Joining the team: beginning my career in C+T’s Entrepreneurial Tax Team

This post is part of our Entrepreneurial team’s regular series of blogs.

Ever since I discovered Tax as a subject during my undergraduate degree, it has been my goal to pursue it as a career. In my 4 years at university, Taxation was my favourite course and it was the first time during my degree that I felt confident in what I wanted to do after graduating. Although it has felt like quite a journey to reach that goal, it has been well worth it.

Starting my role as a graduate trainee with Chiene + Tait almost a year on from finishing my university exams has been a big change, especially as I spent the last year working as a self-employed artist. When the first lockdown was announced back in March 2020, I felt as though there was suddenly an extra hurdle in front of me, blocking my path to beginning my career. However, looking back now, I feel as though it was an important part of the journey. I had the chance to try a completely different career path from the one I had planned, and it was nice to be able to stretch my creative muscles. I spent a lot of the year painting animal portraits and creating illustrations, and I had the opportunity to try running my own little business. The experience taught me a lot, but it also gave me the time to reflect and really think about what I wanted to do with my future, and it ultimately confirmed to me that what I really wanted was to pursue a career in tax.

I have now been in my role as Entrepreneurial Tax Trainee with Chiene + Tait for just over 2 months, and, despite joining from my make-shift home office in my dining room, I feel as though I have already begun to settle in as part of the team. After a couple of months as trainee, I am confident I am exactly where I need to be. I am really enjoying learning about the entrepreneurial side of tax, as it was an area I never got to explore while I was at university. I have been lucky enough to have had the opportunity to be involved in calls and interactions with clients, which has been great. Having spent a lot of time working in customer service, it is something I have developed a passion for, and I like that our firm combines a focus on customer service with technical advisory in a professional environment. The diversity in the clients we work with in the entrepreneurial team and getting to see the fascinating work they are doing makes the job even more enjoyable.

It is a little strange to start a new job working from my own home, and while it has its perks – particularly the 10 second commute to my desk – I am really excited for the days when we can get back in the office and have the chance to meet and get to know the team and others within the firm better.

Overall, I have been completely blown away by how friendly and supportive everyone has been since I joined, as well as by how much I have already had the chance to learn from the team. It makes all the work – the 4 years of university, the months spent gaining work experience, and the many hours spent completing job applications – feel worthwhile.

Interested in joining the C+T team? Find more information and our vacancies here.

Transferable skills: how an elite sporting career helped me to succeed at C+T

In this blog, Sian Morgan in the C+T Audit Department considers how her early successful sporting career helped her to build her career and thrive in the workplace.

Ten years ago, I was juggling GCSEs with qualifying for the Commonwealth Games. Fast forward a decade, and, having recently passed my final exam to become a Chartered Accountant, I realise how transferable the skills I acquired from my time as an international swimming athlete are to my career outside of elite sport.

Athletes are known for the gold medals they win, the records they break and the time they achieve in a specific event. These are the pinnacle goals which athletes work towards for most of their career. When these goals are achieved (or in some cases not achieved), this is how an athlete is ‘valued’. However, what really defines an athlete are the life skills they learn along the way. Anyone who has participated in elite sport possesses valuable skills that can be applied to any aspect of life. The commitment and dedication required from a very young age helps to mould athletes to become very successful in their future careers.

I have considered several key traits which athletes acquire throughout their sporting career that translate to essential skills in the workplace, and how these skills have enabled me to succeed in my career so far.

Time Management

Balancing a demanding training schedule alongside school or work means athletes become experts in managing their time. Swimming has one of the most intense training schedules of any sport. An average week would include ten sessions in the pool combined with at least three sessions in the gym, with 4.30am starts nearly every day. This leaves very little time for other activities, especially school or university, and forces athletes to become extremely organised. This ability to effectively manage your time to complete all required tasks is a valued skill in the workplace. This skill particularly helped me when I was studying for my Chartered Accountancy exams whilst working full-time.

Strong Work Ethic

The training required to compete at an elite level in sport is  physically demanding, and is incredibly challenging mentally too. Athletes possess extreme mental toughness and are always striving to improve and to be the best. Swimmers train incredibly hard for years to improve by only fractions of a second. This requires a tremendous work ethic and exceptional motivation for very little reward in return. Athletes can transfer these traits into a work environment and continue to be driven to succeed in their future careers. After retiring from swimming, I transferred my drive to succeed to set new goals outside of swimming, including running a marathon and becoming a Chartered Accountant. This ability to set goals and remain focussed and motivated towards these goals are essential to succeed in the workplace.

