After my recent realization that I need to get a job, I contacted Tax Grotto editor Chris Bale to see if he'd be willing to answer a few questions about the current tax job market. In addition to chronicling "Movers & Shakers in the Global Tax Market" on Tax Grotto, Chris is CEO of eTaxJobs and is involved in other websites such as TaxationWeb.co.uk andtaxbookshop.com, so I figured he'd be the perfect person to ask about how to position myself for getting a foot in the door at a tax firm. I sent Chris a quick note asking if he'd be willing to answer a few questions to be posted here, and to my delight and amazement he promptly replied that he'd be happy to help.
The questions that I put to Chris appear below in bold with his answers following:
1. I see that some of your websites --taxgrotto.com, etaxjobs.com and totallytax.com -- pertain to tax professionals all over the world. To what extent is your business involved with placements in the UK and to what extent in other locales?
I am based in the UK and when eTaxJobs was first launched in 2005 it had a UK only focus. This gradually grew internationally as there is considerable cross-border movement within the tax market. Many tax legislations are based on UK tax law which allows tax professionals to get up to speed very quickly in a new country. We then found that the site was attracting domestic tax professionals looking to move locally, which led to Big 4 firms in Canada, Australia, Russia, New Zealand and other countries using eTaxJobs to attract people with local tax knowledge. eTaxJobs now has a number of country specific sites and we are very strong in Canada, Luxembourg, Australia and the Middle East. However we have never really cracked the US tax market. This is on my to-do list :)Tax Grotto has no geographical bias in terms of its outlook, but because the US and UK are by far the largest tax markets globally, they dominate the news items. I would say that the split is 40:40:20 between US, UK and rest of the world.Totally Tax is a site driven by its users and we create new categories as people demand them. The directory is still in its infancy but is growing gradually.
2. What proportion of your placements are accountants and what proportion attorneys?
I should stress that eTaxJobs is just a job board and does not get involved in the recruitment process per se. Unlike TaxTalent.com in the US we are completely indepdendent and have no association with any recruitment firm. In terms of the split, we do not have hard data on this, as we rely on feedback from our clients, but the proportion is around 80:20 accountants to lawyers.
3. What types of firms do you most often deal with? Do you work exclusively with accounting firms or have you provided placement services for law firms as well?
Yes, we work with accountancy firms and law firms and boutique tax practices. We also do a lot of work with Fortune 500 and FTSE 250 companies recruiting for in-house tax professionals. Obviously a lot of our clients are recruiters and headhunters acting for others. In Europe and Australasia there is considerable movement of tax professionals between the legal and accounting professions and the historic distinction between the two for tax advice is melting.
4. To what extent do you normally deal with entry-level positions? How are these positions usually filled by the various kinds of tax firms?
We do feature these roles on our site but I would recommend that people looking for a trainee role apply directly to tax firms. There is a lot of demand for these places and fewer opportunities than 5 years ago, so it is best to invest the time and approach every hiring contract in writing.
5. How has the current economic downturn affected recruitment at the various types of firms that do tax work?
The Big 4 and law firms have certainly been hit, almost on a global basis. The sign off for new hires has been elevated to senior partner level and every new job needs to have a definite business case justified before it can be advertised. This said, they are all still hiring but not to the extent of 2008. Exceptions to this are China and Canada where the demand for tax professionals is increasing. Firms that had a strong reliance on FS tax and M&A tax have obviously taken a hit.
6. Are there any sectors of the tax job market that have been unaffected or even improved by the current financial crisis? Are there entry-level opportunities in areas such as bankruptcy, or is that work more likely to be done by those who have been squeezed out of other tax areas?
In my view transfer pricing, international executive services (ie US personal tax), executive compensation consulting and indirect tax have been relatively unaffected by the downturn. There will always be demand for tax compliance services, good for accountants but not lawyers. Yes, you are right, one option is to look at the insolvency or bankrupty markets, but by the time you have sufficient experience to be of use to a Firm, the downturn may be over and you could well be in the wrong specialism.
7. Are there any jurisdictions that are currently (or anticipated to be) "hot" in that there is a special need for people with knowledge of that jurisdiction's tax laws?
Middle East, China and Canada are all growing their tax service lines right now.
8. Looking forward past the current recession, to what extent will there be a need for American tax attorneys to work in Europe, Asia, and elsewhere?
The key demand for US tax professionals abroad is in the field of US personal tax, ie advising wealthy US executives working as expatriates.There are also opportunities for US international tax or transfer pricing experts in the major international tax jurisdictions where there is strong M&A activity ie Switzerland, UK, Singapore, HK, China, Luxembourg and Dubai.
9. For someone with a desire to work in tax, What is a more powerful credential, an LLM in tax or CPA? Can one hope to find a job with a mere JD (American law degree)?
Tough one, as I suspect it depends on which jurisdiction you are in and what type of job you want. To do tax compliance at a Big 4 I would say CPA, but obviously an LLM would suit working in a law firm doing transactional tax. The reality is that in the long term the qualification matters less than good experience. I would keep blitzing every hiring contact and not be too fussy about where you go. Get 1 year's experience and then move on when the market improves.
10. What other skills and/or credentials (language, software, etc.) would be useful for a newly-minted tax attorney in search of a tax job?
Mandarin and French open up many opportunities internationally. Software can be learnt on the job and is constantly changing anyway.
[Note: For the next question, I sent Chris a copy of my resumé to see where I might stand in the applicant pool. It shows that I have a BS and MA in economics, have worked in consulting and finance since leaving grad school, and spent a few years up to this previous May at a large management consulting firm.]
11. Looking at my resumé, can you tell me if there is anything about my background (or lack thereof) that stands out as likely to work either in my favor or to my detriment in my search for a tax job? What normally stands out on an entry-level candidate's CV?
In your favour is your previous consulting experience. You have been client facing and have a very good consultnig firm on your cv.The fact that you have an Economics background could be used to your advantage if you focus on securing a job in transfer pricing, as this is a pre-requisite for entry. There are lots of TP boutiques out there and Baker & McKenzie have a very strong global TP team, plus obviously you can look at the Big 4 firms too.The cv stacks up in terms of strong academic institutions too. For me the question mark would be why you left [your most recent job at a large consulting company]. My guess is that it was a redundancy situation ? [Note: Actually no, I just got tired of my job and decided to find something where I'd pick up some legal experience. I imagine that I'll have to dress that story up a bit when interviewing with a potential employer.]
12. What general advice would you give to law students interested in pursuing a tax career?
Don't be too picky about your first job. Get some experience under your belt, work free of charge during vacations so that you have practical tax experience on your cv and be determined. Send out applications every day and try to cover every firm that hires tax trainees.
Well I can't thank Chris Bale enough for being so generous with his time and insight. He has certainly given me some things to explore and focus on as I move toward post law school employment. The biggest takeaways are probably the following:
1. Transfer pricing seems to have shown up a few times as something I should look into. I don't know much about it beyond a min-unit in in my international business transactions class, so I'll be sure to read up and see if it sounds like something that I'm interested in.
2. I'll worry a bit less about trying to squeeze a CPA in ASAP. Perhaps that's something to worry about after snagging the first job.
3. My French is rusty and my Mandarin is horrible but improving; it can't hurt to get a little better in both of these.
4. My background doesn't sound like an automatic deal-breaker, which is good. That's a bit of a relief.
5. Bug the hell out of tax firms until one of them relents and hires me.