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Jay Sky

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Jay Sky

Senior Consultant - In-House Tax

I specialise in finding qualified tax professionals at the ‘newly-qualified’ to ‘Head of’ level for in-house opportunities within the financial services sector.

 

With Pro-Tax, I have tapped into a vast network of professionals within this space, from global banking groups and insurance companies, through to smaller organisations in traditional and alternative investments. I’m also a Work Psychologist by background, and so can offer psychometric testing services for key hires.

 

Outside of work I’m keen on martial arts, yoga and meditation. I’m also not-so-secretly a bit of a science geek and a fan of inspirational quotes.

jay's latest roles

  • Tax Manager, In-House Asset Management

    £70000 - £80000 per annum + + bonuses, flexibility and benefits

    Tax Manager, In-House Asset Management Central London £70,000-£80,000 + benefits and flexible working available Are you ACA/CTA qualified with demonstrable experiences in tax accounting? Seeking a broader, o...

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  • In-House Tax Manager, Real Estate/Pro...

    £70000 - £80000 per annum + + flexibility, bonuses and benefits

    In-House Tax Manager, Real Estate/Property Central London - flexible working encouraged £70,000 - £80,000 + 20% bonuses & benefits Are you ACA/CTA qualified with demonstrable post-qualified experience in Rea...

    Read more...
  • US Product Tax Manager

    £90000 - £110000 per annum + + bonuses & benefits

    US Product Tax Manager - Private Equity In-House Central London £90,000-£110,000 + bonuses & benefits Are you ACA/CTA/EA qualified with demonstrable experience in US taxes? Do you enjoy investment modelling ...

    Read more...
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jay's articles

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How Will Your Boss Try to Keep You?

