How to progress from tax assistant to tax manager

If you’re a tax assistant, what steps can you be taking to develop the skills you need to move up to tax manager?

In general, a tax specialist will need to be able to combine numeracy with the analytical ability to read, interpret, understand and react to changing legislation, says William Hepworth, manager in-house taxation at recruiters Morgan McKinley. “The best will combine all of that with strong communication skills, and the ability to break down and explain complex tax issues to non-tax specialists in layman’s terms, and apply that to their commercial environment.”

Phil Sheridan, senior managing director at recruiters Robert Half UK, also highlights “our research shows that finding candidates with excellent technical skills, the right soft skills and cultural fit is proving a challenge”.

Julia Powell a tax manager at Mazars says, with “tax legislation being complex and constantly changing, it’s vital to be curious and interested in technical issues, understanding how/where/why problems arise and what sort of solutions there might be, as this is where managers can provide real value to employers or clients.”

But she emphasises that there’s no one size to fit all approach to making tax manager. “While working in smaller firms gave me a lot of experience quickly at the start of my career, larger firms can have more internal infrastructure to support their trainees and junior managers.”

“Relationship building is also key,” she continues, “whether it’s with clients or other people you deal with who become part of your network (it is amazing how small the tax world can be sometimes). I’m not a huge fan of thinking about ‘networking’ as an isolated concept as it can feel a bit forced, but rather I would be aware that the people you meet and work with will potentially be good contacts for life if you invest the time in building the relationship. That way you can organically build a great network.”

However, underpinning all technical and relationship skills is the ability to keep on top of financials and demonstrate commercial awareness, so that that you can successfully grow your contribution to your firm’s business. “The right technical answer might not always be the right commercial answer, so it’s important to understand the dynamics of the business and weigh up the risk/reward of not taking the most tax-effective route in any given situation,” says Hepworth.

Bolster your CV

Namit Raipal, a senior tax manager at Root2 Tax Limited, regularly hears from candidates that are looking to make the move to tax manager, but they generally have the same CV. “My advice is try something alternative and obtain skills other candidates don’t have: demonstrate that you have client relation experience, not just servicing clients with tax advice or preparing returns, take on a role that will provide you with project management skills as this is a bigger part of the role than most ever envisage.”

One way of improving your range of abilities and experiences is going on secondment. Thomas Jepson, a tax manager at Grant Thornton, chose to pursue a three-month secondment in the Transfer Pricing team to broaden his tax knowledge. “Three months soon extended to a year and I have now been a permanent member of the team for the past two and a half years. Last month I was promoted to manager.”

In transitioning to this team, it transpired that he had a niche position as not only was he one of the few team members who had experience with UK legislation, but he also had awareness of international taxation. “It was a steep learning curve, but by spreading myself across a number of different projects and keeping in close contact with my people manager, I was able to get to a point where I felt confident in my role.”

Jepson says he has met few individuals who have taken a similar route to tax manager. But it is one he’d recommend as it has forced him to continually put his best foot forward, and to expand his knowledge and experience. “It has taught me that, provided you are willing to put in the work and stay positive, your options are always open.”

Top tips

  • Matthew: “Take secondments and work in areas outside of tax, as this will develop the advisory skills firms need.”
  • Thomas: “Positivity and gumption go a long way. Taking responsibility and showing you care about results is respected and valued by anyone that you work with, most notably those who have the power over your promotions.”
  • Phil: “Develop a robust knowledge of key software packages as businesses continue to digitise the finance function and adopt cloud-based solutions.”
  • Phil: “Showcase their willingness and ability to learn through a continual learning plan.”
  • Phil: “Build up commercial and business acumen so they can effectively advise the business and add-value.”

Essential skills

  • Client relationship management
  • Communication
  • Team managing
  • Organisational
  • Technical knowledge
  • Project management
  • Curiosity

Neil Johnson is a freelance business journalist who contributes regularly to trade publications and member organisations, covering employability, recruitment, business trends and industrial analysis.

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