This week we were delighted to welcome Palika Bhasin (Class of 2009) to our regular Friday Working Lunch to talk about her career in the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office.
Palika studied the IB at Godolphin and then went on to study Politics, Psychology and Sociology at Cambridge University. Palika explained that the usual entry point into the Foreign Office (which two years ago merged with International Development) is through the Civil Service Fast Stream. Like many applicants, Palika was not successful first time around and she emphasised the importance of having a Plan B. For Palika this meant taking a Management course before reapplying, although many candidates choose to work before trying again. Palika explained the importance of candidates being able to demonstrate the core competencies that are required at the interview and application stage.
Palika talked about the many high points of her career to date – and some of the low points: she was very quick to have a role that had real purpose and responsibility and in the first few years worked as a Maritime Security Policy Analyst and Africa Policy Analyst before being posted to Erbil in Northern Iraq where she really had fantastic opportunities to operate at a very senior diplomatic level. This was followed by 18 months of intensive arabic language training before she was stationed in Lebanon as Political Officer with responsibility for Syria, focusing on human rights and then heading up the Women and Conflict team. Palika is now taking a sabatical to study International Law at SOAS with a view to taking a more specialist role at the FC&D Office.
She spoke about how a career as a diplomat is very fulfilling and varied – ‘never boring’ – but that it is not paid quite as well as some corporate and city jobs. A few other points to think about is that people need to work abroad which often means they need to be away from their family, or that their family needs to be able to relocate with them. Situations such as conflict and a pandemic can make it hard to return home; Palika missed one of her grandparents’ funerals and often has to work at Christmas time. Members of the FC&D Office may need to enact a policy – such as Brexit – that they don’t personally agree with and Palika explained that the job is not really compatible with a party lifestyle. However, she also said that it is a fantastic career that offers real equality of opportunity for women and that there is no need to have gone to Oxbridge. Palika emphasised the importance of summer jobs, such as working in a restaurant, when it comes to demonstrating competencies such as teamwork as well as being able to give examples of having worked with people from different cultures.
It was a fascinating talk for the many students who attended and the eager questions took us right up to the end of lunchtime bell. Thank you Palika!