Posted by Jay Sky

It might seem counterintuitive to think about your resignation or exit interview at the very start of your job search. However, failing to know what might be done to try and keep you can cause issues later down the line and adversely take from your relations, time and even obscure your ability to make an informed decision upon receiving a counteroffer. A recent example of a counteroffer situation. What went wrong? How could problems be avoided from the start? The bottom line. Let's use a recent example of a counteroffer situation for a valued Tax Manager (in-house): Over the last month, Joe has undergone a 4-stage process. Joe’s Head of Tax has allowed him to have several half-days for ‘dentist appointments’, ‘airport trips’ and the like. It paid off because excitedly, Joe accepts a great offer for a company and role which really ticks their boxes. While excited to join their new company, Joe is nervous for ‘resignation Friday’ as they have a great relationship with the Head of Tax, and Joe has no idea how it will be taken. Joe would also be keen to minimise their notice period; however, the busy season is coming up and Joe knows that without their support in what is already a small team, workload demands will be too high. Joe’s resignation catches the Head of Tax by surprise. He reacts emotionally with a near-refusal. The Head of Tax composes themselves over the weekend and then sits Joe down. He says he does not want to lose Joe and asks, “what can we do to keep you?”. Joe has a transparent and cathartic discussion, venting what made them look elsewhere. The Head of Tax thanks Joe for the insight, and with a laugh of relief says he had no idea these problems existed. The Head of Tax assures Joe that now out in the open, all the highlighted issues can be fixed. However, he can’t put together a counteroffer or new job description overnight, so asks Joe to delay their resignation by just a week or two. Joe explains that this is not possible, as the countdown needs to begin for their (already 3-month) notice period and their new employer cannot wait any longer. Four weeks later, the Head of Tax comes back to Joe with one hell of a counteroffer. He has sponsored Joe to the C-Suite and upped their base salary by £30,000. He promises to gradually redefine Joe’s responsibilities over the next year and get them involved in new projects to tee Joe into the Head of Tax role. Moreover, the Head of Tax promises to be more attentive in the future to address such issues right away. At this point, the shiny excitement for the new company subsides and Joe struggles to even remember their original reason for leaving. Now, Joe is back to the stress of deciding between two offers once more, and everybody is looking to him for an answer. What went wrong here? Most companies do not ask “what will we need to do to keep you?” every day. Pretty much exclusively, this question is reserved for resignations or exit interviews when a counteroffer is being formed. However, asking this crucial question so late in the game raises several issues, regardless of which route Joe chooses. 1. The trust with Joe’s Head of Tax has been tarnished. If Joe decides to stay, there will likely be an almost too friendly relational strain in future. Their boss might be always smiling, happy and attentive because they’re not 100% secure that you’re going to voice issues right away or stick around in the longer term. Equally, If Joe follows their decision to leave, they need to maintain good relationships with former colleagues – ideally, this includes not needing to have deceived previous line managers! 2. Joe has wasted time. If Joe accepts the counteroffer to stay, then they have invested the month on interviews and preparations, days off and energy into a process which led nowhere. Equally, if Joe stays true to their decision to leave, they have given their boss no time for succession planning/interim support to get them through the busy season, meaning Joe will likely be held to their full notice period. 3. Joe has stakeholders depending on them, with reputations on the line. Joe has one team who is keen for them to join and one team which understands them as leaving. Joe also has two line managers who are counting on them for upcoming demands, with no backup resources in place. Additionally, Joe has a recruiter network where lengthy and in-depth conversations have taken place on why this is the right move for them. In this situation, whether Joe stays or goes, they will be letting people down. 4. The emotional involvement makes it difficult for Joe to make a clear decision. As Joe’s boss didn’t see the resignation coming, it is difficult to tell which counteroffer promises hold weight and which are fuelled by emotion/desperation for having no ‘Plan B’ in place. With an accepted offer and a tempting counteroffer on the table, whether Joe stays or goes, they will have the uncertainty when looking back and asking the question “what if…?” – a question often coupled by regret. How can we avoid all of this from the start? Here are three calls to action to manage counteroffers from the start in a way which keeps the trust with your boss, makes the most of your time, manages stakeholders and helps you make the right decision: 1. Know your RFL – and never lose sight of it. Defining your RFL. Any recruiter worth their salt will build a working relationship with your reason(s) for leaving (RFL). Your RFL will fuel your motivations for joining the next employer. Of course, it might be the case that you are not actively looking. Perhaps the thing(s) you would change about your work are not substantial enough to warrant a full-blown search elsewhere. In instances where you have been headhunted for example, you may not feel like you have a fundamental RFL. However, your interviewer will want to know what prompted you to consider a new role in the first place (which will be taken as the same). Get your RFL on paper. It might be the case that after receiving your initial headhunt call, just one aspect of the opportunity seemed interesting or shiny compared to your current role. However, after completing three rounds of company research/interviews, the differences between the roles may be sizeable enough for you to have an entire list of ‘pros and cons’ between your options. At this point, realities can become a little blurred as to why you were prompted to look externally in the first place. A good CV will briefly detail your reason for applying, so framing your RFL in relation to this could help you reflect on this later down the line. 2. Consider your counteroffer before resigning. Know what you would need to stay. It is wise to be realistic about your pull factors and what your boss would need to do to keep you. Either your boss can change what you need, or they cannot – it really is that simple. If your boss can do something to keep you, then it makes sense to pitch for the change(s) before investing in a lengthy selection process and resigning (perhaps unnecessarily). If your boss cannot remedy your RFL – ask yourself what you will lose by giving them the chance to try? It might be that your company can sponsor your case to change things in a way you did not anticipate. Get time on your side. As we can see in Joe’s case, counteroffers routinely take time to conjure. It might be that your boss does not have the power to change the structure, budget, or whatever your RFL is overnight. However, it may be the case they will stick their neck on the line to sponsor your case to their boss, the CFO and HR – which can take time. Assuming you are on a 3-month notice period, tendering an unanticipated resignation might mean you only receive a counteroffer 2 months-in. By this point, you’ll have your industry reputation on the line with external ‘Heads of’ who are looking forward to having you on board. Bite the bullet. Depending on the situation, requesting change(s) to your employment terms may seem an uncomfortable conversation to have. However, if we compare this conversation to the one you would be having if resigning without giving your boss the respect/opportunity to change things, then it becomes a walk in the park. Of course, you might not accept an offer elsewhere and so may not need to resign at all. However, by having these conversations in advance you might be able to fix the snags which had you interviewing elsewhere in the first place. Avoiding the topic of desired change(s) will not make the topic go away when resignation time comes, so best not to make excuses and bite the bullet. Take the emotion from the situation with a transparent counteroffer. Whether you believe you can be kept or not, voicing the need for change(s) will mean less surprise for your boss when resignation time finally comes. This ‘unsurprised boss’ scenario brings several advantages by fundamentally removing the emotion from the exit interview. For instance, asking for change(s) without a resignation means you can assess the capacity for change (this is the counteroffer before resigning) with greater transparency than when promises are fuelled by shock or desperation. 3. If you consider a counteroffer – consider your original RFL (not the money!) Bet on receiving a salary-based counteroffer. Overall, tax is a candidate-scarce market. Depending on your seniority level, finding the successor for your current position could cost your employer tens of thousands in search fees alone, before considering the time and resources spent on managing the interim. With these costs in mind, for your line manager not to try and tempt you into staying with an increased salary might indicate that something was not quite right in the first place. An increased salary might help the cash in your pocket – but set back your career. Providing a financial solution to a non-financial problem means that your original RFL will inevitably pop up again down the line (perhaps sooner rather than later). Let’s say for instance Joe settles for the whopping counteroffer of £30,000. After 6 months, Joe’s initial RFL will inevitably rear its ugly head once more. However, at this point, Joe’s “higher than market rate” salary will have priced them out of the market compared to other candidates at the same level. From here, Joe has the option to either enter selection processes where other candidates had seemingly progressed faster (who are cheaper), or Joe will need to take a considerable pay cut (which can raise warning flags to some employers right away). The bottom line Considering counteroffers after resignations are tendered often results in a no-win situation. Practically, however, if you’re reading this, it is likely the case that you have progressed with interviews already. My advice in either instance would be to avoid the hastiness of thinking “there’s nothing my boss could do to keep me” and be realistic about your pull factors. Biting the bullet now to have conversations with your line manager on necessary changes will save time, energy, reputation and clarity upon making an informed decision. The question you need to ask yourself if considering the counterproposition is “what will fundamentally change about my employment and how will this remedy my original reason for leaving in the future?”. Unfortunately, the bottom line is that generally, counteroffers do not work. Typically, we hear from candidates who accept a counteroffer within 3-6 months once their initial reason for leaving pops up once more. Near-exclusively, these people regret not making the move previously when they find that an increased salary/false promises left them in a less favourable position from when they started their search. For more information on this article or to discuss your recruiting needs, contact Jay Sky on 020 7269 6343 or jay.sky@pro-tax.co.uk.

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60 Seconds With: Nicole Moriarty, Tax Manager at Revolut

