Personal Tax Qualifications, how much do they weigh?

Although qualifications are a debating point all year round, recent ATT/CTA exam results have brought them to the forefront of our everyday conversations.

But how important are qualifications in today’s market?

Whilst I don’t see an argument against getting qualified, it is important to remember that everybody’s career pathway looks different and some of the best tax advisors are qualified purely by experience.

In my opinion (as an outsider), both the ATT and CTA offer an excellent grounding in tax knowledge (you may also want to include STEP in there if you specialise in trusts). It is the quickest way for someone to demonstrate they know their stuff. ..

However, context and theory is only half the battle, hands-on experience is where most of the knowledge is gained.

Take this scenario for example – An employer asks me to find them a Personal Tax Senior Manager, they are making this hire to fix a skill gap in the team. I’ll introduce them to 2 professionals. One has 10 years relevant on the job experience of complex personal taxes, but is unqualified. The other is ATT, CTA and STEP qualified with respectable, but also fairly basic experience.

It is highly likely that the experienced candidate would be this employer’s preference.

Whilst there are endless scenarios we can consider, here’s just 1 more to think about,

A hiring manager has asked that I find a Personal Tax Senior. Again, I will introduce 2 people. The first candidate has their ATT and CTA and a few years of basic tax experience. The second has 5 years of solid experience, they can review work and have worked on one or two advisory projects.

The picture becomes less clean-cut here.

This is because the employer sees that both are relatively early in their career and both will need training. Their perception might be that at this stage the qualifications will ultimately help accelerate development. They may also think that a qualified individual could justify a higher charge-out rate. On top of this, the qualified individual won’t need study support, whereas the unqualified candidate may need this if they decide later down the line they’d like to get their qualifications.

Of course in this scenario we are evaluating the candidates on paper alone, devoid of any emotive factors. It goes without saying, if you are more convincing of your abilities and make a great impression at an interview, this counts for a lot more than your CV.

It is also worth noting that the above dilemmas do not just apply to job hunting. You can apply the same logic to promotions and “who gets the nice piece of advisory work”.

On the subject of promotions, pay is another hot topic. Qualifications in most, but not all cases, will equate to more money. You have to put a lot of blood, sweat and tears into passing (often outside of working hours), so it is only fair that remuneration reflects this extra work.

In summary:

  • Qualifications give you a stronger chance of getting your foot in the door
  • The ATT and CTA will give you great theoretical knowledge, that in turn can help with your success when developing practical knowledge
  • Pay rises come at the point of qualification
  • Although it’s helpful, you don’t need to have ATT/CTA to be good at what you do. It is possible to learn as you go and qualify yourself with experience. But,, it may take more time to get there.
  • Once you have passed a career milestone such as Manager/Senior Manager. The focus is more on what you can do rather than what exams you’ve taken
  • Employers may have an automatic preference towards qualifications, but the technical ability will win them over.

Ewa Milner-Walker is a Principal Consultant at Harvey John

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