Updated: Jun 27
US taxation is niche (outside of the US that is!). When you work in a niche industry, it goes without saying that names and reputations are passed around quicker than they might normally do.
It’s amazing the number of times that a hiring manager has told me they’ve already informally met the person they’re interviewing, for example from an EA or CPA practice session!
Navigating the space from a job-hunting perspective (effectively and without wanting to give up) requires a different approach to other industries.
I interview US tax professionals daily and here are some insights and tips that may just help. If you find any of these useful, check out our US tax jobs board, ustaxjobs.com.
This is the standard piece of job-hunting advice you’ll be given by family members and friends, along with something like “actually did you know most jobs are filled from networking and referrals”.
It also happens to be true. In such a small industry, networking and whom you know becomes even more important and there are countless ways you can improve your chances of building a relationship with a hiring manager, from career fairs, social media networking (LinkedIn) and AICPA conferences to informal sector meetups, work social events etc.
With the world opening up, it’s getting easier. In one survey taken in 2021, nearly 70% of people said that digital conferences lacked networking abilities when compared to in-person meetings! So physically get out there and meet people!
2. Consider Your Priorities.
It’s important to define in advance, what's truly important to you, both professionally and personally.
Understand your priorities. Are you at the stage of your career where you want:
Diversity of experience?
A flexible, reduced hours role?
A 100% remote working job?
The chance to work on highly complex tax cases?
The list goes on.
What’s more, consider if you want to work in-house or practice. Working “in practice”, for example, can mean dealing with lots of different clients, which makes the work more varied. However, working for lots of different clients can be stressful, especially if they all start making demands at the same time. Or “in industry”, where you can choose the sector in advance but this may offer less breadth of experience.
Various stages of your career may suit either one better. The sooner you’re able to rule out what’s NOT important to you, the more successful your application process is likely to be. It will allow you to be clearer on your motivations and career aspirations when interviewing.
3. Think About The Firm’s Size.
In US taxation, the size of the firm you work for can influence many factors.
A. The type of clients you may be working with.
B. The Complexity of tax work you’ll be doing.
C. The Number of mentors you’ll have access to within the firm.
D. The ability to work remotely.
E. Financial support for exams and study leave.
F. The number of social and networking functions.
G. Type of office environment (super formal & professional vs relaxed & chilled).
Small firms can offer fantastic perks that large firms simply can’t and vice versa.
If you can, speak to a recruiter or someone in your network who’s worked in a variety of offices and see what they think from their perspective.
Just remember to make up your own mind based on your proprieties.
4. Get Qualified.
I’ve seen that progression can often (mostly getting to Manager) be stalled by not getting either your EA, CPA or JD qualification (or ATT & EA if a Dual Handler).
If you’re not yet qualified, making it clear during the interview that you’re serious about attaining a professional qualification, can help. Often, they’ll be able to talk to you about how they can assist you, through paid study leave, bonuses for passing your exams and so on.
Becoming qualified won’t just allow you to develop quicker, it will also allow you to get access to higher internal salary bands.
5. Know Your Subject - And Yourself.
Preparation really is key.
What tax forms do they require review/preparation experience with?
Do I need to demonstrate tax planning experience?
Who are their typical clients?
What is the UK/US tax split %?
What qualifications do they require?
A top interview preparation tip: Get your CV and job description up in front of you and cross-check your experience against the requirements of the job description. Highlight areas of potential weakness and work on finding examples to back them up.
6. Determine What Seniority You’re Aiming For.
Say you’re an Assistant Manager (Level 2) at a large US tax firm, with 6 months left until your next promotion where you’ve been told you’ll be making Manager.
Like it or not, many firms I speak with won’t promote you to Manager, without you having already held the position before. Meaning, that unless you’re at your wits' end, it could be worth waiting the 6 months until your next promotion, holding the position for several months, and then making a move.
Whilst, of course, you CAN make the promotion to Manager by switching firms, from my experience, it’s not that common. Considering this in advance of interviewing will help.
7. Find Your Niche & Use Examples.
Have you provided some really niche tax planning advice to a HNW client which has saved LOADS of $? Mention it on your CV.
The more examples you include in your CV the better and it’s a great way to set you apart from your competition. I can assure you with 95% of the CVs I receive, people are not doing this. It’s also particularly important if you find you’re not getting a high response rate to your applications.
The same goes during the interview process, be concise, and back up your answers with specific examples.
8. Money (1/2)
Career progression can often come down to weighing up short versus long term factors.
Not dismissing a position that say, offers you the experience you really want in your dream team, but pays slightly less, could be a good decision in the long run.
Maybe you could be mentored by a CPA whom you get on really well with and who has achieved what you want, or maybe you’ll be working on lots of advisory projects at an early stage of your career.
Whilst it’s a totally personal decision, the salary isn’t always everything. That’s not to say money isn’t important, but it may not be the most important thing at all stages of your career.
Deciding what's important BEFORE interviewing will set you up with the best chance for success.
9. Money (2/2)
Being realistic about salary expectations is also important.
In most firms, salary bands are pre-defined and budgeted for in company guidelines. Do your research to maximise what salary you expect you could ask for and be prepared to negotiate. Online research is great, but “casual” chats with colleagues, HR, recruiters and hiring managers can provide you with the most realistic figures.
For some cases, it may also be possible to get a sign-on bonus, usually provided to sweeten the deal if they can’t ’stretch’ the salary bands.
If you require a company to sponsor your visa, ask them at the start of the process.
You could send a similar message to this “I want to clarify upfront that I would require sponsorship to be able to continue working in UK. Is this something your organisation can do if I’m successful in this process?”.
So, what’s your five-step action plan for improving your job hunt?
Consider what your key priorities are for a career in US taxation.
Research the qualifications that will get you where you want to go.
Make sure your CV is up to date and backed up with real-world examples.
Look for an employer who will fund any further training you want to do.
Maximise your potential earnings but be realistic.
It’s no secret that there is a big demand for US tax professionals in Europe right now and more than ever, it’s a fantastic space to be working in.
I hope this helps you get out there and enjoy your job hunt (or at least not hate it!).
Author: Alistair Marriott is the Founder of US Tax Jobs (job board) and recruitment firm, Blackden Consulting.