Posted by Jay Sky

Nicole Moriarty is Tax Manager at Revolut. Revolut launched in July 2015 with the vision of becoming a progressive financial partner and global bank. Nicole joined the company in October 2018 from Smith and Williamson, and has experience in R&D, capital allowance, VAT, UK direct tax and managing banking compliance. We spoke to Nicole and she has shared her thoughts on working for Revolut, her experiences working in an in-house tax role, advice for those looking to get into the industry, and challenges for future in-house tax professionals. So, for anyone who isn't aware: who are Revolut, what's it like working for them? So, Revolut is an E-money institution and challenger bank launched in the UK four years ago. We are an alternative to your traditional high street bank and have a strong focus on foreign exchange and crypto-currency. We offer a product and service that eliminates all of the crooks, creaks and inefficiencies that the current high street banks offer their customers at the moment. In utilizing tech, we don't have any high street presence and also allow people to be both more mobile and international. We’re all about the challenger bank mentality of giving the power back to the people. And in terms of what it’s like working for Revolut, because it's such a young company you get to see all of the products being developed from an early stage. You sit with the people who are developing the products and new offerings and get to actually impact these. For example, tomorrow I might be involved in reviewing the tax on how a new product is going to be offered to the market or advise on a contract with a new Partner. So in my role, it just makes what I do on a day to day basis more real and impactful. It's probably the most driven team I've ever worked with. Everyone is really keen to achieve their goals. People don't sit back on their heels and it means that there's a lot of collaboration so everyone just gets it done. You are currently expanding at a rate of 500% each year. What does this mean for your role, and what makes tax interesting here? Well, the first thing is that my job isn’t just about compliance. It also means that no two days are the same and the speed at which we’re expanding means that I'm also having to upscale my skills at the same time. I am expected to know the answer to a whole host of different tax issues and as we're expanding in so many different jurisdictions it creates a lot of unknown complications. So, our growth means that I'm having to learn and develop myself. And on the note of growth, you are hiring two roles beneath and one role above you as well, which is rather unusual. How has this been, and what have you learned? I'm really confident in my position at the moment, but I'm also very aware that within the next six months we are going to be operating as a bank in a vast number of jurisdictions, globally. And it's important to know where my limitations are and to bring someone in for the greater good of the team. From my perspective, having this expertise in the team will offer further risk-proofing and sound-boarding for my own development. What’s the phrase, “you don’t know what you don’t know”. The team and I need somebody to come in who knows the unknowns. What advice would you give someone who wants to be part of the team? I see a lot of people leaving practice to go into industry because they think it's going be easier, less of a challenge, or more of a relaxing ride. While this may often be true, my experience with Revolut has proven the complete opposite. So first of all, you need to be open to things outside of your job specification and to not just rely on the security of working within a box. You just really have to think outside of that box and get involved in things, maybe not even in the tax team, but in things which will eventually benefit the tax team. For example, I often help the HR Team with employee-related information because it then helps us with the employee-related returns. The advice of rolling your sleeves up and learning to get stuck in and collaborate as a team would apply just as much to a first-time mover from practice, as it would to a Group Tax Director from a really big bank. How was the transition in-house for you? The transition in-house for me has been great, and I think the relationships I have fostered in previous companies have proven very helpful in making this transition. My old colleagues at Deloitte – Kevin Cummings and Tyler O’Callaghan, for example, have been extremely helpful. Without these types of relationships in place, I would have struggled – you need to be able to trust your advisors well. How do you think the role of the in-house professional has changed over the years? I think that traditionally, the idea of the in-house tax professional was very compliance-based. And I think with the introduction of technology, businesses can obviously automise compliance with greater efficiency and with this, the in-house tax team is streamlining and becoming more advisory-focused. The second way that in-house tax has changed involves risk. Right now, tax risk is a big consideration for the board. So where previously people may have focused on being quite aggressive in their tax nature, it’s now all about how tax risk is managed in terms of policies, governance and the right frameworks. What challenges do you see on the horizon for the in-house tax professional? Well, I think the challenge is getting the experience in the right places. Moving forward, we need to ask ourselves where do the junior tax practitioners get their compliance-focused experience at the start of their career to then be able to take a step back and advise? For instance, does it make sense to go right from graduate to a transfer pricing specialist? I think this would mean a lot of grads and newly quals might step into tax without seeing hands-on the impact of changing just one number on a return. So the challenge will be a question of marrying up these skills, in light of growing tech advancements. We recently ran an interview preparation blog. What’s the first thing you personally notice about someone in an interview, and what might you be interested to read on? I’d say one of the main negatives is that candidates just do not seem to know their own experiences well enough, and also perhaps haven’t reflected on why they are applying for that particular company. As I said, the changing nature here and to an extent in any business means your role likely won’t be exactly that on your job specification every day, and you’ll need to do a little more. And to be confident that you are eager to do a little more, we need to feel that passion and enthusiasm in your reasons for really putting yourself forward for the company. I think for your blog, I’d be keen to read on what’s actually important to tax candidates when they are looking for new roles. I know what was important to me when I made the move, but that doesn’t seem commensurate with priorities for those in the market right now. Also, it would be good to get your insight on pointers on how to conduct the interviews in the best way possible – as in, what’s best practice in tax? Which role would you say you found the most challenging in your career so far? Honestly, I think I’d have to say that my experience at Smith & Williamson was perhaps the most challenging, but certainly rewarding. That's probably where I developed and grew the most prior to Revolut. I went from the Big 4 to a mid-tier firm, and it’s here where I acquired a vast array of experience for the first time for my clients. Going in as a Manager meant I was expected to know the things that you just don’t have exposure to in the Big 4. So the challenge here was a lot of independent upskilling, which made it all the more rewarding to see myself develop. When you’re advising a client with a mid-tier firm, every penny can matter to them and in this sense, they can expect much more from you. I actually think there’s a lot to be said for going into a mid-tier firm, and this can be a great introductory step into the in-house context. Where do you see your own career building? Honestly, it’s difficult to say. I've been here now for nearly a year, and it is probably the fastest year of my life. I used to plan the years in chunks of 3 – though I see the company growing so fast that I know that my responsibilities are only going to increase. Revolut is a great company because if I have a passion to get involved in anything, I can just put myself forward. The company is growing so fast that I'm growing at the same rate. For the first time, I don’t feel like I need to have a plan. How do you find your downtime? So, I do a lot of Yoga – without that, I would have cracked up some time ago. It’s important to have a hobby, passion or a side project. This way, work doesn’t become all-consuming. Even though somebody appears to have stolen my yoga mat this morning, that didn’t stop me – it’s as habitual as brushing my teeth. For more information on this article, please contact Jay Sky on 020 7269 6343 or jay.sky@pro-tax.co.uk. Back to 60 Seconds archive >>

