Katie Whitehouse

Civil Service Fast Streamer - Policy Officer at the Department for Education
BSc Psychology, 2020

What is your current role?

""I currently work as a Civil Service Fast Streamer; I am in my first posting at the Department for Education as a Policy Officer. I first applied for the Fast Stream while in my final year of university. I made it to the assessment centre stage but was unsuccessful. I knew how competitive the Fast Stream was, but this was still a setback. As I had made it to the assessment centre stage, I was offered a grade junior to that in the Fast Stream, this was part of the Direct Appointee scheme that the Civil Service offer. I accepted the role and worked as a Team Leader at HMCTS. I really enjoyed this role; the people were great and the work was always interesting. However, I knew it wasn't stretching my development as much as I needed to be able to progress at pace. Three months into this role I found out I had been accepted on to the Fast Stream after applying for a second time. I accepted this role to aid my development and gain experience in a range of postings. 

Did you know what you wanted to do before you started University?

Not at all! I chose to do a Psychology degree because I enjoyed the subject at college and the range of topics is vast! I knew that by choosing a degree in Psychology at UoB it would provide me with a range of skills to help me adapt to whatever career I went into. 

Did you have any work experience before you graduated? 

Not very much. I had worked as a retail assistant at college, but by the time I was applying for graduate schemes this wasn't very relevant anymore. I had worked as a student ambassador at University, but I hadn't picked up many shifts due to course demands. I would advise everyone to get work experience under their belt as it will always help with settling into new roles. However, if you're a final year student with little work experience, try not to worry as there are graduate schemes out there that don't require work experience or CVs as part of their recruitment process. 

What do you love most about your role? 

I am only 3 months into the role, yet I already have full autonomy on how the projects I am working on are carried out. The 'what' is decided collaboratively with my manager, but the 'how' is decided by me. This has helped to improve my confidence in the workplace as when you receive good feedback you know it's down to your hard work! 

What is most challenging about your role?

Getting up to speed. In the first couple weeks you get dropped in at the deep end, there's lots to learn to get up to speed. I felt as though I was being hit with new information left, right and centre, it was difficult to retain it all. Luckily, there are lots of new starter provisions in place to help and there was no pressure on me to know everything right away. Even three months into the role there's so much I still don't know! I know now it's just about asking questions and approaching people for help. 

Have you faced any key challenges during your career journey? If so, how did you overcome them? 

I think I always had the expectation that when I'd finish university, I'd have a job lined up, when this wasn't the case, I found it quite difficult. After being rejected from several graduate schemes I lost a lot of motivation to keep applying for others. To add to this when COVID hit a lot of graduate employers stopped their graduate schemes, so there were less to apply for. It became more competitive than ever to get a graduate scheme. I accepted a below graduate level job to help build up work experience. I kept applying for graduate schemes until I was successful as I knew this was the progression route I wanted to take. 

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

I would recommend attending the careers fairs the University holds, if it wasn't for these I wouldn't be in the role that I am now. They're very valuable in the sense you can hear the experiences of current graduates in the role you are interested in, you can ask questions about the role and find out information which you can't get when doing a Google search.
When preparing for my first assessment centre I used the University careers site to look at what I could expect on the day and how to prepare. This helped put me at ease on the day. 

What are your career plans for the future?

I would like to stay within the Civil Service once my graduate scheme ends. The culture is very inclusive and you are encouraged to be yourself. I would like to see where my upcoming placements take me as it may be one of these roles that I want to stay in after the Fast Stream. I'm confident that there will be lots of opportunities within the Civil Service for me to stay on.
However, I'm not closing the door on completing a post graduate degree in Psychology. I have always been interested in criminal profiling. 

What advice would you give to students who are interested in getting into your industry or role, or if they're unsure what they want to do?

Do lots of research and contact those on LinkedIn who are already in the role you are looking at. From my experience speaking to those who are already in the role has been the most insightful route and determined what jobs I applied for. 

What would be your key piece of career advice for a student just entering the employment market?

Don't put pressure on yourself to have a job lined up straight after University, graduate schemes are very competitive. Utilise the careers network to help identify a career path for you, they also have interview and assessment practice available. Looking back, I wish I had taken the opportunity to practise my interview and assessment centre skills, it would have meant I was more prepared and less nervous when it came to the real thing. 


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