7 must-have soft skills for tax practitioners


As important lifelong learning or continuing professional development are for your future in tax, having the necessary soft skills too could be the difference between where you are now and flourishing in the next few stages of your career.

So what are those must-have soft skills? Find out if you tick all the boxes.

1. Written communication

Successful tax professionals communicate clearly and persuasively in writing for a variety of audiences.

The style used in writing to clients, peers, supervisors and regulators will vary, which makes understanding the ‘language’ of each audience integral. For example, a letter of advice to a client will be relatively formal, comprehensive and written in the context of the client’s specific business or financial issues. On the other hand, an email to a colleague is likely to be less formal and more succinct.

In all cases, however, a mastery of grammar, spelling and punctuation is essential. You can learn all of this quickly by astutely observing and analysing the communication of other professionals in your organisation.

2. Verbal communication

In face-to-face, client-advisory situations, you’ll be expected to clearly explain the issues that arise and to articulate the positions you represent.

Whether you are speaking with a single person, a team, or a larger audience, you’ll need to ensure the content of your presentation is compelling, and that you deliver with confidence.


3. Listening

A successful tax adviser listens to their clients and demonstrates understanding and respect. They also listen to their peers and closely observe the ever-changing business environment.

Active listening involves both hearing what your client or colleague is saying and letting them know that you hear what they’re saying by summarising, clarifying or reverse briefing. This helps you to build rapport, earn their trust and deliver accurately on what is being asked. By demonstrating active listening, clients will know that any recommendations you subsequently present will be based on a 
deep understanding of their specific needs.

4. Interpersonal communication

It goes without saying that tax is complex and very technical, so knowing how to discuss the law and its implementation in terms that others understand is a skill that will set you apart from the rest.

Equally important, you should maintain your personal and professional networks from the moment you step out of university. Attending CPD events is also beneficial to expanding your network. The business world is small, and the tax world is even smaller. Those around you will one day assist you with difficult issues, with finding a job, and even with referring new work to you.

5. Problem-solving

Tax professionals who succeed are invariably solution-oriented and committed to client service.
That’s why most tax firms employ advisers based on their ability to solve problems and apply rational thought processes.

Having good problem-solving skills involves the ability to identify and understand more than one perspective in relation to any issue.

Many issues in tax are straightforward, but others can be quite complex. For example, issues that go to a court are usually there because valid positions exist on both sides of the argument.

Of course, you cannot sit on the fence when there are compelling points of view on both sides of an argument in complex situations. You need the ability to defend your position, after going through a reasoning process involving: applying relevant authorities, examining both sides of the argument, and forming an opinion on what the better view is, based on your considered research.

6. Client service

Tax firms live or die on the quality of service they provide to clients. They therefore value employees who are committed to the highest levels of client service.

The best client service professionals always demonstrate empathy. They can put themselves in the client’s shoes and to understand their personal, professional and commercial issues on a deeper level.
Once you comprehend the client’s problems, however, you will then need to have the capacity to focus on solutions (as mentioned in point 5) and to help the client shift their focus as well. The most successful adviser/client relationships are the result of a team approach, where both parties develop a clear mutual understanding of the issue at hand and the actions required.

7. Expectation management 

A successful tax adviser knows that in business, there will always be competing priorities. In response, they know how to set and manage people’s expectations and how meet or exceed those expectations.

A successful tax adviser knows that in business, there will always be competing priorities. In response, they know how to set and manage people’s expectations and how meet or exceed those expectations.

Tax can be seasonal, and there will be times when you’ll be helping many clients fulfil their regulatory obligations at the same time. This means you’ll need to quickly develop your work flow management skills. You will succeed if you are always aware of the status of each assignment and are able to articulate this status at any time to clients and other stakeholders.

You’ll also need to identify any roadblocks, ahead of time, and be able to mitigate risks to ensure no deadlines are missed.


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