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60 Seconds With: John Powlton, Head of Real Estate Tax at M&G Investments

Posted by Jay Sky

John Powlton is an ICAEW qualified Chartered Accountant and has an Advanced Diploma in International Taxation from the Chartered Institute of Taxation. John has over 10 years experience and joined M&G Prudential as Head of Real Estate Tax in July 2018, and is responsible for tax in relation to M&G's real estate activities worldwide. What’s good about working for M&G? M&G Real Estate is one of the largest real estate fund managers in the UK. Increasingly very global, it's an exciting place to work and very dynamic. We invest across all asset classes and that keeps it really interesting – you don’t know what’s coming next! Perhaps our biggest strength is our team, we have really good bunch of people, including a great tax team. Our team has very varied backgrounds and we work together in a way which is very supportive. It’s helpful to have good team support to draw on in an area as complex as tax. Some of our readers will be looking at M&G Prudential as a prospective applicant. What kind of person fits into the team? A person who is willing to get stuck in to work which may be new to them and out of their comfort zone. We have a wide range of responsibilities here as a result of the diverse portfolio and lots of changes in tax law over recent years and an array of structures and jurisdictions to work on. So enthusiasm rather than detailed knowledge of every tax issue in the world is perhaps the most important thing. To work here, you need to really enjoy being part of the team and show interest in both the business and where you think real estate as an asset class, and the taxation of real estate, is going. We don’t expect everyone to know everything about the topic, but we do expect them to have done some homework and show enthusiasm to get involved. What’s the first thing you notice about an interviewee? Genuine interest and enthusiasm are the first two characteristics I look for. You want people to show a real interest in the topic of real estate and the associated tax issues, be they international, domestic, transfer pricing or anything else. If you’re passionate about your topic, it just shines through when you speak about it. So what I look for first and foremost is enthusiasm and interest. As a business, where are M&G Prudential at currently? So about 18 months ago Prudential Plc announced that M&G Prudential was demerging and would be re-listing as an independent, standalone entity. This makes it a really exciting time for the business as it focuses on the core strengths of the M&G Prudential group, of which M&G Real Estate is a part. There are lots of changes in the business presently as it prepares for life as an independent business – plenty of the associated work is being done in-house, which makes this a very interesting time to be with the business. What do you see as the key issues in the real estate industry at the moment? The real estate investment industry is continuously subject to change as a result of wider socio-economic, demographic, environmental and other changes in society and it continues to evolve. An interesting aspect of the work we do in the Real Estate tax team is that we see the results of those changes in the assets we invest in and the nature of the funds being launched. Key issues include the influence of climate change on building design, the rise in online shopping and the consequent impact on demand for retail/logistics properties as well as the increasing prevalence of ‘agile’ working and what that means for demand for office space. How was the move from practice for you? I really enjoyed it. When you’re in-house the breadth of what you get involved in typically is a lot wider than when you're in practice. Pretty much anything with the word tax involved can come across your desk in-house – plus a lot more! When you’re in a practice environment, you typically have a more structured career path and you tend to specialize more and more in just one area as you get more senior. In-house you can get involved in all kinds of different things and learn a lot about the commercial aspects of a business and I really enjoyed that part when I made the move. Like many, I’ll say that it’s certainly challenging making that first-step when there’s not the framework of the practice environment around you. When something comes up in-house, you need to just roll up your sleeves and get stuck in. And you obviously have international practice experience also, between Luxembourg and Qatar. So your experience is a little different in this sense – what did you learn from these international movements? I loved working internationally and I would recommend it to anyone. It’s a bit of a shock to the system when you first land, because you find a degree of both personal and corporate culture shock, but you also learn pretty quickly how to adapt your style and to get things done. You learn a lot about how business is done in different countries and you need to stay open-minded and not get frustrated when things don’t work exactly in the way they would back home! Personally, we had a great time living and working overseas and made great friends and saw some fantastic places – coming home after almost 9 years was almost as much of a shock as leaving! Do you think that moving internationally helped you become more adaptable today? Yes, I think having gone through those personal and corporate adjustments may have helped in becoming more adaptable. There was certainly a fear that being outside of the UK might make it difficult to come home again, given that taxes are nationally specific and specialised. However, certainly in my current role which means I deal with lots of international matters it has helped me significantly in terms of trying to anticipate where and how issues may arise. What attracted you to the real estate space? The reason I like working in real estate is that it’s so tangible. I find it difficult to relate to abstract financial investments, but with real estate it’s instantly relatable as we all work, live, shop and socialise in and around buildings. So we can all understand what makes a good shopping centre for instance. I enjoy that because we facilitate the investment and divestment of assets that we can all relate to. How do you think the perception of the in-house tax professional has changed over the years? Increasingly the in-house tax professional has to be very closely aligned to the business they're advising – it is no longer sufficient just to be knowledgeable about technical tax. Tax has got so much more complex and so much more embedded both in business process and in investment decisions and consequently if the tax function is not embedded with the commercial team then one day or another you'll discover significant tax issues have been springing up and dealing with them after they’ve arisen is always more difficult! So, hopefully, the perception is that in-house tax can be a business enabler, risk manager and is an essential function to be included in the commercial processes rather than being simply a technical tax reference resource in the corner of the office. On this note, what do you think the next generation of tax professionals face? The next generation has to ensure that they adapt as the world of tax continues to change very quickly and it is increasingly a story of digitalisation and systemization. The future tax professional has to understand that change and be ready to embrace that change. Advice will continue to be very important, of course, but increasingly, understanding how our advice turns into business processes to ensure compliance and reporting obligations are met is fundamental. So every tax adviser now should also be focussing on the need to diversify their understanding away from solely a technical tax remit, learning about systems and business processes and ensuring they know how to partner with varied stakeholders across their business. What do you do to unwind? Realising my arrival into early middle-age I started long-distance running a couple of years ago so have completed a number of half marathons and two marathons in the last 3 years. I also try to play (and generally lose!) at squash once a week or so. We’re writing a blog series on candidate and client-led topics. What might you be interested to hear about from us? Well perhaps about the perceptions of the profession itself, in particular amongst graduates and school-leavers entering the workforce. The public perception and the profile of tax has changed massively over the course of my career and it would be interesting to see what people perceive about a potential career in tax and the skillset required to be successful. Is there any advice that you'd give to your younger self, at the start of your career? Don’t be afraid to ask the ‘stupid questions’ – I have learned over time that it is by far the best way to truly learn about a topic! For more information on this article, contact Jay on 020 7269 6343 or jay.sky@pro-tax.co.uk. Back to 60 Seconds archive >>