Overcome Adversity

Every athlete has faced adversity and failure at some point in their career; it is a huge aspect of being a sportsperson. A lot of athletes have likely failed more often than they’ve won, but they have always got back up and kept on going. The aim  is not only learning to cope with failure, but learning how to come back stronger and ensure future success. Athletes are exceptional learners as they analyse their weaknesses and learn from their mistakes to help drive them to be successful next time. From my own experience, some of my greatest achievements in my swimming career stemmed from my biggest failures, as I was more motivated and determined to achieve my goals. This ability to deal with failure is just as important in the workplace and is a skill that is easily transferred to any career. Failure is inevitable at some point but having the resilience to bounce back and keep on going will result in a future positive outcome.

Coping Under Pressure

Athletes must learn to cope with a huge amount of pressure throughout their careers, in order to be successful. The athletic environment is high-pressured, competitive and extremely tough. Athletes can train for years for an event and one slight mistake could result in a lost medal, or missing a place on an international team. I placed a large amount of pressure on myself from a very young age, particularly when I was 15 to qualify for my first Commonwealth Games. Learning to handle pressure early on in life has helped me to stay calm and succeed in challenging high-pressured situations, particularly when sitting my ICAS examinations. The ability to deal with pressure is important in any line of work; unexpected problems and challenges can often occur.

Team Players

Although swimming is known as an individual sport, swimmers train in a team which becomes a huge part of their career. Athletes understand the importance of working together and how to maximise the strengths of each member to result in team success. Inspiring other team members and maintaining a positive atmosphere can have a huge impact, not only on an individual but the whole team. This was a massive part of my time training with the University of Edinburgh Performance Swim Team: we would constantly push each other to reach our full potential and support each other during more challenging periods. Team players are critical to a productive and enjoyable workplace. Athletes naturally bring their teamwork skills into the workplace, and this can help employees work together towards company goals allowing organisations to thrive.

Athletes often struggle with the transition out of elite sport, particularly with the loss of identity and uncertainty over the future direction of their lives. Greater awareness and knowledge of the unique traits that athletes possess will help businesses with this transition, and enable former athletes to become valuable employees and succeed in their professional life after elite sport.

Finishing university and returning to C+T: all from my bedroom

In this blog, Entrepreneurial Tax Trainee Sarah Gibbens talks through the last months of finishing university and starting her new job at Chiene + Tait – all through lock down.

 

Many remember their final year of university fondly; sharing the last few months with your university friends before you end up miles apart, the post-exam celebrations, and travelling the world before you start work with the prospect of being a real adult. Sadly, for me, and all other 2020 graduates, this was not the case. I didn’t realise that my last, physical day at university was in fact my last. Coronavirus was certainly around at that time, but the world was yet to descend into full lock down. And so, as we broke up for Easter break I assured my friends that I would be back in town come a week or two, and made plans for our return. We didn’t realise quite how much the world was about to change.

It was almost like a dystopian dream when the PM appeared on our television screens to announce lock down, I’m sure many of you felt the same. Universities subsequently began to scramble to get us all online so that we could finish our degrees. Thankfully, the end of my degree wasn’t as stressful as it was for others. Unlike most other people, I’m still not sick of my dissertation topic (the benefits of being a modern history student mean that you get to choose topics such as the Kennedy brothers’ involvement in the plots to assassinate Castro) and my final economics exam was replaced by an essay that was shockingly also very interesting.

However, the end to my degree was still anticlimactic. Clicking submit on ‘Turn-it-in’ doesn’t quite have the same satisfaction levels as handing in a bound copy of your dissertation or leaving the exam hall for the last time and finding your friends waiting to soak you with water, as is university tradition at St. Andrews. For the months I had before starting at Chiene + Tait, I had this strange feeling that I hadn’t actually finished at university.

Coming back to C+T was something I had been looking forward to ever since receiving my job offer, after my internship last summer. Everyone in the team had been so friendly and the work in Entrepreneurial Tax had been incredibly interesting. The knowledge that I already got on well with the team, and enjoyed the work made my last year at university somewhat more relaxing, as I didn’t face the pressure my peers were under, not just to find a job but to find one that I liked as well.

As the world pandemic developed and the weeks turned into months, my start date for C+T began to quickly approach but lock down remained firmly in place. This made me somewhat apprehensive about starting. Many of my friends had their jobs postponed until next year, but thankfully C+T emailed to let me know that I’d be starting from home remotely. This again left me with many questions, however, as I had no idea what it would be like to start a new job from my bedroom.

