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The Honesty Policy

“What do you consider to be your greatest weakness?”

It’s got to be the question candidates fear most come interview time. Immediately your brain is in overdrive, reaching for any number of reasons that you are the perfect candidate. In fact, you’ve never displayed any weakness, even that time the big kids stole your lunch money. That was just a ‘learning opportunity’…

But actually, everyone has weaknesses. And being able to talk about them honestly is one of the most valuable traits that a candidate can possess. There’s even data to back this up. A study in the Academy of Management Journal showed that interviewers gave the highest ratings to business school applicants who were more concerned with being seen accurately than positively.

Another study (from Harvard Business School) asked undergraduate candidates to answer a question about their weaknesses. Only 23% gave what you might consider an ‘honest’ answer: I am sometimes late, I procrastinate, I never make tea… The other 77% of candidates tried to hide their weaknesses inside some shameless self-promotion: I try too hard, I care too much, I’m never not making tea… When the answers were reviewed, prospective employers were 30% more interested in hiring the candidates who admitted to a genuine weakness.

So next time you’re sitting in an interview (which I’m sure will be going spectacularly well) and that dreaded question comes up, take a moment to think, is honesty the best policy?



Cambridge Judge Business School

BLT will kick off the 2016-17 Cambridge MBA Careers Programme with  an “Introduction to the Consulting Industry”. Cantabrians seeking more advice should contact Sarah Arbel.

Brexit: The Impact on the UK Indirect Tax Job Market

Well, its finally been decided – the UK will be leaving the EU. As the country comes to terms with its decision, it will be fascinating to see how ‘the big change’ has an impact on job creation and indeed job security. The Recruitment & Employment Confederation has this morning called for ‘calm and clarity’ in the face of a ‘challenging period for British business which may have a significant impact on the UK jobs market’. And the prophets of doom are already predicting a tougher job market out there for some time.

However, is this really going to be the case for Indirect Tax professionals? Time will tell of course, but here at BLT we’re bravely going to make a few predictions – lets see if our crystal ball proves right over the course of the next year or so!

Whilst there’s no doubt about it, the uncertainties in the run up to June referendum did indeed have an impact on the volume of Indirect Tax roles arising both in commercial organisations and professional services firms. By and large, the messages coming from many organisations were largely playing for time – ‘lets wait and see’ was a common theme. Now a decision has been reached, that therefore should prompt businesses to make positive decisions about how they handle Indirect Tax going forward – and that in itself should help the job market.

Whilst we’re not pretending its going to be a particularly smooth ride over the course of the next few years, we’re optimistic that the job market won’t be as badly affected as you might think. After all, the Indirect Tax profession tends to thrive on change situations.

So the BLT predictions are as follows:

  • Greater need for coherent VAT advice for businesses, resulting in more calls for the services of professional services firms.
  • More senior advisory roles arising in-house as companies recognise the need to stay ‘on the ball’ about how they handle Indirect Tax strategy globally.
  • A boom in the contract market (particularly at Manager level and below) as companies seek short term resource whilst the lie of the land is established.
  • Greater demand for Customs Duty expertise as free trades agreements are redefined and strategies established.
  • A more fluid and opportunistic job market than before, created in part by a reshuffling of resource and roles/responsibilities globally.

How readily the Indirect Tax population meets these challenges remains to be seen – one rather suspects that candidates’ nerves about moving jobs in uncertain times will be the biggest barrier to success on this front. We’d like to think that courage and an eye for the opportunities that this new world will represent could well yield fantastic results for the savvy Indirect Tax professional.

Lets see!

For career advice on how to get the best out of your Indirect Tax career in the coming years, do get in touch.

VAT: Contemplating moving in-house? When’s the optimum time to make that move?

No doubt about it, a VAT consultancy career in a Big 4 firm can be immensely rewarding experience. Excellent clients to work with, often with highly complex problems to find solutions for. You’ll have a structured career path, and enjoy a real sense of camaraderie as you progress upwards through the ranks. The professional experience you get, and the financial rewards that come with that can be superb. However, for some VAT specialists in a Big 4 VAT consultancy environment, there can be the niggling thought in the back of one’s mind about whether one should choose to take your VAT expertise into an in-house setting. Maybe it’s the increase in emphasis on business development the further down your Consultancy career you get, maybe it’s the thought of making a real difference to a company’s tax position, maybe it’s the idea of focusing more exclusively in a particular sector. Or maybe you’re just sick of timesheets?