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Newly qualified CTA's: 5 Tips to Improve Your Job Search

Posted by Jay Sky

So, you’ve passed your CTA – congratulations! Whether it’s today, tomorrow or any working day onwards, at some point we’ll likely be speaking about your current role, developmental goals and career aspirations. But from the newly qualified to the Head of Tax level, new challenges continually present themselves, not only in the nature of the role undertaken, but also in your efforts to get to the next step. So now you’ve got the CTA under your belt, here are my top tips to help direct your search and steer-clear of the common shortfalls. 1 - Identify The Breadth Of Skills Needed For In-House Tax 2 - Consider The Best Time To Move In-House 3 - Timing: Plan Your Job Search And Start Date 4 - Don’t Focus Too Much On The CTA In-House Starting Salary 5 - Stay On Good Terms With Your Contacts In Practice 1 - Identify The Breadth Of Skills Needed For In-House Tax As covered by various senior figures in our “60 seconds with…” series, an increasing challenge for the in-house tax professional involves diversifying their taxation remit and upskilling with business-specific systems to partner more effectively with the business. Though factors such as the industry and team size you sit in will influence the areas you can get involved in, you just can’t go far wrong by pushing yourself to learn more. An interesting insight shared in a “60 seconds with…” (to be published in our next newsletter) explains that in light of increasing digitisation, AI tech, and automation, a challenge for the in-house tax consultant of tomorrow is to understand compliance & returns well enough to be able to advise adequately. The breadth of skills you can bring to the table should especially be a consideration for those considering a move in-house from large professional practices. In a Big 4 corporate tax team for instance, your tax area will likely be specialised, but also rather narrow and siloed from other areas of tax. The balancing trick (and a challenge facing the future of the in-house tax professional), is to make the most of your specialism, while keeping your CV fluid enough to appeal to smaller teams and get involved in multiple areas of tax. Bottom line: the importance of seeking a breadth of taxation skill, while staying true to your specialism and learning to partner with various business functions cannot be understated. 2 - Consider The Best Time To Move In-House Tax is a candidate-scarce market at the junior level – capitalise upon this opportunity while you can. With in-house searches, our clients looking for a Manager from the Big 4 are often flexible to seriously consider an Assistant Manager, for the exact same post. The reason for this comes down to candidate-scarcity. There is a real shortage of newly qualified CTAs/ACAs. If you’re set on making the move in-house at some point, the candidate-scarcity at this level provides you with a real opportunity to make a noticeable progression-jump, while still having the same developmental support and guidance systems in place for making that first transition in-house. Making the first step in-house becomes much more difficult at the Senior Manager level upwards, for three interdependent reasons: - The pyramid hierarchy of most companies dictate less positions exist. - There are considerably more senior-level applicants than those at the more junior level. ​ - At the senior level, those already with in-house experience are invariably favoured. Bottom line: If your heart lies with the move in-house, stay in practice long enough to get what you need from it, but not long enough to get too comfortable. You will have much more options ran past you at the Assistant Manager/Manager level, rather than at the Senior Manager/Director level, with the latter serving as a bottleneck for those who ultimately never make the move. If you get to Senior Manager level, ideally you will need lengthy and varied secondment experience under your belt prior to looking to move in house. 3 - Timing: Plan Your Job Search And Start Date The time when you decide to actually start looking at options in-house has a heavily understated influence on career progression. For the person who hasn’t planned ahead, the cues which prompt them into feeling ‘ready to look’ coincide with the markers they are actually ‘ready to move’. Here are the time-based factors which are overlooked: - The time of year. Things quieten down particularly in the holiday seasons. Are you confident that choosing to look in the summer, winter or Easter holidays will lead you to having enough options to look through? It might be the case you are on the market for a month before you find something suitable to even apply for. - The time spent on an interview process (or several processes). At the newly qualified level, we’ve placed candidates within a week, a fortnight and sometimes it can take a month or more, depending on the time of year and the process in question. - The length of your notice period. Surprisingly, this is the big one which nobody seems to plan ahead for. If you’re making the first move from practice and your notice period is project-status dependent, it might be the case that you’re able to negotiate your notice period way down a little – but be ready for this. Together, you might be looking at around a 4-6-month gap from the point when you are ‘ready to look’ versus ready to ‘move’. Imagine you move just three times in the next 10 years, and each time fail to start looking 4-6-month months prior to when you feel ready to move. If in 10 years you are applying at the Head of Tax level, you’ll likely be competing with a seemingly super-progressive candidate who have managed to progress through the ranks two years faster, due to no more merit than career planning alone. Bottom line: Distinguish between ‘ready to look’ and ‘ready to move’, and plan for those delay months well in advance. Know the shelf-life for your role, and then minus your notice period from your time spent ‘looking’, alongside the time you anticipate needing to find the right role and progress through processes. 4 - Don’t Focus Too Much On The CTA In-House Starting Salary Money will advance the cash in your pocket for today – but not necessarily your career for tomorrow. Becoming a newly qualified CTA opens career doors, and it’s an exciting time to see the options available to you jump in salary banding. Take this bluntly from a recruiter: I am rewarded as a proportion of your remuneration, and so it wouldn’t make sense for me to advise that you settle for anything less than the market rate. But even in the financial services markets (where the remuneration is usually higher than other in-house roles), too many just fall into the honeytrap of prioritising monetary gain in the short-term, and often at the cost of longer-term limitations. Negotiating a high salary at the newly qualified level might not help your incremental gains later. We’re in an age of gender pay-gap disputes and equality acts, and so there is a decreasing emphasis incremental pay-raises (e.g. the old-fashioned thinking of 10% salary increases). The reasoning here is that basing new salaries on the old simply exacerbates existing pay inequalities (watch this space). The times are moving, and salaries are now becoming increasingly based on market-demand for the candidate skillset offering (and rightly so). In 10 years time, when you are applying at the Head of Tax level (where the salaries can really jump up) – you won’t be chosen because of your sky-high financial requirement. You’ll be chosen for your business-case offering and what skills you can bring to the table. Bottom-line: speak to a recruiter you trust about the market-rate salary and know your bottom-line number for the right opportunity. From that starting point, try to prioritise everything non-salary related. If the role, company and career-route is right for you, the money will follow. 5 - Stay On Good Terms With Your Contacts In Practice Life is a village… and in London, Financial Services tax is a very small village indeed Tax is an incredibly small market and your effort to be nice to people should be twofold. Firstly, when you make the move in-house, make an active effort to stay on good terms with your contacts in practice. I’ve hired for some truly impressive heads of tax and have been repeatedly surprised to observe the differences in their ‘recruitability’, based on nothing other than reputation and contacts in practice. While one Global Head of Tax struggled to onboard anyone because they had a reputation for overworking their external advisors, the other would have a heap of support. I’m talking (free) Big 4 workshops, invites to key speaker events, ‘Heads of’ social gatherings and active contacts sending them transfer pricing juniors who were not looking, but came attached with glowing recommendations. Second, be nice to those pesky recruiters who buzz your phone to the point of combustion. Yes, while it might get irritating being hit-up repeatedly by those who would like to greet your shiny new CTA qualification with the job specification you’ve seen umpteen times, make the effort to be nice. When we headhunt seniors at the Head of Tax level, they are always friendly – in part because they don’t get called with options all-too-often. In the recruitment industry, the turnover of staff is very high, and the likelihood is that 99.9% of the recruiters you speak to won’t be in this market in 10 years. However, it will be the .01% who really matter. It will be this recruiter who remembers names from past conversations the best, knows your entire network and will have an abundance of ‘Heads of’ contacts who they can choose to approach or not. It will be this recruiter who the CFO asks for their opinion on your candidacy and standing. Bottom line: honour your commitments made to your network and be careful to protect your reputation. Your name in the industry says more than what you could write on a CV or job spec. For further advice about your job search in financial services tax, or if looking to make a move in-house, contact Jay Sky, Pro-Tax’s financial services recruitment specialist at jay.sky@pro-tax.co.uk or call 020 7269 6343

