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University of Sydney
Graduate Tax Consultant
Claudia completed the Master of Taxation at The University of Sydney in July 2018.
What's your name and job title? What did you study? When did you graduate?
Hi, I am Claudia Santillan, graduate tax consultant at BDO in Australia, and I would say not the average graduate consultant - a bit more experienced. Firstly, this is not my first graduate tax position. Even when I completed the Master of Taxation at The University of Sydney in July 2018, I had been working in the industry for over 11 years. Tax can certainly take you places!
Where did you grow up? Important stages of your life (school, education, experience abroad, jobs etc.)
I grew up in Buenos Aires, Argentina, the land of tango and football (or soccer for those who live in other latitudes). I studied a Bachelor of Accounting – with a specialisation in tax- at The University of Buenos Aires. After completion, I was accepted into a graduate position in tax at ExxonMobil. These were my first steps in the corporate tax world that I’ve been travelling in ever since. After completing the program, I was invited to participate in a seven month tax project in Houston Texas, and then an assignment in Curitiba, Brazil. After this I went back to Buenos Aires to provide tax compliance services for Canadian companies. Moving to Australia gave me the opportunity to undertake further education which is a requirement prior to providing tax services here.
How did you get to your current job position? How long have you had it?
Every year, The University of Sydney organises a careers fair. Careers fairs are a fantastic opportunity to get exposure to employers. It was at one such event that I enquired about the BDO Graduate Program. I commenced as a corporate tax graduate at BDO three months ago now.
How did you choose your specialisation (compared to others)? Were you weighing up any other alternatives before choosing this specialisation?
My decision to become an Accountant was not difficult. It was a natural path considering my high school education was orientated towards business and administration. But it was in my last year at university that I decided to specialise in tax. I was inspired by the lectures given by professors who were also experts in tax law and accounting. The best advice I have ever received from a professor at university was learn how to solve cryptic crosswords. It came in handy interpreting rather complex areas of taxation law.
What was your interview process like? What kind of questions were you asked?
My first impression of BDO when I met with representatives at the careers fair was the quality of its people. Doing more research into the company confirmed this. Wishing to join, I started the application process. BDO invited me to participate in a video interview where questions about individual qualities and previous experience were asked, followed by an assessment centre that included an interview with the Partner and Manager. I was asked at my interview, with my experience, why would I be interested in a graduate position to which my reply was I needed to start my career in Australia with a solid foundation. This reply was met with an approving nod and smile from the Tax Managing Partner who I now call my boss.
Suppose a student was considering your career. What would you advise them to study? Are there any soft skills it would beneficial for them to develop? Should they pursue any sort of work experience?
For students considering a career in tax, I would suggest to not only study core taxation law and accounting courses at university but to keep an open mind about change, especially in areas such as technology. In my opinion, the future tax profession will be greatly assisted by the use of new technologies. Providing tax professional services is also about helping people, hence developing soft skills on customer service, communication and problem-solving skills could enhance your abilities when addressing clients’ needs.
What does your employer do?
BDO is one of the world’s leading accountancy and advisory organisations. At BDO, exceptional client service underpins their belief system and all aspects of service delivery to our clients.
What are your areas of responsibility?
My area of responsibility is corporate tax.
Can you describe a typical work day? What was the last thing you worked on?
After three months in the graduate program, I can confidently say that there is no typical day. I believe it is the reason why working in a professional firm is challenging and rewarding. From the onset, a tax graduate is involved in technical tax research projects as well as being hands on involved in the preparation of income tax returns.
The last project I worked on involved tax services across multiple tax jurisdictions. Certainly, studying UK and US taxation law at university facilitated the coordination of services with my BDO colleagues responsible for providing professional tax services in those jurisdictions.
What sort of person succeeds in your career?
The kind of person who succeeds in tax is flexible and able to adapt to change. A wise teacher at university said that learning about taxation law is to learn to adapt to change, to understand and critique the present and predict what lies ahead.
What are the career prospects with your job? Where could you or others in your position go from here?
Career prospects are broad with tax. There are many areas of specialisation. It is important to know where your interest is to identify the best career path. A graduate position is a great platform to build a solid career in tax, no matter what area of specialisation you choose in the future. Getting the foundation knowledge right is a must.
Could someone with a different background do your job?
I would suggest a legal or accounting background is a must to succeed in tax. A clear understanding of financial statements and the principles of taxation law is critical to get things right.
What do you love most about your job and what do you find to be the biggest limitation?
The biggest limitation of my job – and opportunity - is that taxation law is open to multiple interpretations. This limitation could be overcome by working with a sound technical team to find a reasonable interpretation. Also weekly training sessions provided by BDO, enable our tax team to keep up with the latest tax issues. I currently bear the responsibility of a consultant, even though I am technically a graduate. This is a well supported and supervised ‘test drive’ needed to face the responsibility of managing clients’ tax affairs in the future. I do not need to work over the weekend. I dedicate the time to keep up with tax news – yes, I do read about tax over the weekend, especially during my son’s swimming lessons. The stress levels are consistent with the responsibilities of the position. My team is particularly good at providing mentoring to keep the stress at manageable levels.
What would your career be if you weren’t doing what you’re doing now?
Perhaps I would have become a professional in People and Culture team. I could be organising a team building activities and performing people and culture functions for the tax team now.
A word to the wise...
Which three pieces of advice would you give to a current university student?
The three pieces of advice I would give to a current university student are:
- Attend careers fairs organised by universities and professional bodies. These events could open the door to great opportunities. But make sure you prepare. Making the most of the time before the event is critical to be ready to ask your future employer relevant questions about their companies.
- Network! Make the most of the opportunities provided by your school, the university and social events. Some of my classmates are also professionals working for accounting firms in Sydney and we all share the same passion for what we do.
- Follow your passion. If your heart is not there, the long hours and all three volumes of Australian taxation law could become a daunting endeavour to overcome.