In addition, you could be thinking that you could do with some time in-house to round off your professional and technical exposure, for you to take back to a Big 4 firm later in your career.

The most frequent question we here at BLT are asked is: ‘When’s the best point in my career to consider moving in-house?’ We hope that the following statistics will go some way to answering this question.

At BLT, we’ve been tracking the in-house UK appointments made over the last few years (BLT placements, direct hires or otherwise), and to draw meaningful conclusions we need to look at both demand and supply.


Looking at all the in-house VAT positions that were appointed in the UK between Jan 2014 – Dec 2015, and converting them into typical Big 4 grading classifications (regardless of whether they ultimately appointed from an in-house background or not):

3% arose at the Director level pitch
15% arose at the Senior Manager level pitch.
50% arose at the Manager level pitch. Typically advisory focused, plus some compliance management.
14% arose at the Assistant Manager level pitch. Typical focus is on compliance management, plus assisting one or more senior VAT specialists with advisory work.
18% arose at the Assistant level pitch. These are usually (but not always) compliance/’number crunching’ roles.

It’s very clear that the ‘need’ in-house from a volume perspective is at the Big 4 Manager level equivalent. The more senior you get, the rarer the opportunity.


The headline figure is 24% of all those starting new permanent VAT in-house roles between January 2014 and December 2015 came from a Big 4 VAT advisory position. This should not be a huge surprise; given that any in-house Indirect Tax compliance driven appointments are much more likely to go to those currently doing similar positions in another commercial organisation. Simultaneously a good number of advisory roles that arise in industry and f/s institutions go to those with existing experience of working in-house.

So of the roles that did indeed go to someone latterly working in a VAT advisory capacity in one of the Big 4 accountancy firms, from what grade did most of those appointments take place nationally?

4% from a Big 4 VAT Director grade
38% from a Big 4 VAT Senior Manager grade
40% from a Big 4 VAT Manager grade
16% from a Big 4 VAT Assistant Manager/Senior Associate grade
2% from a Big 4 VAT Assistant/Associate grade


So when’s the best time to consider going in-house?

  • Director grade – in-house roles are very rare, and when they do arise, don’t often go to Big 4 VAT specialists
  • Senior Manager grade – in-house roles are very rare, but when they do arise, you’re in with a decent shout of getting it.
  • Manager grade – in-house roles are comparatively frequent, and you’ve got a good chance of getting it.
  • Assistant Manager grade – there are some in-house roles that arise, and you may get one.
  • Assistant grade – a decent proportion of roles arise, but given they’re compliance driven, they wouldn’t usually appoint from a Big 4 firm.

In summary, if in-house is the career route you think you’d like to go down, we’d suggest that the ideal time to start looking at moving in-house would be as you are moving up from VAT Assistant Manager to Manager grade. Once you’re at Manager grade, don’t leave it too long before moving, as when you start to near Senior Manager grade, the volume of opportunities decrease considerably.

For advice on how to get the best out of your Indirect Tax career, whether that be in a professional services firm or in-house, contact BLT’s specialist Indirect Tax recruitment team on 0207 405 3404.

Guy Barrand
Emma Wade
Liz Watt


Aspire Foundations Networking Event

Last night I attended the Aspire Foundations networking event, hosted by leading law firm Freshfields in London. For those that haven’t come across Aspire, it  is an inspirational organisation that aims to inspire and empower women globally through mentoring and technology. They aim to match M.A.D – ‘Making A Difference’ women working in not for profit, charities and social enterprises with female and male mentors in the small business and corporate world.  They have set the bar high – the aim being to make a difference to I billion women by 2020! However, having seen first hand the energy and enthusiasm in the room last night, from both mentors and mentees, I believe they can absolutely smash their goal!

Having established BLT’s new Executive Coaching Service line, I believe it is important to use my Coaching and mentoring skills to ‘give back’ in some  way, and Aspire provides the perfect opportunity for me to do this.  I joined the mentoring programme earlier this year and my commitment is to mentor the person I am matched with over a six month period for an hour a month.  The aim is to mentor women  to become more powerful leaders in their life, work and world by enhancing skills such as management, influence, communication and career and life planning. The unexpected benefit or me – and other mentors I have met have echoed this – is how much we get back from our mentees. So it is a really positive learning experience for me too.

If you would like to find out more about the Aspire mentoring programme, have a look at their website – .  And if you would like to find out more about my mentoring experience, or discuss BLT’s Executive Coaching service, I’d love to hear from you. Contact Liz at


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