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How to Prepare for Every Interview and Common Mistakes to Avoid

Posted by Jay Sky

Interviews are far from perfect. Whether you are a graduate, newly qualified or a Head of Tax, the interview will likely consist of around 45-90 minutes of unstructured conversation, which leaves plenty of room for impression-management, memory bias and simply ‘screwing up’ what should have been said. There are answers you should prepare, questions you should be asking, and common mistakes you should avoid, which will be explored in this article. No doubt you will have researched the company in-depth, mind-mapped the fit between your CV and the role and potentially even gone through earlier rounds of interviews and survived the psychometric testing. Despite many candidates preparing what can seem like heaps of company research and technical revisions, unstructured interviews are generally a relaxed approach to exploring candidates’ fundamental interest and competence. Reflections on personal interests and competencies are amongst both the most basic and forgotten aspects of preparation, at all levels from the newly qualified to the Heads of Tax searches. The aim is not to rehearse answers to the effect of becoming robotic or scripted. Rather, it is important to evaluate your own motivations and skill-set as a business-case offering and reflect on how this can be illustrated to a decision-maker in perhaps just one hour. Interest-based questions Quite simply, an interest-based question is one which probes your motivations for leaving/applying. The recommendation is to bullet-point 5 features of interest, from your research of the company and specification, to each of the following questions: 1. Why are you leaving? 2. Why this company? 3. Why this role? Mistake #1 – answering a different question When taking interview feedback from clients, it is often surprising to see how many candidates have answered a completely different question when running through these fundamental considerations. Or at least, surprising to see how many candidates have digressed, or mixed two (or more) questions together in a way which leave the interviewer with real uncertainty over the original query. For instance, "why this company?" is too often taken for "why this role?" (very distinct), before really digressing into reasons for leaving (when not asked). Mistake #2 – demonstrability and memorability It is not uncommon that candidates' interests in applying are rather similar. Imagine you’re interviewing 4-5 candidates, back-to-back, and all interviewees list the same features of interest here. How do you filter out those which seem the most genuine, and more pressing, how do you remember who said what, if all reasons are near-identical? Though the reasons for applying within the competition pool may be practically the same, usually one person’s answers just stand out. In these cases, their interests are often articulated in a way which just ‘sticks’ as both demonstrable and memorable, to the extent there’s no need for the interviewer to revert and check their notes. The solution: Reflect on your BFFs, in advance You can reflect on what from your Background leads you to this Feature of interest (in the company/role), and how this relates to your and Future intentions (BFF). Contextualising the answer with a past sentiment and forward-looking goal in this way anchors your reasons as both demonstrable and memorable, relative to just listing the same features of interest as your competition pool. The suggestion is not to launch 5-10 BFF’s at your interviewer in one go. Rather, the aim is to concisely deliver those Features of interest (elaborating where appropriate), while being ready for the follow-up question of “why is this aspect interesting?”. Competency-based questions A competency-based question is one which asks for behavioural descriptions in a given scenario, intended to probe a specific capability. For instance, “tell me about a time when you showed ‘x’…” (past-orientation), or “tell me what you would do if ‘y’…” (future-orientation). The questions below are not technically competency-based, but often determine those which follow. Here, the recommendation is to list 5 answers to each of the following questions, once having examined the job specification. 1. What are your strengths (why hire you for this)? 2. What are your weaknesses (why not hire you for this)? Mistake #3 – the questions candidates set themselves up for Often, it’s not the format of the follow-up (competency-based) questions which are difficult, but the capability which the candidate has pitched themselves against. For instance, if an answer is “I am self-motivated/a hard-worker", the only follow-up competency-based question foreseeable is “tell me about a time when you showed self-motivation/hard work?”. Would the person asking, or answering this question look more ridiculous? The likelihood is that if a time-bound, specific follow-up example cannot be provided, your reason is neither sufficiently demonstrable nor memorable beyond that already achieved by a CV. The solution: Set your answer up as a STAR For every response you provide, you need to be ready for the follow-up question, “tell me about a time when you have shown this”. This follow-up question is asking for a specific example of behavioural patterns you have shown (or would show) in a given situation, and not descriptions of your general responsibilities. The go-to structure to handle competency-based questions effectively is the STAR format. This consists of a specific Situation you were in, a Task you were faced with, the behavioural Actions ‘you’ (not ‘we’) took, and the Results you achieved. The STAR format can also apply for future-bound competency-based questions. In these instances, STAR can be adapted by contextualising the answer with a hypothetical situation and task, before running through anticipated actions and results. Whereas most candidates would simply list the actions they would take, ‘setting the scene’ of your actions in this way can help orient your own thinking and communicate your actions to the interviewer more tangibly. Mistake #4 – impression-management, rather than honesty While this question is often seen as horribly cliché and perhaps a little uncomfortable to answer openly, no selection process is complete without this being considered in some way. We all have developmental areas, and ostensibly, both parties would rather be aware of these from the start, rather than when expectations are falling short, 3-6 months in. So, think carefully prior to falling into the trap of framing disguise a strength as a weakness (e.g. “I’m a bit too much of a perfectionist”). The solution: reflect on as many weaknesses as possible Thinking about where your strengths may fall short against the job specification and what you are doing to address this gap will leave you in good stead to manage the topic of developmental areas when they arise. Asking this question back (e.g. “where might you see my developmental areas in relation to this role?”) is also a great follow-up question to openly address any potential reservations. Summary Overall, these questions are a little cliche, but for good reason - they are essential for both the interviewer and interviewee to ask, especially in a selection process which is largely unstructured. If after a discussion with your recruiter, you just can’t list at least one key answer to any of these questions – really consider if this opportunity is worth interviewing for at all! Some of the most common mistakes in preparing for unstructured interviews revolve around these basic reflections made (or more often not made) in advance, which impact on the demonstrability and memorability of answers for these fundamental questions, and the followups. Looking for help with interview preparations? Contact Jay on 020 7269 6343 or jay.sky@pro-tax.co.uk.

