Is a career in industry better than a career in practice? There’s no right answer, but there are certain ways to weigh up your options.
Practice or industry – which is better? Talk to a tax partner and he/she will say practice. Talk to a head of tax in industry and he/she will say industry. Talk to a specialist tax recruiter and we will say: “It all depends!” It’s not as simple as comparing practice to industry. It depends on what practice, what industry, what role, what team, what person and so on. However, there are some obvious differences which can steer you in the right direction.
Within industry, you focus on core areas of the business rather than working with multiple clients. A good client portfolio in practice will ensure you have a variety of work. However, a busy group function of a successful corporate will also provide a wide spectrum of work.
Notwithstanding differences in culture between different companies and different firms, there is a major difference in culture when comparing practice to industry. With a practice background, you come from a culture where you trained with similar people within a very collegiate environment.
A move to industry means that you will now be part of a wider business setting. Tax can be perceived in a different context and you may even feel like you’re at the bottom of the pile again.
You are more likely to progress your career within tax if you stay in practice. A move to industry may afford you the chance to move into operational roles, and possibly out of tax. It is often argued that working in industry is more commercial than working in practice. Yes, whilst you will be more exposed to commercial teams and commercial elements of work within industry, it’s not conclusive to state it’s a more commercial role; again, it varies from firm to firm. Tax professionals in practice must be commercial to be able to deliver tax commercial solutions to their clients and also, in some firms, essentially running their own business, including business development, people management, invoicing clients etc.
Tax is tax, right? In this changing business landscape, the role of the tax practitioner and the role of the in-house tax advisor seem to be constantly shifting and reversing. With so many different outsourcing agreements, it’s not as easy to define roles.
The person/team you will be working with will also have an effect on the work you are exposed to (be it industry or practice). Tax is such a technical specialism and a profession where having a mentor (rather than just a manager) is fundamental at every step of your career.
A career in practice (particularly within the larger firms) tends to be more structured as a transparent and clear career path is often carved out. Industry lacks this definitive structure in terms of promotional opportunities for tax professionals. However, the success and culture of any organisation are general signs as to whether an opportunity to progress will become available. The growing importance of tax across the globe has resulted in an increased emphasis on strong in-house tax teams with additional headcount required and thus, promotional opportunities.
Is it true that industry can provide a more balanced work/life balance? It depends. Needless to say, the environment in practice is client facing, so you are expected to deliver as required and demanded by your clients. But the corporate sector also has clients in the form of internal stakeholders and investors, where challenging deadlines can arise at any time. It’s often a question of figuring out who is controlling the workload. Senior tax professionals in practice can get to a stage in their career where they can control the workload, as can tax teams in industry where the decisions are made in Ireland or Europe. If decisions are made in the US, however, you may have limited control over your day.
Salary and benefit trends
When it comes to salary, is practice or industry better? In years gone by, a move to industry almost always resulted in a significant uplift in salary. However, firms have really disrupted this trend in recent times as they have recognised the need to improve salaries and benefits to retain talent. There has been an increased focus on intrinsic rewards within both landscapes, such as office amenities, flexibility to work from home, career progression and opportunities.
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