However, beginning my new job at the firm has helped to make it feel like my life is moving forward once again. Although it has only been a few days, the remote start to my work has been an easy and enjoyable process.  Everyone at C+T has been extremely helpful and welcoming, and I already feel part of the team. I’ll admit it is odd working from home, especially when my flatmates aren’t in full-time work, meaning that I seem to be living in a  different time zone to them when it comes to our waking hours, but having my morning commute reduced to from one side of the room to the other is definitely something that I could get used to!

As I continue my career at C+T, I’m looking forward to developing my knowledge of Entrepreneurial Tax and working towards my tax qualifications. As much as I am so far enjoying working from home, I am also excited for when the world starts to return to some semblance of normality and I can meet my colleagues properly, rather than through a grainy camera screen. It’s uncertain when that will be possible, however, so for the moment we’ll have to wait until we can see each other in HD once again.

Sarah Gibbens, Chiene + Tait Entrepreneurial Tax Trainee

 

My advice for anyone taking a remote tax exam

In this blog, C+T’s Fraser McCallum shares his experience of taking a remote tax exam to help him achieve his tax qualification, and what advice he would give others who are planning to take an exam remotely.

I was due to sit my final two exams on the ATT/CTA Tax Pathway at the start of May 2020 and, once passed, I would be a fully exam-qualified Chartered Tax Adviser. However, at the end of March the Coronavirus lock down came into effect, and The Chartered Institute of Taxation (CIOT) cancelled the majority of paper exams. Thankfully, one of my exams was only postponed and would be sat by ‘remote invigilation’ at the beginning of July.

Initially I was sceptical about taking an exam remotely, but keen to take advantage of writing my exam answer on my own computer. The exam in question was a case study with a big emphasis on structure and presentation. My theory was that the ability to re-organise and perfect a word document via a machine was surely a huge bonus, compared to writing it all out on paper.

Throughout the whole process, both the CIOT and my exam training provider were extremely helpful and provided masses of guidance, including a mock exam setup that allowed you to practice with the software with extensive FAQs.

As the exam neared I started to appreciate the various issues of remote invigilation. During the exam invigilators would watch and listen to all of the students via their webcams, so laptops and internet connections needed to be up to the task. Luckily my ‘system readiness check’ was a success and I was able to borrow a good webcam from the Chiene + Tait IT team. There were other interesting requirements too, all laid out in great detail in the CIOT’s FAQs:

  • I had to be sitting at a desk,
  • I had to have a mirror on hand and
  • My work environment had to tick a number of boxes, or I wouldn’t be allowed to go ahead.

The night before the exam an email from the CIOT outlining that some exams had already taken place, and third-party invigilation provider had experienced a few issues. They were only minor but gave me a sense everything was not going as well as expected.

On exam day, I had a start time slot and was paired up with an invigilator for the meticulous pre-exam checks. Among other things, I had to pan around the room with my webcam (including under my chair) and hold up all of my tax legislation books (I have 8!), front and back, and give them a shake!

I started my exam, and all was running smoothly. Then with 1 hour, 38 minutes to go a big error message popped up, and a few minutes later the exam software kicked me out! This was exactly what I had had nightmares about. Then ensued a half hour of sheer panic.

I attempted to find a help contact number, failed, loaded up the software again, waited several minutes for someone to acknowledge me and then had to go through all of the pre-exam checks again! Luckily, my session was recovered, and the timer had frozen, but I had been thrown completely off my train of thought and did the second half in fear of being kicked out again. Apparently, the more your connection fails, the less likely you will be allowed to continue – not the best environment to sit any exam.

In the end, I finished it and, hopefully, all was well. However, the overwhelming stress on the day came almost entirely from technology and not from the exam itself. One of my colleagues took several hours to even get access to her exam in the first place. It was not an ideal experience but unfortunately, it’s difficult to envisage any other way such important exams can be sat remotely. The CIOT have been very understanding of all issues; there will be big changes made before the next remote sittings in November.

My advice to anyone planning to sit the exams remotely in the future is:

  • Practice, practice, practice with the mock exam software provided, especially writing out a calculation or tax computation. You want to be as comfortable as possible with it on the day;
  • Do your exam somewhere your internet connection is rock solid, as the slightest interruption can kick you out of the software;
  • Talk to someone who has sat a remote exam. I would have loved to have had a chat with a co-worker who’d been through the experience before me;
  • Thoroughly read all of the guidance and FAQs, and drill into your head exactly what to do if you have a problem on the day. Remember, you can’t have any emergency notes on your desk!