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60 Seconds With: Matthew Rees, Group Head of Indirect Taxes at Schroders

Posted by Jay Sky

Matthew Rees is the Group Head of Indirect Taxes with the FTSE100 asset manager, Schroders. A bright Oxford graduate, Matthew started his impressive career to date with PwC, where he trained for his CTA and progressed through the ranks in VAT for financial services businesses, all the way up to Head of Investment Management VAT prior to his current role. We sat with Matt to ask on key areas where someone of his standing may be able to offer career-insight, between experiences in practice and in-house, and what advice he might be able to provide – to himself and the next generation of tax professionals. How are things at Schroders? Schroders is a really pleasant place to work, and I don’t use the term ‘pleasant’ lightly. As you know, a significant portion of the shares remain owned by the Schroder family, which I think keeps a family-feel to the office – it’s a very collegiate environment. The culture totally revolves around treating staff well, and this is reflected in the tenures of those employed. Some of my colleagues have been at Schroders for 12, 15 and even 18 years, which speaks volumes. You made the transition in-house at a fairly senior level. How was the adjustment and what challenges did you face? I think the transition was both insightful and challenging. The good news is that I had progressed to a fairly senior level within PwC and had worked in a number of different teams. Through these various roles and rotations, I had developed decent soft skills, such as team management, which were largely transferrable to the in-house context. But the key transition is getting your head fully around the responsibility involved in-house, in terms of end-to-end process ownership and stakeholder management. It isn’t the easiest process but if you keep at it, the effort and hard work will definitely pay off. With these challenges in mind, what practical advice would you give to yourself if you could, when tackling these transition challenges previously? Great question. Practically, when making the first step from practice to in-house you simply must remain open-minded. You really don’t know what it will be like – closer to the lines of business and responsible for full delivery of projects – until you’re there. At the same time, it’s fundamentally important to keep hold of what you’ve learned in practice. Keeping fresh with the technical matters you’ve faced previously puts you in a good position to have ‘quick wins’ when in-house and this is where you have the opportunity to add value and build a profile. On a wider note, as I’ve developed in my role at Schroders, I’ve found it very helpful being a member of sector bodies: e.g. the EFAMA and IA VAT committees. I say this on three accounts; firstly, it’s good to give something back; secondly, it’s important to retain a network of peers with which you can share experiences, challenges and opportunities; and finally it requires you to keep your technical skill levels up – I enjoy the learning that comes, for instance, from delivering presentations on key topics to these groups. You have an impressive career to date and have progressed quickly amid this hyper-competitive climate. What do you do for downtime? I’d say the first thing that comes to mind is that the work-life balance in-house is significantly better than that you’ll find in the Big 4. And so this transition in itself allowed me to refocus my energy where it was most effective, once I’d got my head around the remit of responsibilities. I’ll never forget a mantra made by an ex-colleague at PwC – “nobody ever died from a lack of tax advice”. Your work needs to be engaging, but not all-consuming. Beyond this, sports have always been a huge passion and big outlet of mine – cricket, rugby or anything you can watch or play really. Also, my wife and I are big on travelling. I’m not a ‘by the beach’, relaxation type of character – being quite high energy means that even on holiday I’m out exploring and learning or trying to sneak out to watch a local match! What are your guilty pleasures? Love Island. Strictly Come Dancing. Made in Chelsea. A few members of the team are always first in the door, and I’ll admit during the peak TV season our early morning conversations could be a little more VAT focused. How would your team describe you? I’d like to think they’d describe me as a smart guy who doesn’t take himself too seriously but treats everyone honestly and fairly. What challenges, personally or professionally, do you think the next generation of VAT professionals face and what advice might you give? I remain amazed at the hyper-competitive nature of the world right now. I look back at the graduate interviews I used to host at PwC, and I was consistently astounded at the quality of candidates who walked through the door. The range of qualifications, grades, knowledge and abilities acquired at a very junior stage in their career was as humbling as it was impressive. It’s a bit of an arms race today in career advancement; you just need to keep at it and stay true to what you want to do. On this note, I’d equally suggest not being too narrow with aspirations – I look back to how focused I was at university on getting top grades and playing rugby and there were perhaps a lot more experiences I could have gained if I’d been a little more relaxed. We’re doing a blog series currently on interview preparation, drawing on the common shortfalls and practical advice. Where do you see candidates falling short in interviews, and what advice would you give here? As you know, we are lucky enough to have very good applicants at Schroders, which makes the interview process much easier. Beyond this, I note that 75%+ of the candidates I have seen have the skills to do the job, so when it gets to the interview stage, it really comes down to displaying a personality and seeing where you best fit in. There is obviously some basic homework that everyone should undertake in preparation for interview – Google is your friend – but the key message I would have it to be yourself and try to make a personal connection with the interviewer. After all, you are going to be spending a lot of your life with your colleagues! For more information about this article, or to speak to Jay about your recruiting needs or In-House Tax opportunities in London or Nationwide, contact him on 02072696343 or jay.sky@pro-tax.co.uk. Back to 60 Seconds archive >>

