My name is Ciara O’Connell, an Indirect Tax Manager in EY.

Though a career in tax is challenging, it is worth it and keeps you on your toes so you never get bored.

How did you get into a career in tax?

In the early days of my law degree, like everyone else on my course, I assumed I would become a solicitor or barrister. Though unfortunately when I applied for internships in the law firms, nothing materialised post-interview. So, I started looking elsewhere. That’s when I came across the summer internships in the professional firms.

EY highlighted the fact they wanted people from different degrees and backgrounds, so I thought “yeah, maybe this is for me” and took a chance which paid off. That summer, I worked in the Indirect Tax department in EY and not to be too cliché, I haven’t really looked back since.

After the summer internship, EY offered me a graduate position which meant I didn’t have to go through the milk-round process. And I’m now over 4 years in.

Would you recommend a summer internship to college students?

I would definitely recommend doing a summer internship. The 3-month internship was a great opportunity to see what a career in tax would offer. It’s an opportunity to test the waters before jumping in!

Even if at the end of the two or three months you decide it’s not for you, it’s still a great experience and gives you the opportunity to gain real life experience. You meet so many different people, from different degrees and backgrounds. The conversations you have with them about their career path and their experiences are not things they can teach or show you in college.

Plus, from my experience, it’s not like the horror stories you hear where you’re photocopying the whole time or have long days of filing and coffee runs. It is the complete opposite! I got pulled into client work and calls, researching, and doing memos on updated legislation. I can definitely say that the summer internship decided my career path for me.

And you went straight from college to doing your Chartered Tax Adviser (CTA) exams?

Yes, following the summer internship I returned to college and completed my final year and began in EY in July 2018. Working on the Indirect Tax team in EY, you don’t have to do the accountancy exams which suited me. To be honest, if I had to do the accountancy exams, it probably would have put me off a career in tax. Instead, I was able to go straight into my tax exams with one exemption from Part 1 (Law Fundamentals, thanks to my college degree), which was very welcome.

How did you find studying the Chartered Tax Adviser (CTA) programme?

It was challenging especially when work got busy, and there were various social events at the weekends. But the format – lectures being available online – is a game changer, the ability to pause and rewind difficult concepts was great. It meant I could study when and where I wanted. If I had a rough week at work and wasn’t in the zone to study effectively or do a full day of lectures on a Saturday/Sunday, I didn’t have to. The format was extremely helpful, particularly for the Part 3s!

You mentioned accounting exams would have put you off a tax career. A common misconception is that tax is only number crunching. What qualities do you think a Chartered Tax Adviser (CTA) needs to be successful?

Communication is the bedrock of a career in tax. Having the ability to explain the relevant legislation and complex issues to your clients, in a way they can understand, is so important. Good communication with your colleagues is vital for team morale, collaboration and meeting deadlines.

Also, coming from a legal background, the research and interpretation skills I learned in college are important and can be applied to my work daily.

What does your daily work look like?

There’s not really a typical day, more of a general structure – logging in, checking emails, putting out any fires at the start of the day. Overall, the content of the work is quite diverse. Tax will keep you on your toes and you get a wide range of experience which makes you a more rounded adviser.

On the Indirect Tax team, we have our compliance deadlines every two months. In between there are many different projects to get involved in – business restructuring, due diligence, supply chain queries, tax controversy, etc. It’s great to have the opportunity to work on such varied projects and even more interesting when the obscure projects come along.

There are a lot of opportunities in tax – have you experienced this yourself?

Yes, there really are a lot of opportunities in tax which I have experienced. An opportunity came up to work for a client and when the partner asked me if I was interested, I did panic a little. It was outside my comfort zone – I had just completed my grad contract and my CTA exams, had started to feel I had my place on the team, and the secondment seemed very daunting.

However, it was a great opportunity – to see what industry was like (with the security of my job in practice), to be challenged, to have more responsibility. So, I took the 4-month secondment with the client.

Working there really helped me develop as a tax adviser and has allowed me to connect with clients on a different level; understanding their pain points, relating to difficulties, and now I can help them through issues with the experience of being in their shoes.

Did your three years on the CTA programme help when you were on secondment?

It definitely did. Knowing I was resilient enough to get through three years of tough exams while working helped massively. When I look back, becoming a qualified CTA is fantastic and one of my biggest achievements. Completing the programme gives you a sense of belief in yourself.

The approach of the CTA programme, using real life scenarios and breaking them down, did help too. Knowing that for the bigger decisions, I had the ability to break it down into smaller bits and tackle each part was a great help.

And would you recommend a career in tax to someone?

Absolutely. It’s challenging but you get involved in extremely interesting projects. You’re the adviser that clients go to in their time of need. You know, tax comes into so many aspects of business and is a big player in decision making. And when you’re involved, guiding and assisting your client through some of the biggest decisions they will make, you feel the accomplishment at the end.

Learn more about other Chartered Tax Advisers