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  • Name: Emily MacDonald
  • Job Title: Corporate Tax Trainee
  • Location: London
  • University: Bath
  • Degree: BSc Economics & International Development
  • Type of Qualification: ACA
  • Areas of Specialism: Generalist

How did you get your job at Smith & Williamson?

I applied for the role early in my final year at uni and successfully passed all stages of the recruitment process. This included online numerical and verbal tests, a phone interview, an assessment day (involving a group exercise and presentation, further numerical and verbal tests and a written exercise) and finally an interview with the director. I was offered a job starting the following autumn.

What do you do day to day?

There is no real ‘typical’ day as each is so varied, but generally I’ll be doing any number of the following:

  • Telephoning HMRC regarding penalty notices, repayments of corporation tax, change of accounting date or other ad hoc queries.
  • Drafting letters to HMRC and to clients regarding corporation tax computations and returns, HMRC enquiries into returns etc.
  • Technical research into any number of different areas. To date I have undertaken research into intellectual property, companies looking to expand overseas, exemption from corporation tax for foreign branch profits, R&D tax credits and financial sector taxes.
  • Writing articles on technical topics for marketing purposes or for the Smith & Williamson website.
  • Preparing corporate tax computations and drafting queries to clients, including liaising with our audit team.
  • Attending various meetings with clients and taking notes.
  • Ad hoc tasks such as drafting pitches for new clients, business development, various administrative tasks and completing my timesheet.

What is the Smith & Williamson trainee placement programme?

Smith & Williamson offers a placement programme to all new trainees within Tax and Business Services, meaning that throughout my three year training contract I will spend the majority of my time in Corporate Tax (the department I applied to), but also three months in each of Assurance and Business Services and Private Client Tax Services. I am yet to go on a secondment but think it’s a great idea in order to meet people in other departments and to get a more rounded view of the services Smith & Williamson can offer to clients.

What ‘soft skills’ have you found useful?

It is key to have strong communication skills both written and verbal to be able to interact appropriately with colleagues and clients.
I have found it vital to be able to prioritise work and manage my time effectively, as I can often be working to tight deadlines. This is also an important skill to master when it comes to revising for exams.
It is important to be enthusiastic and a quick learner, as tax can be quite a technical area with many intricate details and a lot of jargon to get your head around.

What are the most stressful parts of the job?

I am currently studying for the ACA, which is definitely the most stressful part of the role. The exams require a lot of hard work and can be time intensive but they are manageable if you are willing to put the work in. My department have been very supportive of me in the run-up to my exams, ensuring that I leave the office at a reasonable time to allow sufficient revision time.
I had no prior knowledge of accountancy, which I worried would be a disadvantage, but the college courses are designed for complete beginners so it wasn’t a problem. The same applied in the first few weeks in the office – no technical tax knowledge was expected.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

I am constantly learning and always find things to challenge me, particularly since tax is such a technical industry. I have discovered that the job provides a good balance between the technical tax issues, number crunching and also the ‘softer’ communication side of things. This combination is what I enjoy most, as it plays to my skills and also keeps things interesting.
I think one of the best parts of the job is working alongside such great people. We have a relatively young team who are all very sociable and friendly and who really make the days enjoyable.

Is there a work/life balance?

Absolutely. I usually work from 09.30 until 17.30-18.00, which leaves plenty of time for socialising with friends after work. People in the department often organise after work drinks in one of the local bars (especially if the sun is shining!) and we always find an excuse to go out for lunch.
The only time where my social life has taken a beating is in the few weeks leading up to exams, but that is to be expected.

What are your aims for the future?

First and foremost I am focusing on passing my exams and qualifying as an ACA. After this I have the option of taking the CTA exams, which is strongly encouraged, though not compulsory.

Do you have any advice for anyone looking to apply?

I would suggest that you spend some time getting to know what companies do, perhaps through internet searches, attending careers fairs, or speaking to people who may have dealt with the firm in the past. I would also recommend that you understand the qualification you would be studying for and in particular that you are really prepared to put in the work in order to pass the exams. Finally I would suggest applying as early as possible to give yourself the best chance of being successful.

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