GUEST BLOG: From Linguist to International Tax Advisor

UoY Careers Balloon illy Guest blog written by James Heathcote, Private Client Sector Services, Deloitte LLP

You might be wondering how it’s possible to go from being a Languages and Linguistics student to being a tax advisor for some of the world’s largest families and wealthiest individuals.

…but, let’s face it, you’re probably not wondering that at all. In fact, chances are you’ve not even considered tax as a career. Neither had I, until the summer of my second year at York when I did a six week placement with Deloitte in Leeds. In all honesty, I needed the money, and I never expected that it would turn into the exciting career I’m now lucky to be in.

Four years on, I’m now based in London advising on UK and international tax for entrepreneurs, hedge fund managers, wealthy families and even the odd billionaire. The work is as varied as the clients, and I’ve been involved in advising on coming to the UK, selling multi-million pound property and buying yachts, to name just a few. Although this may not seem a natural career path for a Linguist, there are many aspects of my time at York that have helped to get me where I am now.

As a manager in the Private Client Services team, much of my time is spent talking directly to my clients over the phone or by email. They can often be challenging and have very high expectations, so it’s vital to be personable and have excellent communication skills. Whether you’re talking to a billionaire or the average man on the street, being able to have a conversation is one of the most fundamental skills you can have.

Despite the popular perception, this isn’t a job that needs the most mathematical people to do well (I did well at GCSE maths, but things went downhill from there!). If you can use a calculator and have basic Excel skills, that’s plenty – the majority of the work is highly analytical and involves reading legislation, case law and other literature. The most important thing is being able to apply what you read to your client’s specific circumstances and getting it across in a way that’s understandable. Your Linguistics degree will give you massive a head start in this, as we all know that the lecturers wouldn’t appreciate a copy-and-paste of someone else’s work!

The transferrable skills you gain from a Linguistics degree are some of the most important skills you will ever use. People talk about ‘transferrable skills’ a lot, so I’ve tried to give some specific examples from my own degree course:

  • Forensic Phonetics is the perfect example of collaborative working – you need to listen to things on your own, process what you’re hearing, understand what it means, and then relay that to other people in the group.
  • Child Language Acquisition pretty well sums up the first few years of your tax career – you start knowing nothing, then make some sensible noises after a while, learn from your mistakes when you try new things, and eventually get just as fluent as everyone else.
  • Tax really isn’t dissimilar to Semantics – you have lots of different components, and your job is to work out how they fit together to form something that makes sense and other people can understand.
  • Once you’ve given a presentation in French to your seminar group (and were recorded doing so to get feedback from the tutor…), you can give a presentation to anyone!

Although it may not seem like it initially, having a Linguistics degree opens so many doors and is much more relevant to ‘the real world’ than you might think. Give it a go, see what you think – and if it’s not for you, Linguistics will always help you find the next career move.

(See James’s York Profile at: