Ben T.

Senior Policy Advisor
Happy to mentor
Happy to be contacted

About me

Ben T.
History
History
Research Postgraduate
Halifax
2009
United Kingdom

My employment

Senior Policy Advisor
Cabinet Office, Civil Service
United Kingdom
Government and civil service
Large business (250+ employees)
2019

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A day in the life of a Senior Policy Advisor in the United Kingdom

I graduated into the 2008/9 financial crisis, when the job market looked very bleak indeed - not so different to today, unfortunately.

Briefly describe the organisation you work for

The Cabinet Office's purpose is to maintain the integrity of the Union, co-ordinate the security of the realm and sustain a flourishing democracy; to support the design and implementation of HM Government’s policies and the Prime Minister’s priorities; and to ensure the delivery of the finest public services by attracting and developing the best public servants and improving the efficiency of government.

What do you do?

Delivering projects by working with experts to generate high-quality analysis and ideas: leading on the design and delivery of projects that engage the outside experts and generate high-quality analysis and ideas.

Securing commissions: engaging senior colleagues across government to explain how my team (the Open Innovation Team) can support their work and agree commissions that maximise the team’s impact.

Communicating with senior stakeholders inside and outside Whitehall: effectively communicating with and managing senior stakeholders in Whitehall and beyond, including universities, businesses and charities.

Managing colleagues: effectively managing colleagues, academics and PhD students working with us on placement.

Building networks and representing the Cabinet Office outside government: quickly build relationships with leading thinkers across the UK and overseas to help the team stay on top of the latest policy ideas and respond quickly to commissions.

Reflecting upon your past employment and education, what led you to your current career choice?

I enjoyed studying history at undergraduate level, and continued that through to a Masters degree and a PhD. However, I was keen to explore careers where research could be more quickly applied and influence people's lives for the better. As a postgrad student, I looked into placements in policy, and ended up on a three-month scheme with Parliament's Office for Science and Technology (POST). I enjoyed the wide variety of research methods that were used there, as well as the varied experiences and policy discussions I was privy to there, which led me to apply for a fulltime job at Parliament after my PhD. As an advisor and analyst to select committees, I discovered my research skills and analytical rigour were very useful for this area of work, while also providing a more varied and fast-paced environment relative to academia.

Is your current job sector different from what you thought you would enter when you graduated?

I graduated during the post 2008 recession - I'd considered applying for a job with the civil service straight out of undergrad, and actually did apply for the graduate fast scheme, but didn't succeed at the first attempt. I therefore applied for funding for postgrad opportunities, where I succeeded in securing funding for an MA and a PhD. I'd generally intended to return to a policy-focused career once recruitment freezes in government had lifted, and that was indeed how things turned out!

Describe your most memorable day at work

Leading a small team of staff conducting field research in Paris and Berlin, interviewing experts on tech and tech policy in the EU.

Are there any challenges associated with your job?

The ultimate objectives in policy work in the civil service are often unclear - briefs from senior officials will sometimes be vague and ill-defined, and you need to make a success of things even in those situations.

What’s your work environment and culture like?

The culture is generally much more informal than I would have imagined (and much more so than it is in Parliament, for example) - usually it entails an open plan office and an informal style of interaction. Face-to-face meetings, under normal circumstances, and very much the preferred method of communication. There are significant opportunities to define aspects of your role, and set up or expand new initiatives.

What extracurricular activities did you undertake at university and what transferable skills did you develop through these?

Probably the most significant was volunteering to produce a play at the Drama Barn, on behalf of a friend. I hadn't really been involved with any drama productions before, so i didn't know what I was doing, but it helped build my confidence, get on with people I wouldn't normally talk to, and develop useful organisational and managment skills

What would you like to do next with your career?

I generally follow whatever seems interesting, but I would like to lead a team fulltime.

What top tips do you have for York students preparing for today’s job market and life after graduation?

I graduated into the 2008/9 financial crisis, when the job market looked very bleak indeed - not so different to today, unfortunately. Under these circumstances, it's important to be realistic, and go in thinking 'I might not get my dream job straight out of university'. But equally, you should be concious of any compromises you're making, and think in terms of a time limit on that, of maybe 2 or 3 years. This recession, like others in the past, won't last forever, and you can ride this out as well. This is also a good time to think about gaining other professional or academic skills and qualifications, while there's less opportunity to rise quickly in pay and experience, so you're in a better position at the other end.

Finally, don't feel too worried about not having a clear career or life plan worked out. I didn't when I graduated, and instead I mostly just followed whatever seemed interesting at the time. The kind of sector or profession you should be in often becomes clear only gradually, and at a certain point it may well seem like an interesting job finds you, rather than the other way around. It's okay to think in terms of valuable and interesting experiences, rather than jobs - it's often much easier to tell a coherant story about how various jobs made sense in retrospect, than to see a clear road ahead just after graduating.

What topics from students are you happy to answer questions on?

I can answer questions on academia (securing funding for masters and PhD study, for example), and working for the civil service, public sector, and politics and public affairs jobs.

Next steps...

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