October 25, 2019, by Jackie Thompson
My Route Into A Graduate Job
By Lewis Mills, BSc Biology
As a final year student, everybody starts to ask about what you are doing after university. I finished my degree and had been rejected for every job I had applied for. However, there are many different routes into graduate roles.
Rejection and then an offer
In the final year of my degree, the reality that I would be leaving university and need a job started to sink in. Alongside finishing my dissertation, exams and working as a student duty manager at Mooch I started researching possible employers and job roles. I decided to apply to the HMRC Tax Specialist Programme (TSP) because the scheme offered a variety of technical and managerial opportunities on a structured development programme (and the starting salary wasn’t bad either!).
I started the application process and was faced with verbal reasoning, numerical reasoning and a situational judgement online tests. I passed the tests, however, I didn’t meet the required standard to be invited to the video interview and my application ended there.
A few weeks later, I received an email explaining I scored highly in the online tests which had made me eligible to be offered an ‘officer’ position within HMRC. At this point, I had little information about what this job was, just a general description and salary details. I accepted the position and started in September 2015 and found myself working in the fraud department. This was an amazing opportunity, where I was involved in civil and criminal investigations into various types of tax and excise fraud. Accepting this job turned out to be one of the best decisions I had ever made.
Gaining experience and re-applying
After three years of investigating fraud, I decided to re-apply to the TSP. This time around I was successful (despite a certain Amazon device talking during one of my video interview answers after which I laughed at my own horrified facial expression) and I started on the course in September 2018. The TSP course is structured so that you are studying and taking exams towards a BA (Hons) Professional Studies in Taxation degree while undertaking real enquiry work from the day you start.
- Stage 1 – Tax Specialist Programme
As soon as you start on the TSP you are a compliance caseworker and undertake enquiries into a variety of individuals, company and partnership tax returns. It is your job to investigate and identify any errors or omissions in tax returns ultimately ensuring the right amount of tax has been paid by the customer. If you identify discrepancies, you may find yourself issuing information notices and penalties to customers, conducting customer meetings or even refunding money where too much tax has been paid.
- Stage 2 – Tax Specialist Programme
In stage 2 of the course (years two and three), you stream into a line of business and continue on a more specialised learning programme. Upon successful completion of the course, you will be promoted to a Grade 7 position within that line of business. The Grade 7 role is that of a senior leader within HMRC. It will vary between departments, however, it may involve leading a team, becoming a technical specialist or carrying out compliance and enforcement activities for most taxpayer segments from individuals and small businesses through to the top 2000 of the UK’s largest companies.
The TSP is tough, as you are expected to simultaneously study, pass exams for your degree, attend weekly tutorials, and undertake work opportunities to demonstrate key competencies for your quality assurance framework while also progressing your own allocated enquiries towards closure. However, if you are someone who enjoys investigation, problem-solving, forming opinions using case law, analysing data or meeting with customers I would highly recommend applying to the HMRC Tax Specialist Programme.
The recruitment process
The process starts with a very simple application form that requires the basic personal details such as full name, address and so on. Once the application form is submitted, you are invited to take three online tests: numerical reasoning, verbal reasoning and a situational judgement test. These tests are fairly standard for all graduate scheme type roles and I would highly recommend finding some practice examples online (it’s surprising how rusty some of your basic maths skills can become).
The situational judgement test asks scenario-based questions where you are presented with a number of possible options. You have to select the option you feel is most appropriate for that specific situation. I don’t think there is an easy way to prepare for this test, however, I would recommend doing a bit of research into the Civil Service core values.
If you are successful and pass the three online tests, you will be invited to complete a video interview. This was by far the most bizarre and stressful of all of the stages of the application process. The video interview is done using an online portal and this can be accessed by using your smartphone, tablet or laptop (providing it has a webcam or front-facing camera and an internet connection). Once you start the interview, the questions will appear on the screen, after which the camera will start recording your answer. While recording your answer, the portal shows the video of yourself on the screen, which is extremely off-putting. I would advise doing some practice answers in front of a mirror!
If you are successful at the video interview stage, you will be invited to attend an assessment centre. This involves a number of group and individual exercises. I really enjoyed the assessment centre and met some really interesting people on the day, one of which is a colleague of mine now. I think it is important to be confident and engage with the exercises. Remember the assessment centre is the chance to show who you really are and why you are the right candidate for the TSP.