Dan is currently a diplomat based in British Embassy Berlin, and completed the Diplomatic track of the Civil Service Fast Stream in London earlier this year. Prior to this, Dan worked in a political consultancy. He completed the Patchwork programme in 2018. Dan remains active in the Patchwork alumni network, and volunteers at ORT UK to mentor sixth form students on their career aspirations.
What are you up to at the moment?
I’m currently based at the British Embassy in Berlin working as what’s called a ‘Second Secretary’, focusing on digital policy, after having finished the Diplomatic scheme of the Fast Stream.
So what does your role entail? What does a normal day look like for you?
It might be a cliche, but there is no ‘normal day’. Days can vary from stereotypical office work where you’re answering emails, writing papers, or making telephone calls, to going to Ministerial events, travelling around Germany, and talking to lots of varied people. A big part of the job involves creating new contacts and trying to engage with and learn from people around you, which is a pretty amazing thing to be able to do. In short, the role is a mixture of things – talking to people, developing expertise in your area, feeding information back to London, and so forth. It’s a very varied profession and role.
How have you found the move to and working in Germany?
It was admittedly a challenge at first to move and settle abroad. However, I am happy to say that I have really enjoyed it. It’s incredibly fun being somewhere new and trying out new things. Working overseas is a fantastic experience, which has come with more independence and excitement than anything I’m used to in London.
Lots of Patchworkers are really interested in diplomacy. What do you think are some of the key skills that you’ve used in the FCDO so far?
What I always say when people ask me this is to look at the competencies or behaviours the Civil Service publicises. I think from the outside they can seem a bit ambiguous and hard to decipher, but they give you a sense of the kind of thing the office looks for and what they would recommend is needed for specific roles. So things like communicating, delivering at pace etc – it can sound “office-y” behind the jargon there’s a lot of truth.
I think what’s great about the Civil Service and in particular the Foreign Office, is that it really tests your soft skills: your ability to work with other people, to think empathetically, to thrive through communication, and to think on your feet. They are the kinds of things that are useful in any environment so it will give you a good basis to thrive in any career.
Consider how you communicate, how you deliver around other people. – Those sorts of skills will give you a good sense of what some of the skills required in diplomacy.
And on top of that it helps of course to be a bit nerdy about policy, government, politics, and international relations!
Even though the fast stream is being postponed this year, there are plenty of ways to get into the Civil Service, be it through the Foreign Office or through other government departments. .
Lots of Patchworkers also want to live abroad. Do you have any advice on that front, both in terms of settling in a new country but also getting those opportunities.
I would say to people who want to live abroad – whether it’s with the Government or somewhere else – to first and foremost give it a good deal of thought. It’s a big decision. Consider whether it fits well with your personal circumstances.
If you decide it is something that you’re in a position to do, I would also say it’s good to learn the language as much as possible. Even in Berlin where almost everyone speaks excellent English, it really is important to show some appreciation for another country’s language and culture. Ingratiate yourself in the country and it will pay off.
If you are interested and able to spend time living overseas, I would highly recommend it. It is a hugely exciting opportunity that will let you meet new people, consider things from different perspectives, and try new things you may never have thought to do before.
Why do you think it’s important for young people to be interested and involved in international relations and foreign policy?
I think different generations grow up with a different political and cultural atmosphere around them, and I think they all bring to the table a very different way of thinking. As a new generation, you will bring creative, innovative ways of thinking, which could make a real impact on policy decisions for the better.
There are few employers like the Civil Service that give young people the chance to shape decisions, and to really make an impact on policy and tangible outcomes for people in the UK and abroad. For that alone I think it’s a really worthwhile career to consider.
Why did you apply for Patchwork and what did you hope to get out of it?
What stands out most for me was being able to meet really incredible Patchworkers from such varied backgrounds. The opportunity to be in those rooms and learn from each other really grew my confidence and left a big impression on me.
I think also what was very clear was that there wasn’t one ‘classic’ Patchworker – everyone had their own reasons for being on the programme. Being a part of that diverse community was so valuable. Building relationships with and learning from others with such varied backgrounds encouraged me to view my unique background that led me to Patchwork as a source of confidence, not something to shy away from but something to embrace and bring with me whether I go.
Amongst the alumni, I think what’s so special is that they aren’t encouraged to think the same way (quite the opposite!). There’s only one core mission to Patchwork: to get people through the door and get them involved. It’s interesting to see how people interpret that, and how they take that confidence in their own direction.
Personally, I often reflect on how my family would feel about me being in the rooms I am now in through Patchwork and the Civil Service, and the answer that often comes back from that is pride. I find that to be a useful motivator. So I would say to Patchworkers or those considering applying, what motivates you, not in spite of your background but because of it?