When it comes to choosing the right career, expectations don’t always match up with reality. Often the skills we associate with our chosen profession can differ dramatically from those we should cultivate in order to excel.
For Angeline Tan, tax consultant at financial services firm PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), the tax profession offers powerful evidence of this divide.
1. A thirst for knowledge
“It’s commonly perceived that tax is all about the numbers, but it’s also about learning the legislation,” says Tan. “Understanding tax is like learning a new language, so strong literacy skills are really important if you want to get ahead.”
Tax legislation is constantly evolving so you’ll need the ability to adapt to changes and stay up to date. Critical thinking and problem-solving skills are essential to help you apply changing legislation to your clients’ affairs.
2. Good communication skills
Tan says that communication skills are a widely overlooked aspect of a career in tax. The ability to communicate succinctly is critical for tackling client briefs, negotiating with different parties and reconciling professional requirements with client demands.
“It may not be a surprise that to excel in a career in tax, communication is important. But what is surprising is how paramount it is to success. To be a good advisor, you have to communicate what you understand to clients and make sure they understand it too. It’s not enough to be fluent in tax – you need to be able to communicate this with others.”
3. Lateral thinking
Although it’s easy to presume that taxation relies on hard facts and empirical knowledge, Tan maintains that there are plenty of grey areas – a fact that calls for a degree of open-mindedness as well as the ability to think laterally and consider problems from different perspectives.
“There is no right or wrong when it comes to tax. Often understanding and embracing the grey area can mean the difference between a good tax advisor and a great one.”
During your career, you’ll be leading teams in developing creative ways to solve client problems. Tax professionals often work in teams, so you’ll need to work well with others and have good interpersonal skills to succeed. You could be leading members of your own staff, or project teams made up of a range of external consultants and agencies.
5. Project management
To succeed as a tax professional it’s also vital to have good project management and time-keeping skills to help you deliver projects from end to end. You could be called on to develop information management systems and business processes that underpin the delivery of projects.
Tan says that working as a tax professional involves a willingness to be challenged and learn from experiences. “The ability to be challenged and the opportunity to learn from mistakes and excel are the most rewarding aspects of my job.”
More than an ability to work with numbers, as a tax professional you’ll cultivate a diverse range of leadership, management, critical thinking and problem-solving skills that can be applied to any area of business, industry or government.
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