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About In House Tax

About In House Tax

This weblog is a news and views site for tax professionals within the UK and international in-house tax community.  You will find information about appointments and people moves in and around the in-house tax market, issues affecting the in-house tax professional, opinions on the state of the tax job market, updates on tax technology, and other general thoughts of the day.

Hope you find it useful.

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Location: St Albans, United Kingdom

This site has been developed by Simon Godley, who also runs the niche tax recruitment company Talentpool Selection . Simon spends a lot of his time placing tax specialists into FTSE companies, large in-bound groups and some professional services organisations. He also recruits and is well networked around the UK tax technology and VAT markets.

Tax News

Reaching for the top in the tax market?

Friday, 9 March 2012

By Simon Godley

As a recruiter in the tax market, you speak with and build relationships with a lot of tax people – at all levels of experience. I’ve recruited in the UK tax market for over 16 years now, in which time I’ve seen some tax professionals progress very quickly. I’ve seen some people progress from trainee level to Head of Tax (in some cases with very large businesses) in this time frame, whilst others hit a lower level and stay there, seemingly struggling to progress their career higher. Why is this? What does one person have that the other doesn’t? What fine tuned skills do some people develop which sees them reach higher levels of management in a company or practice? Are these tangible or measurable differences, or do they have something more subtle and unseen, a form of corporate 'X-Factor'?

I don’t think this is easy to explain as there are many variables – both issues and behaviours arising from the individual, and external forces from their employers, but I aim to highlight in this article what I believe to be common criteria, traits or behaviours of tax professionals that do make it into the top jobs. This article may be of interest to junior people starting out in tax as well as to those that are part of the way up the ladder. If you’ve already made it into a top flight tax role, there’s possibly no necessity to read on but may find it reflectively useful.

1. Academia and qualifications. In vast majority of cases, successful tax professionals will become qualified (ACA and/or CTA or initially Tax Inspectors) at an early stage of their career. A very large proportion have both ACA and CTA and passed these exams at the first attempt. Of course, like all rules, there are exceptions to this. I will concede that there are senior level tax operators out there that are not professionally qualified and earn a very good living, but these are the exceptions that prove this rule.

2. Tax experience & developing a niche. To get noticed in the tax advisory market I think there’s a need to get ‘famous’ for something i.e. to develop your experience into a sub-niche area. I think it will help even more if you are one of the early movers to specialise in a particular sub-niche. I’m thinking of people that got deep into transfer pricing or R&D taxes when the rules were being developed. This is much more applicable for those looking to progress their careers and aim for partner level in the consulting firms. For those looking to progress in industry as in-house tax advisers, the emphasis is different – in this case, it actually helps to have a broader exposure to different taxes, but be able to identify where most value can be added to a group through tax planning. In industry it’s all about spotting the opportunities and developing crucial relationships to help implement changes, whereas in practice it’s most likely a narrow niche area of tax that will take you through.

3. Employment history and job moves. Knowing when to move jobs to improve one’s career track is a very difficult exercise, and it’s a route paved with many risks. Clearly if you can’t see a career path upwards in an organisation, or if it doesn’t exist, then making a move to another organisation can be a sensible idea. But if you do this too often, say every 2-3 years, your CV and overall profile will be punished. Someone who has made only 1 or 2 carefully considered job moves within a 15 year period will most likely have moved into a more senior position than someone that has moved 5-6 times in the same time period. A large proportion of tax professionals that have made it into the top level roles have made very few job moves around the market, and they have tended to know in which direction they want their career to go. They have typically spent a long stint (10 years+) of their career with one organisation, and that is usually a period spent with a large multinational group. This has given sufficient time to develop deeper experience with a company, form stronger relationships with people (who may help them later in their career), and the large company environment will enable them to see good internal promotions or progressive internal moves around the company, possibly overseas and then back to the UK. Remember that the employment history section of a CV needs to tell a very good / positive story, and having to spend lots of time in a job interview explaining away multiple job moves will vastly diminish chances of success.

4. Interpersonal skills & Judgment. It is true to say that if you intend to move up the promotion ladder in the tax market, then you are not going to do it on your own. Building key relationships internally and outside in the business world is absolutely key, and having the necessary interpersonal skills will help on this. Being confident, assertive, proactive, a good listener, a good people manager and working on longer term relationships will serve people very well, and get them noticed in a market where a lot of people are frankly not good at this. Gaining respect from those above and below you in a team will tend to propagate a strong brand image of yourself and your worth in a business. Once again there are exceptions, and in fact tax is a market in which highly technical people (going back to the sub-niche issue) can progress through the market quite quickly and without some of the people skills described above. Once again, you tend to see this in the advisory firms, a minority who have gained almost exclusive technical understanding of niche area of tax such that their skills and advice is in high demand.

In addition to this, having good judgment is also a key trait seen from successful tax heads. They may have acute technical know-how, and may be creative on tax structuring ideas, but it’s knowing when and how to implement planning ideas and weighing up against tax risk that is vital to success.

5. Longevity in the market.
Like with all skill areas, practice can make perfect, and the same applies for tax. The most successful tax professionals have faced major set-backs, but they have kept battling on, and have learnt from set-backs to minimise pitfalls in the future. In a full tax career, you will not avoid working through some downturns in the economy or recessions which can impact motivation and then questioning if you are in the right career. The top level tax people have worked hard through these times, stuck with it, and then greatly prospered when the broader economy starts to move in their favour.

The above points are by no means exhaustive, and not meant to proclaim some major formula for success, merely pointing out some common features that I have observed within the backgrounds of successful tax professionals and from the behaviors of top level tax professionals. Oh yes, all this and a load of hard work.

If you are reviewing your career options, or currently looking to progress your tax career, please get in touch for a confidential discussion. Please call Simon Godley on 0870 46 056 46 or email:

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posted by Simon Godley


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