Fraser McCallum is a Senior in the Chiene + Tait Corporate Tax team.

Chiene + Tait confirmed as Living Wage employer

Chiene + Tait has confirmed its commitment to paying all staff a fair wage by achieving our Living Wage accreditation. Our commitment will see everyone working at the firm receive a minimum hourly wage of £9.00 in the UK or £10.55 in London. Both rates are significantly higher than the government minimum for over 25s, which currently stands at £8.21 per hour.

In Scotland, where nearly a fifth of all jobs (18%) pay less than the real Living Wage – around 404,000 jobs – Chiene + Tait has committed to pay the real Living Wage and deliver a fair day’s pay for a hard day’s work.

The real Living Wage is the only rate calculated according to the costs of living. It provides a voluntary benchmark for employers that wish to ensure their staff earn a wage they can live on, not just the government minimum. Since 2001 the Living Wage movement has put back £1bn into the pockets of low-paid workers with the movement growing to over 5,500 accredited employers across the UK.

From Lake Tahoe to Lake of Menteith

When I first found out that I was going to be doing a month of work experience at Chiene + Tait in Edinburgh I had two very conflicting feelings: firstly, wow, what a fantastic experience it would be to work in Edinburgh for a month! On the other hand, after a hard Junior year in high school in the USA, did I really want to leave the warm and beautiful beaches of Lake Tahoe to come and work in rainy Edinburgh for the summer?! I imagined being in an office full of awkward, quiet, incredibly smart people bent over accounting and tax software all day, and me sitting off to one side, making coffee and doing the photocopying… However, I knew that I wanted to build my career in finance or accounting, so I believed that getting some work experience under my belt would help to focus my university and career choices.

It is now the end of my third week at C+T, and I am delighted to report that my outlook on accounting firms has changed drastically. Every day, I am given proper client work to do or to observe; I am encouraged to ask questions all the time; people joke around with me – and they even make tea and coffee for me (I really thought that it would be the other way around)! In many ways, my work at C+T is similar to what I am used to doing in school – I am expected to do the work that has been assigned to me, I often have to perform difficult calculations that I’m not used to, and, if I’m honest, sometimes it can be a teeny bit boring, e.g. when we have to enter hundreds of numbers into an Excel spreadsheet; although that task has done wonders for my attention to detail! However, I have really loved the variety of work that I have been offered, and that everyone I’ve worked with has given me an insight into their specific role or department – most interestingly, it has shown me that tax and accounting isn’t just for the weird few who love numbers… there’s also an aspect of friendship and camaraderie to working in an accountancy firm, and I have been pleasantly surprised by the great office banter (especially with the Value Added Tax team, who are constantly told that all they have to know for their job is 20%…)!

The main thing that surprised me was just how many departments there are in an accountancy firm. There is VAT (where C+T staff figure out the Value Added Tax that companies need to pay), Payroll (in which C+T calculates what other companies should be paying their employees and the tax they are obliged to pay), Personal Tax (which completes individuals’ tax returns etc.), Entrepreneurial Tax (which completes tax returns and advises on calculations for entrepreneurs), Annual Accounts (where all purchases and sales of a person/company are put together), Management Accounts (which is similar to Annual Accounts, but involves more advisory work), Audit (in which other companies’ accounts are checked to ensure that the company is doing its business legally and that its accounts provide a “true and fair” view of its financial condition), Marketing (which plans events for C+T and helps build its brand/reputation through social media etc.), and, well you get the idea…

There are a lot of different aspects to tax and accounts, and by the end of my work experience, C+T will have showcased them all to me. All of the people I have worked with have given me proper work – not one day have I sat making coffee and photocopying papers. I have also had some fantastic days fishing at the Lake of Menteith in a C+T charity event and attending the Royal Highland Show, and I even had the opportunity to participate in a staff treasure hunt around Edinburgh last week! C+T has given me an amazing experience that I’ll never forget, and for which I am extremely grateful.

So what’s next for me? In August, I start back at school in Lake Tahoe, USA, in my Senior year of high school, where I will be doing another 4 AP courses (they’re like the US equivalent of A-levels – I did 4 in my Junior year too), and I graduate from high school in June next year. Starting this autumn, I’ll be applying to US universities, UK universities and gap-year placements at accounting and consulting firms, with the goal of building my career in finance/accounting. Exciting times ahead! Thanks to all at C+T for helping me on my way!