• Role: Tax Trainee
  • Location: Milton Keynes
  • University: Sheffield
  • Degree: Law
  • Organisation: Mercer & Hole

Simon Emery

I am a 29 year old law graduate from Northamptonshire. I am married with three children. I enjoy watching and playing most sports. I am a Sunderland AFC fan but I try to keep this quiet.

At 27 years of age, was a career change the right move?

I had been working in the public sector since leaving university and had progressed well. However, at the age of 27 I felt like I’d reached a ceiling and I could not see my career progressing much further within that organisation. I wanted a new challenge, and a career where hard work was recognised and rewarded.

I plunged myself back into the world of graduate career websites, which most of you will know can be a frustrating and confusing place. I spent months considering a whole variety of new careers. Eventually, after taking advice from friends and family, I narrowed my search down to accountancy. It ticked all the criteria I was looking for: good career progression, good salary, rewards for hard work, and a good work/life balance.
Within the accountancy sector there are a lot of specialisms and companies to choose between, the majority of them require you to undertake some form of further learning and professional exams. One firm in particular stood out for me: Mercer & Hole.

How did you get your training contract?

I wanted to set myself apart from other candidates in the field, so prior to applying for the training contract with Mercer & Hole I signed up with the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA). I purchased some text books, studied hard and started to work my way through the exams. I thought that if I got some exams under my belt it would show employers that I was capable and serious about the career change.

I passed seven of the ACCA exams before I was given a chance by Mercer & Hole. They had received a lot of applications for the training contracts on offer and I have since found out that my exam passes had been a major factor in my progression to the next stage.

What was the application process like?

After filling out the graduate application form on the company’s website, I had a telephone interview. This was quite informal. They gave me an insight into what a training contract with them would entail, the positives and the negatives. A few standard questions about your suitability and motivation are chucked in for good measure. I was given the opportunity to ask any questions that I had and then it was a waiting game to see whether I got through to the next stage.

How did you find the assessment day?

This was the first graduate assessment day that I had attended so I was quite daunted at the prospect. I won’t give away the exact itinerary of the day as that would spoil the surprise (and I’m sure I’d get in trouble). Suffice to say, it is as you might imagine: there are tests, interviews, discussions, presentations etc. It’s quite an intense day and I felt exhausted afterwards.

The only advice I would give to graduates to help them through the application process is to be honest. I was honest with Mercer & Hole with my reasons for wanting the job and the reservations I had. They respected this and in return were honest with me. It would have been a waste of everyone’s time if I was offered the job and it wasn’t right for me. If you’re honest you will find out earlier whether you are suited to the job role.

What does a tax trainee do at Mercer & Hole?

For the first couple of months I was broken in slowly. I was based in the office and guided through my day-to-day work. There was a lot to learn at the outset and these months were vital in giving me a practical basis for the forthcoming exams.

After the initial settling-in period, I was signed up to the Association of Taxation Technicians (ATT). Deliveries of huge boxes started arriving at the office for me, stuffed to the brim with study material. I was sent to college to study and within a year I had passed three written exams and two e-assessments. I am now ATT qualified and managed to achieve distinctions in all of the exams (I’m sure more by luck than anything else). Studying for the exams was a lot more work than I had anticipated, and I was regularly seen with my head in a study book on my lunch break.

I am now on a six-month break from studying but will soon be signed up to the Chartered Institute of Taxation, and will be studying for another four exams. As you can imagine, I can’t wait!?

As well as the studying and exams you are also expected to do your everyday job in the office. Initially, the majority of my work was personal tax returns. This soon changed when I started to become more competent and experienced. I now deal with more complex areas of company tax planning, personal tax planning and tax advice. It may sound boring but it is more interesting than you think!

What skills are useful in the profession?

Before delving into the world of accountancy I thought accountants were ‘boring’ and ‘nerdy’ and always had to carry a calculator. I think this is quite a common stereotype held by people. Although a calculator is never far away, now that I am in the industry I see it differently.

Accountants essentially offer their services and expertise to people. In the services sector one of the main qualities that you can possess is your ‘people skills’. The ability to communicate effectively with your client will get you further than being able to do the 12 times table off the top of your head.

Therefore, if you have good ‘people skills’ I would recommend the tax sector. Don’t be put off if you don’t already possess the mathematical know-how, as this can be picked up along the way.

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