Henry Walker case study

Director’s Personal Assistant at Department for Transport
BA History and Political Science, 2017

What does your role involve?

My role within the Civil Service is as a Personal Assistant for two Deputy Directors in the Department for Transport. As the name suggests, I have to assist with the work that the Directors conduct and give general business support for the teams that I am in.

Working so closely with the Directors means that I have to deal with official and sensitive emails, phone calls and post promptly, whilst bringing any urgent and important correspondence to their attention. I prepare all their diary logistics, including paperwork and briefing materials and ensure that the Directors are always in the correct location, with the correct papers and aware of upcoming appointments. This means that I have to organise meetings between the Department of Transport and stakeholders such as Network Rail around the country and also insure that the Directors have enough time to travel between meetings across Westminster.

In addition to this I am helping out with the current Rail Review team. This has so far included undertaking stakeholder engagement research, managing expenses claims and organising large Department wide events. I have also been given an introduction into policy work.

Ultimately my role is to develop and maintain an effective process to deliver a first-class administrative service.

How did you find it?

At university there is often the assumption that the only way to get a good job in the Civil Service is through the Fast Stream Graduate programme; I thought this myself! Having applied for the Fast Stream twice and failed twice, a friend of mine from university suggested that I apply for roles directly on the gov.uk Civil Service job website, as he himself had done. So I searched for some Executive Officer roles that sounded interesting and settled for the Personal Assistant role. All I then had to do was write up a cover letter explaining why I wanted the job, do a quick online test and then after passing those I got to the interview stage which was very relaxed and straight forward.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

There are lots of things I enjoy about my job, although what I enjoy most is that the role provides me with an excellent oversight of transport, in particular the rail industry, and the Civil Service more generally. Working so closely with Senior Civil Servants means that I am able to attend high level meetings and learn quickly how the mechanisms of government work, which as a History and Politics graduate, I find most interesting. The Department is also really great at encouraging people to continuously develop themselves and learn new skills to help with their career progression. This has led me to attend training events as well as lectures, such as how the railway system works in the UK. I have now learnt a lot of technical details about the rail industry, such as how the Train Operating Companies (TOCs) do not own the Rolling Stock and how they use the tracks that are managed by Network Rail. I have also attended lectures on more general matters such as bringing Primary Legislation to Parliament. The Civil Service History society also hold a wide range of talks - the last one I went to was about late Roman London. Each month the Civil Service also runs a tour of parliament which you can always pop along to which is good fun.

There are lots of other things that I enjoy about my job apart from the learning and development. The job has flexible working which means that you can work from home if you want to, and when you do come into the office, you can arrive and leave at times that are most convenient for yourself. The location of my job is also really fantastic, which is great as it makes me look forward into commuting each day. Being in such a central London location means that I often have my lunch in St. James’s Park and the Victoria Tower Gardens by the river. Other miscellaneous things I enjoy about my job have been: the Civil Service Carol Concert in Westminster Abbey, bumping into ministers in the lift and having a large portrait of the Queen to greet you in the lobby each day!

What’s most challenging?

No two days are ever the same, which means that you have to constantly be on your feet. Whether a minister calls in for an unexpected meeting due to a political crisis or there is a railway incident that needs attention, you need to constantly adapt and juggle diaries and meetings. Having to manage two director’s schedules as well as helping with organising the Rail Review, you need to be able to balance your priorities and constantly reassess them. My role involves organising events and meetings with many external stakeholders, and often finding a time and place that works for everyone is very difficult!

How did your time at Birmingham help prepare you for this role?

As a Joint Honours student (History and Political Science), it was always important that you balanced both the History and Politics departments and ensured that you were giving just as much attention to both. Having to work with two teams that have very different roles, I am glad that I have had the experience of working with two departments before that were both quite different. Additionally, the History Group Research module that I took in Second Year helped me a lot to work well in a team, which has (although at the time it did not seem to be!) proved to be indispensable, as at work all you do is work within teams. Also, my role needs you to be very flexible as you need to be able to adapt quickly as your priorities are likely to change regularly. At university you often have to juggle different tasks from essays and revision to clubs and societies, which taught me how to keep priorities and keep ahead of all my work.

What advice would you give to students interested in your industry or role?

For anyone wanting to work in the Civil Service, regardless of department, they need to show that they can demonstrate the four core values of the Civil Service. These are: integrity, honesty, objectivity and impartiality. So just do anything you can to show that you possess all these qualities, such as from working in a shop, being part of a sports team or just partaking in group exercises at university.


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