Launching your career in tax

Dan Mason, Senior editor
September, 2015

It doesn't have a reputation as exciting, but tax is an important topic that can be a rewarding career choice for graduates

To outsiders the tax profession may not seem as exhilarating as trading stocks and shares in the City, and it is certainly a less well-known career path than banking or insurance. However, for anyone looking to work in the finance sector, it can be a stimulating and fulfilling option.

Tax affects all individuals and businesses, so it's crucially important. Yet few people have an in-depth knowledge of the subject as it's complex and - thanks to an endless stream of new legislation - never stands still. As a result there's always a need for graduates willing to develop expertise in this area.

'I want to encourage our next generation of tax professionals, so that we have an efficient and fair tax system,' says Ken Curran, director of Curran Tax Consultants and East Midlands branch secretary of the Chartered Institute of Taxation (CIOT), who visits universities and career fairs to raise the profile of his chosen career.

'At the end of the day, ignorance is not bliss when it comes to tax,' he says. 'People need to understand the tax system because it's their money that's being spent.'

What skills and qualifications do I need?

To succeed you'll need an analytical mind, commercial awareness, a high level of numeracy and strong communication and negotiation skills. In common with many other jobs in the accountancy, banking and finance sector, a postgraduate degree is not essential - but the right finance qualification is.

The minimum entry requirement for HMRC's Tax Professional Graduate Programme is a 2:2 undergraduate degree in any subject. An application form, online tests and an assessment centre will follow - and then, if you're successful, four years of on-the-job training. Discover more about becoming a senior tax professional/tax inspector.

Meanwhile, to become a chartered tax adviser, the direct entry route involves securing recognition from professional bodies. You'll need to sit the Association of Tax Technicians (ATT) exams before working towards CIOT's Chartered Tax Adviser (CTA) qualification.

Potential employers include accountancy firms, tax consultancies and the finance departments of large companies. You could find yourself working in compliance, ensuring a client meets their tax obligations, or as a consultant advising clients how to minimise their tax liabilities. Learn about being a tax adviser.

What do Masters courses in tax involve?

If you studied an unrelated undergraduate degree and would prefer to gain a solid foundation in the subject before committing to a career in tax, then UK universities offer many Masters courses covering accountancy and finance.

Alternatively, there are courses available if you are interested in tax as a research subject. For instance, the University of Birmingham's MSc Taxation by Research offers the chance to delve into the topic with a 40,000 word thesis.

Why choose a career in tax?

A career in tax is more stable than some other areas of finance. There are clearly defined routes for professional development and significant salaries. Chartered tax advisers' earnings can rise to around £55,000.

Among those to have chosen this path is Oliver Rowland, who works in private client tax at PwC. 'It was quite simple really. I didn't know what to do, law or accounting. I thought about it and ended up in accounting, and through mixed practice I found I really enjoyed the tax work.

'Tax work was like a puzzle, which - because it is constantly evolving and changing - provides so many interesting avenues that you could pursue. It certainly seems to be a rich and rewarding career so far.'