I joined Grant Thornton (GT) in 2022 with over 20 years tax experience – a long time! My route into a career in tax was quite traditional – studied Commerce in University of Galway and started as a trainee in a Big 4 firm. After my trainee contract ended, I moved to a large law firm then into industry where I worked for 12 years as tax director in a US multinational. So although I’ve always worked in tax, the roles have been quite different.
I would suggest that if anyone says they ‘always wanted to work in tax,’ they are probably lying! I kind of fell into tax via the milkround (now often referred to as the Graduate Programme). The interviewer, a partner at the time, asked me if I preferred audit or tax - and to be honest, I hadn’t even thought about it. So having had an interesting tax lecture earlier that day, and for that reason alone, I said tax and the rest is history!
The beauty of a career in tax is the variety of people needed to create a strong tax team. The mixture of skills allows us to provide the best advice and solutions to our clients. For example, there are those that:
- absolutely love the technical aspects of tax – getting into the detail of the Taxes Consolidation Act (TCA), looking out for updates and guidelines, and writing opinions.
- yes, need to have the technical understanding but are more interested in building relationships and giving that practical support to clients.
I’m certainly in the latter camp. This is partly driven from my long stint in industry but quite honestly, I enjoy the social aspect more than spending my time on TaxFind!
A career in tax can be incredibly varied. There is quite a difference working in practice versus industry. A lot of people are keen to move to industry if they start in practice – away from timesheets, hierarchy, and the constant deadlines. Many were surprised that I wanted to make the move back into practice.
Don’t get me wrong, I have no love for timesheets and quite honestly, I think it is a more stressful role in practice – but a lot of my previous role was quite stand alone in nature. Although there were multiple acquisitions and interesting projects, you also needed to spend considerable time on compliance and reporting elements. It was a valuable experience, but something was missing.
I was keen to work with and have more influence on individuals – I know how important the people around you are early on in your career. I also wanted to increase the variety of the work that I do, collaborating with many different clients. It’s only been a year, but I certainly don’t regret the move – and I have to say the partners here in GT have been extremely supportive, recognising what my skill set, gained from industry, can offer to the firm.
There have been great strides made by the large professional firms to modernise their work practices. I knew early on that working in the large firm was not for me. The structure was very hierarchal; I felt like a number. Moving to the law firm, I saw first-hand the benefit of a flat structure and got to work across all tax heads, an experience I value to this day.
Returning to a large professional firm, I can see the move to a flatter structure across the sector which is positive progress. Strides are also being made through flexible working arrangements, diversity and inclusion initiatives, and the recognition that graduates outside of business/finance can make good advisers.
In GT, we regularly interview graduates from different background, for example arts, legal, ag science. You learn so much on the job and through the CTA programme that you don’t need those “traditional” backgrounds. And because the structure is much flatter, you get to collaborate with people who have different skill sets and experience levels to you. These changes are really beneficial to you, the firm and our clients.
Anyone with a senior role in practice will have a challenge maintaining work/life balance – and not just during the traditional busy deadline periods but generally. So, you have to accept that as a starting point. The good news is I do think firms are changing, as I said before, away from the traditional ‘live to work’ expectations.
For me, having flexibility to work from home on certain days is crucial. It takes away a huge amount of stress and pressure trying to fit in certain family responsibilities. In reality, the flexibility works both ways. If you’re accommodated on either flexible working or time, then you are happier to work additional hours if and when needed. So, it’s a win-win.
It’s been a while since I completed the CTA programme, but the beauty of doing it as early as possible is that a significant amount of what you cover is immediately relevant to your job. That might not always be the case for tax professionals who complete other accountancy/finance qualifications, where certain subjects might not have any real relevance to what you do daily. And the truth is, you do end up regularly opening your TCA, no matter how long you are working in tax, and you learn the referencing and legislation skills through your time on the CTA course.