How to succeed in the tax profession

written by Adam Woodward *

Adam Woodward CTA
It takes a special type of person, with specific skills and attributes, to thrive as a tax professional in today’s dynamic business environment.

A career in tax can be challenging, yet ultimately fulfilling.

An effective tax adviser listens to clients, digests their facts and opinions, and then provides technically accurate, commercially prudent advice.

In this context, developing expertise in analysis and communication is critical. In fact, a career in tax involves a lifetime of learning vital skills that can be used in all aspects of life.

The skills you’ll need

The primary skills required to succeed in tax include the ability to identify pragmatic solutions to complex problems, and to clearly articulate these solutions to clients.

Working in tax is a process. First, you have to understand the problem. You then research and analyse relevant tax laws. Finally, you develop and present accurate solutions.

Strong technical skills and a process-driven mindset are, therefore, vital.

I believe the three most valuable technical skills a professional tax adviser must have are:
  1. the ability to distil large quantities of information and to identify key facts
  2. analysis and interpretation of tax legislation
  3. clear writing skills.
The most valuable personal skills (or ‘soft skills’) are commitment, communication and creativity. Commitment is critical because tax is rarely black and white – you need to persevere to identify and implement the best solutions for your clients. The ability to communicate involves both digesting information and explaining solutions. Creativity is required for you to address problems in innovative ways.

Studying to become a tax professional

I thoroughly enjoy teaching students at The Tax Institute and watching their knowledge base and analytical skills expand.

The Tax Institute’s teaching method is unique. It provides a challenging blend of technical skills and soft skills that prepare students for the real world. I also enjoy The Tax Institute’s learning environment, in which students can freely discuss and constructively flesh out tax issues.

I hope my students are able to pursue their passion in tax. As I mentioned, tax can be challenging and also rewarding, as it provides boundless opportunities.

Personally, I experience that passion, and immense job satisfaction, when working with clients, understanding their tax issues and finding answers to these issues.

In my workplace, we also focus on practical learning. We begin each task by considering the background facts (which are always different for every client). We then decide how to apply the relevant tax provisions to each unique situation.

You can read as much tax law as you like, but you can only truly learn when you apply the law to real-life, practical situations and uproot the intricacies of the various tax law provisions.

What it takes to be a leader in tax

As you progress in your career, you can eventually become a leader in the tax profession.

Tax leaders are people who continually educate and empower their teams. They bring out the best in other people and create an environment in which team members are comfortable expressing and sharing their ideas.

A leader in tax is able to succinctly explain key tax risks and areas of concern to clients and provide accurate, timely, pragmatic solutions.

Tax is an endurance race, not a sprint. So the best tax advisers don’t burn out by trying to do everything at once. They take the time to learn and digest tax laws and ensure they provide their clients with a great experience.

At the same time, they balance their career with other social, family and cultural experiences.

Work/life balance is critical to a successful tax career. A tax adviser with a well-rounded personality is able to bring new, fresh ideas to the table – which is always a good thing.

If anyone asks me whether they should consider a career in tax, I usually just say ‘Do it!’ You’ll gain invaluable skills that you can leverage in many ways throughout your life.

* Adam Woodward is a Chartered Tax Adviser (CTA), a Partner with Ernst & Young, and a lecturer in The Tax Institute’s CTA3 Advisory course.

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