Ines Tan - Government Communications Service
Our ‘A Week in the Life’ series focuses on industry insights from Cantabs as they intern in numerous sectors. Make sure you stay updated either via Facebook or our mailing list.
Hi, I’m Ines and I’m interning with the Press Office at the Department for Transport for two months, under the wider Government Communications Service Internship Scheme. The Communications Service spans all central departments. There are several components, but all work to support government and minister’s priorities, enable the efficient and effective operation of public services and improve people’s lives. The work that communications encompasses is incredible. For example, if you remember the hedgehog THINK or five-a-day playdough people adverts we grew up with, the GCS were responsible for them.
What does a typical day look like?
I start work at 9am, but as I’m in press office, I’m expected to be in by 8:50 so I can cover phones as other press officers don’t come in till later in the day (we work in shifts). We usually have cuts at 9:30 and wash-up at 4:30. Cuts is where we run through key coverage/issues for the day, including any action taken by the duty press officer which needs to be flagged to the wider team. Wash-up is where press officers highlight things that the late shift, duty press officer and back up might need to know. They’ll forecast potential issues that could come up overnight and talk about pending items on the grid. The grid is the schedule by which all government announcements are made and needs to go through various stages and be approved by No. 10. Press office handles media relations and unsurprisingly, news. A typical day for me would include answering calls from journalists regarding media enquiries (i.e. information for their stories) or interview bids with ministers. Other things I do include media coverage of recent government policy releases and monitoring relevant transport news stories. If we hear of particularly bad coverage or a bad news story, we need to draft lines and statements from the government to try and quell it immediately. There’s a fair amount of time spent knocking down bad stories.
How did you hear about the internship?
I received an email from the Careers Service about the opportunity. It’s an internship for applicants from disadvantaged backgrounds, much like the Summer Diversity Internship Programme for the Civil Service. Since I fit the requirements, I applied from there. Talk through the application process. What did you find difficult or surprising about it?
The application process for the GCS internship was surprisingly easy. It involved filling out an application form, with the standard 250 words on the internship, some competency questions etc. and my CV. After this there was a “sifting stage”, and I was notified if I made it through to the telephone interview. The telephone interview lasted around half an hour. It involved some further competency-based questions and some knowledge about the Government Communications Service itself. I was told of the outcome of the interview two or three weeks after. Did you need any particular skills for the placement?
Not really – in the press office, being able to write in a more “news” tone is definitely required but that comes with training and time. Typing fast is also a benefit since rapid emailing becomes commonplace very, very quickly. Other than that, be able to prioritise and multi-task and obviously communication is important. I talk to different people every day, whether it’s someone from The Times, a policy official or the press office in Dublin, so if I wasn’t comfortable being social, I definitely am now! What has been the highlight of your internship so far?
The level of responsibility I’m given is honestly amazing; I’ve had so many highlights since I’ve started. I think the main one so far has been helping my line manager with the release of the Inclusive Transport Strategy which sets out how the government aims to make the transport system accessible for all by 2030. I actually got to issue the press notice to journalists announcing the launch! I also spent some time with the Digital Team and helped create graphics and tweet copies for the Department’s Twitter. Finally, I’ve been given complete ownership of a government announcement (which at the time of writing I can’t expand on)! This included writing the press release, creating the social media material and coordinating with external stakeholders and journalists. Seeing it from start to finish and having it be my own was unbelievable. More than that, it’s the fact that the work I do here and the work I help with literally changes lives across the country in real ways. I think the Civil Service is the only place where you can see that really happen. How much networking/socialising opportunities are there?
There are loads! There are 54 GCS interns this year across the departments. At Transport, there are around six or seven of us and we meet up for lunch. However, because we’re all on different desks there isn’t really a core sort of intern group, it’s very ad hoc DIY. Professionally, we have a lot of shadowing opportunities and rotations so we can get some experience from other desks. My ‘buddy’ supplied by the GCS works in the Home Office and is trying to get me some time with them and the Department for Education, for example. Internally, I’ve had a rotation with digital, I’ll probably get some time with external affairs, marketing (in charge of campaigns like THINK!) and social media. The internship scheme also arranges really cool opportunities like a visit to the Houses of Parliament and Number 10 and learning skill-building courses. What have you learnt from your internship?
Honestly? There’s a lot of news on transport. It’s everywhere. Other than that, I’ve been given an insight into how government works and how things get done. It’s been really cool to see everything from an insider perspective. I can now write emails within twenty seconds probably and balance angsty journalists on one end and chase up policy officials on the other. I do a lot of chasing so I honestly have no issue making calls anymore. What have you found surprising or unexpected?
The sheer breadth of experience you can get from working in the Civil Service. People on my desk have come from the Ministry of Defence, Education, Trade etc. Moreover, the different things you can do within communications is so interesting and the variety of stuff I get given even on one desk makes this experience so worthwhile. What advice would you give to someone else looking to gain experience in this sector?
Definitely be aware of the structured opportunities the government run, like the GCS internship or the SDIP/EDIP. Other than that, the government is hard to get real experience of because security clearance is a nightmare. I would say if possible, maybe see if you can get some shadowing opportunities in local government, like with the town hall etc., and see where you can go from there!