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Name: Ian Brown
Degree: BSc Hons Mathematics
Graduation: 2009
Employer: Liaison Financial Services
Job title: Senior VAT Executive


About my time in Dundee

I graduated in 2009 with a BSc (Hons) in Mathematics. The highlight overall achievement would be gaining a first in my degree: 4 years is a long time to dedicate to something, so to get that as an end result was really great. I think what made it easier to enjoy the studying was that many of us on the course studied together, especially in 4th year. We would go to lectures, then all grab a table at the library to work through assignments followed by a game of pool in the union and a few pints. I couldn't have hoped of anywhere better to study to be honest, the proximity of all the facilities (library, union, sports hall etc) meant it was really easy to mix studying with a social life.

What I do now

At present I am a Senior VAT Executive, essentially a VAT consultant. I have a core group of clients in the NHS and education sector and I essentially do a full validation of their VAT return, make sure they are recovering VAT costs when allowed, paying the right amount of VAT to HMRC, etc. The overall goal is to ensure that maximum savings are made whilst still being compliant. The company I work for is really good at getting you involved in other areas of the business, so for example I have led a team in developing how we report findings to our clients and have delivered VAT training sessions, so it is far more than just staring at VAT returns!

The most challenging part is just being aware of all the different VAT rules and regulations as they constantly change. As a lot of the rules are interpretational it can be a challenge to get people to agree on your interpretation so it takes a lot of people skills to make it seem like a discussion rather than an argument. The rewards come in the savings you achieve for the clients. There have been projects I have carried out where I have obtained savings of over £300,000, but what's more rewarding is when you have people that tell you the savings you achieved were actually the difference between a project going ahead and being scrapped. I technically work from home but I have clients all over the UK so travel quite a bit. I use it to my advantage though. I have a large element of control of when I work at my clients so a lot of trips get arranged around football matches: this year so far I have seen Man Utd (twice), Newcastle and QPR.

The mathematical skills I gained at Uni, whilst not directly required, have proved to be really more important to how well I can apply myself to this job. The ability to problem solve and analyse data quickly and effectively is so important and I think it's something where people with a maths background have an edge on the rest. When the amounts of money involved are so huge it is important you are both confident in the calculations you are making but also able to identify when there is an error. My colleagues mainly have a mix of accountancy and business backgrounds so it's interesting to see that a maths background fits in effectively with that too. They would have known more about VAT than I did when I started but I think I have the advantage when it comes to the data and calculations. The company puts us through a VAT diploma with the Institute of Indirect Taxation which gives us a good overview of VAT even though we only really specialise in a small area of it.

How I got the job

I think I saw my job advertised in (or something similar). I know my firm uses a recruitment company when looking for new staff so I guess the company advertised through that. I remember that I applied for the job via the website and I got a call from the recruitment company almost right away to say I was the type of candidate they were looking for etc. After that I had an initial interview, it was at a hotel bar in Dundee and they seemed really unprepared as they asked absolutely everything about me. It turns out the recruitment company gave me the wrong day and I turned up for an interview when they weren't expecting it. The hotel bar also makes more sense now as we all work remotely so we don't have offices you can have interviews in. The questions were a mix of formal and informal (I got asked what music I listened to) but it was the informal ones that really threw me off as I didn't expect them at all.

The day after that the recruitment company called and told me that I had got down to the last 2 and I would have a second interview in Gretna. They also told me the concerns my company had about me as a potential employee - the fact that I hadn't done a lot of distance driving because the job would involve a lot of travel. They also gave me the contact details of the person who did my interview and recommended I give him a call to chat a bit more.

I drove to the second interview (to make a point!) and I also had to learn a list of codes/headings which I was to be tested on and was told that it would virtually come down to that so I spent the 3 days before interview studying them, thinking that I wasn't going to miss out on a job because of some little test. They told me at the time I got 100% in the test and then I got a phonecall on the way home to say I got the job. For an interview to be a VAT consultant there were very few questions about VAT, it was mainly just seeing what I was like as a person and how well I could apply myself to learning something new.

That was the first job I got offered and it was the end of November, so it took a little while, since I graduated in June. The hardest part was not to get too down about rejected applications, bad interviews (I had plenty) and you almost get into a state of talking yourself out of applying for jobs for fear of getting rejected. I eventually got into a mind-set that I only need to get it right once when it came to an application/interview process and then it would be over. There were so many jobs I thought I was perfect for and didn't even get an interview, it makes no sense to you and it is unbelievably frustrating but you just have to keep on plugging away. I put my CV on lots of websites but found I had more success looking at job websites myself as I picked the jobs I thought I was good for and was interested in rather than a recruitment agency picking me because I was right 'on paper'. Those suggested by recruitment consultants tended to be computer programming type jobs and there seemed to be a general expectation that I would have done more computational stuff than I had.

Advice for current students

I would really suggest getting on LinkedIn, recruitment companies seem to use that a lot.

The biggest single thing I gained from Uni was a bit of confidence and life experience. It gets you used to routine, speaking to people, presenting, working in groups etc. It means once you start a job you only have the job that is the big new change which would be easier than everything new coming at you at once.

I didn't really start looking at the job market until after I had finished all my final year exams. I just had a look at job websites just to get an idea of what's out there and what kind of thing I thoght I would like doing. It gave me a bit of time to think what I wouldn't mind doing every day before really concentrating on applications once graduation was done. I decided I wanted an analytical type job, a bit different to the usual office job and didn't want to do any further study at that time, I also wanted a Mon-Fri day job as I up until that point I was working nights and weekends. I then just looked at jobs based on that. It seems picky but you have to think how you would feel doing a job on a daily basis. There are so many different jobs out there that you won't even know existed. Don't expect to be able to do everything in a job description either, it's very unlikely you will be able to do it, but find out about the role and think could I do it and would I be good at that.

Another good tip is to not concentrate on the starting salary too much, look at the long term and other benefits. You hear endless stories of the "average graduate salary" but I would say get a job with potential and work your way up the ladder. You will get an idea from interviews if there is potential for you to have progressed significantly in 5/10 years' time. If you are going into a financial job from maths you may have to look at the long term of how good you can be and be willing to start on a lower salary to get there. Also consider things like working hours, commuting time/costs, cost of living where job is (a job in London will look attractive with a £30k salary but take into account rent and travel and you may be better off with a £20k salary in Dundee).

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