Nicola Whitehead works for the UK Foreign Office in Brussels, and has range of policy responsibilities including sport, education, and youth. She told icould about her career and the experience and influences that led to her current position.
I work at the UK Permanent Representation to the EU in Brussels (part of the UK Foreign Office), leading on EU sport, education, youth, culture and audiovisual policy. The job is quite wide-ranging, but mainly involves working with Government Departments to develop UK positions on EU policy and representing the UK in negotiations in the Council of the European Union.
What is the most exciting aspect of your work?
Working in an international environment with people from all across the EU, and speaking on behalf of the UK in meetings.
Would your classmates from school be surprised at what you’re doing now?
Yes! I think they’d also be a bit confused by it.
Was there a teacher who had a particularly strong influence on you and if so in what way?
My History teacher had a huge influence on me. During one of our GCSE History lessons she decided to give us a one-off Politics lesson. I’d never considered doing Politics before, but loved the class so much that I decided to study the subject at A-level and later to go into a politics-related career. So really she changed my life!
What school subjects were you good at and have any been surprisingly helpful later on?
English was my best subject at school and I went on to study this at university. English helped me develop important skills, such as the ability to analyse and think ‘outside the box’, which have been really helpful in the world of work.
How did you decide what you wanted to do after school?
I always knew I wanted to go to university but I wasn’t sure what to study. In the end I picked the subject I was best at and one which I enjoyed.
Did you take a gap year? Did it influence any decisions later in life?
I didn’t take a gap year before university, but after graduating I went to teach English in France for a year. This had a huge impact on my later life. I loved my experience abroad so much that after finishing my Masters I decided I wanted to go back to living in a French-speaking environment. That’s how I ended up in Brussels.
If you went to university what was your university experience like?
I went to university twice: as an undergraduate and later as a Masters student. I enjoyed university because I met lots of different people and made some really good friends. University is also a great opportunity to try new things. I hosted a radio show at both of my universities and also worked as the Arts Editor for the university paper.
What has been the proudest moment of your life so far?
Getting my first job in Brussels as a Parliamentary Assistant for an MEP was a very proud moment.
Where do you see yourself in 10 years’ time?
I’d like to be living abroad and working in a senior policy role for a UN agency or a well-known NGO such as Amnesty International.
What advice would you give someone still at school who wants to do what you’re doing now?
Get as much experience in policy-making that you can. I interned for an MP during my Masters and this led to me getting my first job as a Parliamentary Assistant. I also did a really helpful internship during my undergraduate studies for a think tank. Try and tailor your work experience rather than doing lots of placements for the sake of it.
Can you give us a link for more information?
www.w4mp.org/ – for policy and politics-related jobs in the UK.
www.eurobrussels.com/ – for EU and international jobs.