Welcome to this week’s ‘The Monday Interview’.
Think that law students always want to become lawyers? Well, think again. This week’s interview gives us a great account of how the many transferable skills gained whilst doing a degree can be applicable to a whole range of industries. It also shows us how common it is for people to change their mind about their career plans during the course of their university studies. Believe me, it happens a lot.
In today’s interview, Gillian explains how a specific module at university sparked her interest in a whole new career area, as she entered the world of Corporate Tax. Now working as a VAT Manager, she dispels one of the major myths about working for an accountancy firm - you don’t have to be particularly good with numbers, apparently. On the other hand, if you have an enquiring mind and an eye for detail, then it may just be the career for you.
Many thanks, Gillian, for giving us the story of your career to date.
So, briefly, what is your job?
“VAT Manager working in a large accountancy firm. I provide advice to my clients on the VAT liabilities of their businesses and the VAT implications of transactions that they are undertaking. My clients range from multi-national listed companies through to self-employed individuals and landed estates.”
How did you get into it?
“I read law at university and changed my mind about going into the legal profession after studying a module on Revenue Law which I found fascinating.
I went to the University careers advisory service who pointed me in the direction of firms offering tax as a career and from there applied for graduate positions. The process involved a pretty detailed application form which included some essay type questions, then verbal and numeracy competency testing, then an interview with a partner and senior manager from each firm.
Entering a graduate programme means that you have structured training both on professional qualifications and internal training. This involved an initial graduate induction week at which all graduates in that year’s intake have an “immersion” into the firm’s culture and what is expected of you (eg what you should and should not wear into the office - you’d be amazed what people think is acceptable in a professional environment!). Professional training started shortly afterwards, involving blocks of a week at a time studying in London with working at home in between, preparing for exams.
I started as a corporate tax recruit and generally firms only recruit in tax for either personal or corporate graduates, although this is changing slowly. A few years ago, when the downturn started, corporate tax work was tailing off but VAT was still really active and at that time short staffed. I was asked if I would be interested in a 6 month secondment to VAT to help them out and enjoyed it so much that I asked to make it a permanent move.”
Describe a typical day.
“There isn’t one! Lots of telephone calls from clients and colleagues asking for my input on queries, researching and writing reports on client transactions, meeting clients to chat through their plans and how I can assist them.”
What do you enjoy most about your job?
“The intellectual challenge and helping my clients achieve their ambitions.”
And the least?
“Having to charge them for my help!”
What are the common misconceptions that people have about the work you do?
“That you have to be good with numbers to work for a firm of accountants. I’m not!”
What are the main skills you need to be a VAT Manager?
“An enquiring mind, grasp of detail, ability to flex your approach to different situations, excellent communication skills. Above all, you need to be a people person.”
Tell us a little about the benefits that come with the job.
“Professional firms generally have very good benefits packages, with respect to salary sacrifice, maternity leave etc. There is the possibility of quick progression if you perform to a high standard and with this progression comes higher pay.”
What advice would you give someone wanting to break into this career?
“If you are at graduate level, get some really good work experience and at least a 2:1 degree from a good university in order to qualify for a graduate scheme. Other than graduate level, you need relevant experience preferably specifically in VAT, but in an accountancy firm to demonstrate that you can work in the professional services environment. The VAT and accountancy world is always changing so make sure you can show you have read up on what’s currently hot and demonstrate that you really are interested in the industry.”
Where do you see yourself in 10 years’ time?
“Doing what I’m doing now but hopefully at the next level up, dealing with more complex issues and gaining a reputation for being an excellent adviser.”
AND JUST FOR FUN…
First in the office or last to leave?
“First in the office, 7:30am!”
Tea or coffee?
“One coffee first thing, then decaff tea.”
Staff canteen or packed lunch?
The lift or the stairs?
“Luckily we’re on the ground floor, but I do stairs for a maximum of three flights and then resort to lift.”
Out after work or straight home to bed?
“Home to do housework.”