear expectations and will get you closer to your goal.

Embrace active listening

Unlike working independently, group assignments mean committing to listening to your partners perspectives and putting yourself in their shoes. The art of taking the time to listen and provide feedback on other ideas will make your fellow collaborators feel respected and trusted. Making every effort to cultivate strong working relationships can determine whether your joint project succeeds or fails.

Understand how to negotiate conflict

Even if you set clear expectations and listen to your team members input, problems will occasionally arise. If team members disagree on something, allow them the time and space to communicate their issues and vote on the outcome as a group. Knowing how to overcome conflict and turn criticism into constructive feedback is an undeniably powerful skill.

Its worth remembering that career success isn't related to hard skills alone. Whether you aspire to become an accountant or dream about a career in corporate tax, a knack for soft skills such as communicating and collaborating with clients and stakeholders is more likely to ensure that you excel. What are your top tips for collaborative working?

Need the perfect resource tool, have a look at membership with The Tax Institute. Find out more today!

Tuesday 19 January 2016

Member profile: Elise Lee

Employer: WLF Accounting & Advisory

Position: Senior Tax Specialist

Describe a little about yourself

I didn’t have a clear idea of what I wanted to do as a career until I finished my first year of University. I had studied a wide range of subjects during my time at University ranging from Catering to Sports Sciences, Accounting and Economics. I knew I wanted a career that could provide me with a good work/life balance. I worked part-time in a restaurant while I was completing my degree and I didn’t want to keep working the hours that went with that kind of job. It wasn’t until my third year of University that I knew accounting was the right career for me.

Describe your current role

I am a Senior Tax Specialist in the Specialist Tax Advisory division of WLF Accounting & Advisory. I prepare advice on a wide and ever expanding range of topics, which have recently included things like:

  • Charity and Not-for-Profit establishment, where I assist entities to gain registration with the ACNC and access to tax concessions such as the Income Tax Exemption, FBT Exemption or Rebate and deductible gift recipient (DGR) endorsement;
  • Determining eligibility for the CGT Small Business Concessions and assistance applying the relevant concessions;
  • Determining eligibility for and assistance applying for the R&D Incentive;
  • Determination of the best tax structures for payments and assets transfers on employee terminations; and
  • The GST implication of changing business circumstances.

What are your career highlights? 

Completing the tax effect accounting for a large consolidated group, along with a small team of my colleagues, was a really satisfying moment achieved after weeks of very long work days. I also really enjoy going on secondment, either to complete a special project or become part of a client’s team to fill an expertise or staffing gap.

Why did you join The Tax Institute? 

I joined the Tax Institute to gain access to all of The Institute’s online resources and access the member discount for CPD events, such as the Tasmanian State Convention. I also use their CGT Small Business Reliefs and Division 7A handbooks often and look forward to getting the updated versions.

What advice can you give to graduates?

Don’t worry if you don’t know how to do something yet. Your mentor didn’t know how to do it either at one point. The first few months or more realistically years of your career are a huge learning curve. Use all of the resources available to you to find out how things are done, this will give you the basics you need to get started and ask the right questions.

Who or what inspires you?

My colleagues and clients inspire me. My colleagues are always coming up with unique solutions to the different situations and scenarios we encounter. They are really focused and dedicated people who always put in 100%, yet they are able to maintain a healthy work/life balance most of the year.

Find out more about the importance of a healthy work/life balance in our recent blog post here.

What do you do to unwind? 

I like to spend time with my friends and family, testing out the local restaurants and cafes of Hobart, sun-baking on our deck or walking our rough collie Darci along Howrah beach or at the dog park.

Favourite holiday destination?

Camping at Port Arthur or on the East Coast at my husband’s family shacks.

Tuesday 12 January 2016

Four qualities of great leaders

It’s common knowledge that becoming a great leader calls for a complex suite of skills. Although we recognise that talented bosses are equipped to rise to challenges and make tough decisions, we often forget that the ability to communicate, delegate, remain positive and stay creative are equally intrinsic to finding a leadership formula that works.
Whether you dream of heading up an accounting firm or working as a tax consultant, there are ways to hone your leadership credentials now. Here are four qualities of great leaders along with fail-safe tips for acquiring them.

Communication skills

The ability to articulate ideas and give clear direction to colleagues can separate a mediocre leader from a boss who excels. Failure to communicate effectively can lead to conflict and poor execution – factors that can impact bottom lines. From taking a professional writing course to volunteering to speak at an industry panel, there are plenty of ways to cultivate your powers of expression and make sure people understand what you’re trying to say.

The ability to delegate

Great leaders know that when it comes to freeing up the time and energy to focus on strategy, the ability to delegate is key. Overbearing managers run the risk of damaging relationships with staff members and impacting employee trust. You can master the art of delegation by looking at your workload and identifying the tasks you could outsource. The most effective delegators understand the responsibilities that are worth their efforts and those that should be passed on to someone else. They also trust their team to deliver great work without being micromanaged.

A positive attitude

The best leaders believe that you can turn around a missed opportunity and that failure is simply success in this disguise. This positive perspective is essential to becoming the kind of visionary leader staff members look up to and emulate. Whether it’s working with a charity or volunteering at a not-for-profit on weekends, offering your skills to those who need them can help you become more influential.

A creative approach

Fields such as tax and accounting might not be traditionally classified as creative, but creativity is still a powerful leadership asset that can help a company grow. Being a leader often means thinking outside traditional boundaries and drawing on the power of imagination to tackle complex briefs. Whether it’s taking a painting class or learning how to capture better photos, there’s no shortage of ways to catch the creative bug. Harnessing your creativity can supercharge your leadership skills down the track. Encouraging your team to think creatively and brainstorm together can help foster creativity in the workplace.

From communication skills to the ability to delegate, the right mix of attributes can see a leader succeed.

What are you doing today to hone your future leadership skills?

Tuesday 5 January 2016

Three ways to ace 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.