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The One Question You Should Be Asking In Every Interview

Posted by Jay Sky

You have navigated your way through all the interview preparation, from researching the company at-depth and mind-mapping the fit between your CV and this role. You have gone through three rounds of interviews and survived the psychometric testing. You have answered the competency-based questions in STAR format, and unless you are tested on your ability to perform handstands, this should be the end of the process – when you are asked for any final questions you may have. This is perhaps the last opportunity you will have to 'sell' yourself before an offer is made (or not). So, what questions can you ask your interviewer to really sell your business case offering? If we put the genuine ‘need-to-know’ questions aside, the typical questions asked by candidates are often intended to demonstrate an invested interest in the opportunity. The potential problem is that remarkable interest after ‘talking up’ your positives in the interview is not a 360 approach to selling yourself. “Telling is not selling. Only asking questions is selling.” – Brian Tracy A decent framework for asking questions in interviews is the ‘4 Cs’: Connect Your chance to build rapport, prior to going for the tailored questions. For instance, ‘what made you join, and how have you found it?’ Culture Your chance to bridge any distance between the person-company fit. For instance, ‘what kind of person would you see as really fitting into this team well?’ Challenges Your chance to bridge distances between the person-role fit from a corporate perspective. For instance, ‘what challenges are coming up, and how can my role contribute to these?’ Close Your chance to seal the deal – determining what more might be required from your candidacy, prior to proceeding with next steps in the process. Central point: this may be the last opportunity you have to manage any reservations your interviewer may have. Why focus on reservations? No candidate can ever be ‘perfect’. If a prospective employee can do anything and everything on the specification (blindfolded) – what would this person find interesting about the role? How will the employer know this ‘perfect candidate’ will not simply get bored and move on elsewhere after 3-6 months Some candidate developmental areas/challenges are desirable, without the gap between current capabilities and required standards being too vast to bridge. So the question to ask centers on what could prevent you from moving forward in the process, which you can elicit in the room to sell yourself against. This phrasing might take varied forms: Where might you see my developmental areas in relation to this role? No candidate can be totally perfect. What potential weaknesses do you think I might have for this role that we can use this opportunity to address, rather than 3 months in? Based on what you know about so far – what more might you need to hear from a candidate to think they are right for the role? Some people will see an inherent negative phrasing around this question and cringe a little about the idea of asking anything which could frame their offering as anything less than perfect. But this negative phrasing is the very reason you should be asking the question – it is much easier for you bring up the topic than it is for your prospective employer/employee to seem like they are shooting you down. On both sides, you would presumably rather be aware of any developmental areas from the start, rather than 3 months in when expectations fall short. A lot of the time, interviewers are not asking "what are your weaknesses?" just to probe on developmental areas, your degree of humility, or just for the cliché. Much of the time, the interviewer will hold a nagging reservation they would like to talk about. The “what are your weaknesses” question is thus an opportunity to raise a developmental area which may be somewhat awkward for the interviewer to pose outright. On both sides, the ‘weaknesses’ question is your chance to lay all cards out on the table. If you are successful in eliciting a reservation, then great work. This is a discussion you should prepare for. Sit down before the interview, and list any and every possible reservation the interviewer may hold about your candidacy against this role. Start with your developmental areas against the specification, and then extend your thinking on to general weaknesses. This exercise of 'bullet-proofing' has the advantage of preparing you for any curve-ball conversations which arise and bolstering your confidence that you will be able to cover any ground. If no reservations are shared, then it means either you have not covered the necessary ground (or rapport), or there is simply nothing preventing you from receiving an offer. For more information about this article, or to speak to Jay about your recruiting needs or Tax jobs in London or Nationwide, contact him on 02072696343 or email jay.sky@pro-tax.co.uk.

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