upReach Associate Josh is a final year History student at the University of York, and joined upReach in his first year of university. This summer, he took part in the Civil Service Fast Stream’s award-winning Summer Diversity Internship Programme. In the blog below, he shares his experience of the programme, and gives some tips for students looking to apply!
I recently interned for 6 weeks in the Foreign Office (FCO) through the Summer Diversity Internship Programme (SDIP) as part of the Civil Service Fast Stream. This provided me with a detailed insight into the Foreign Office, alongside the very useful Fast Pass, which has allowed me to skip to the assessment centre for the actual graduate scheme.
My Useful Tips for Applications
The application process is split into various sections, including short essays, a phone interview, and both aptitude and competency tests.
The best tip I can really give for these is to utilise your upReach Programme Coordinator, learn the competency framework (so that you naturally refer to it when explaining your answers in the essays and phone interview – albeit not too frequently!) and just practice as much as possible.
The application process comes so much down to practice, and while it is important to stay true to yourself with your answers, you can learn and master what they are looking for, the structure, and how to proceed.
My time in the FCO went incredibly fast; it was busy, but most importantly was very interesting. I began my time split between Knowledge Management (KMT) on the corporate side, and the Legal Directorate, but eventually moved from KMT to the Burma Unit, shortening my time in Legal to just one day a week.
In the first half I was mostly working on online resources, which had a lower intensity, so spent a significant amount of time meeting with various lawyers, team members and other employees across the FCO. This included going along to a meeting at DfT about International Ocean Strategy, delivering a treaty to parliament, visiting the archives in Milton Keynes and going to a video conference with 4 overseas embassies. This was a great insight into many varied areas of the FCO. Meeting with people across teams and departments, including the Legal Advisor to the FCO, allowed for a great understanding of the progression, life and challenges of working in the FCO. I highly recommend taking advantage of the people in the department you work in; everyone I spoke to, no matter how busy, were always willing to sit down and chat about their time. In this time, I also spent time in the Sanctions Unit and the Burma Unit.
I eventually transferred to the Burma Unit after spending a day working there, organised through my mentor (assigned when you begin SDIP). For this half of my time, the work was more intense and fast-paced, largely the result of the upcoming UN Fact-Finding Mission report which concluded that what was happening in Burma equated to genocide. Here I found myself writing briefings for senior ministers, drafting speeches, and working on legislation to do with Burma. Alongside this, I was tasked with organising, with a colleague from DfID, the visit of the UN resident coordinator to the UK. The work was incredibly interesting and really enjoyable. As many people told me before I started, I can confirm that they do treat you as one of the team, and the work you are given does not feel like simple busy-work! Being thrown in at the deep end on areas I had no understanding about was definitely a key concern of mine going into the internship, but in practice it was easier than I had worried and there was clear support available from all the team. In the end I actually really enjoyed and thrived on tasks where I did have to learn as I went on.
Useful Tips While Interning
My main tip is to really take advantage of what is on offer. It can be difficult to feel comfortable pushing for opportunities, as you are always aware you have pressures, deadlines and set work, but your line manager will have applied for an intern, and it will have been made clear that you are there to develop and experience the Civil Service; you are not just unpaid labour. Make sure to take advantage of that. If you are open and realistic, and explain your reasoning, they are very unlikely to say no.
I was incredibly anxious about approaching my line manager about moving from KMT to the Burma Unit, but I arranged a meeting with him and explained why I wanted the move, and also offered potential work-arounds to ensure I was still contributing to his team; in the end he was happy to sign off on a complete move, as he was aware that it was a very worthwhile opportunity and this did not affect his opinion of me.
Equally, take advantage of the people there; people are very busy, but it surprised me how open people were to chatting to me, and this equally led to quite a few random opportunities. For example, I spent a day in the Sanctions Unit. This was organised as a result of a conversation I had with one of the lawyers, who just happened to have a meeting with a senior member in the Sanctions Team following our meeting; she asked on my behalf and they were happy for me to shadow them for a day. Similar meetings and chats allowed me to go to inter-government meetings, parliament and various other opportunities, as mentioned above.
A final tip would be that it is important to find a balance between your work set and personal, and professional, development when interning. It is essential you do both. This is made easier if you go in with the understanding that those in your unit will both expect and encourage this. Likewise, stay in contact with fellow interns who can offer you advice along the same lines. People you meet will always be willing to help and will often go out of their way. I had not expected this to be the case, at least not to the extent it was when I was interning, but this is an incredible resource that I really recommend you take advantage of.
With thanks to Josh Collier for sharing his experiences.