What do you want to do with your life? It's a question that strikes fear into the heart of all school children (and most adults too, let's be honest). I was one of those precocious sorts who always had an answer. At least I thought I did, until I landed my "dream job" and realised that it wasn't really for me.
That's how I ended up on the House of Commons careers website where, by a complete stroke of luck, I saw a vacancy for Hansard reporters. One application form, two tests, and an interview later and here I am.
My experience taught me that even if you think you know what career you want, you should keep an open mind. It can only broaden your options.
So when a teacher at Green Spring Academy Shoreditch invited me to represent Hansard at the school's careers fair, I jumped at the chance. I wanted to help the pupils discover the plethora of career options available to them if they work hard. Off I went, armed with copies of the previous day's Official Report and what I hoped was a welcoming smile.
A job in Parliament
No matter how anxious you might be at a networking event or job interview, it's worth remembering that the people on the other side of the table will be just as keen to make a good impression. As the school doors opened and a wave of students approached, I suddenly felt nervous. Would anyone be interested in Hansard? What if no one talked to me? Would I look like Billy No Mates while the banking stalls were overrun?
I needn't have worried. Green Spring Academy's students are not backward about coming forward. Students of all ages (and their parents!) grilled me about Hansard. They asked what I do day to day and what A-level subjects would be useful for a career in politics. I stressed that my colleagues come from vastly different backgrounds.
In fact, I'm pretty atypical with my government degree. Subjects that show a high standard of written English or an interest in the political process and current affairs certainly help. But so do foreign languages, a knowledge of geography, and even the attention to detail required to conduct scientific experiments.
Many students thought a career in politics meant being either an MP or a civil servant. But I wanted to show them the range of opportunities available in Parliament. Of course I'm biased. I think that being a Hansard reporter is one of the best jobs on offer, especially if you feel strongly about the difference between 'less' and 'fewer'. But the truth is that the intricacies of the written word and political debate might not be for you. If so, there are a host of other roles that keep this vast building - and the political processes within its walls – going.
Facing a grilling
I took part in a panel discussion alongside a barrister, a solicitor and a civil servant from the Cabinet Office. There's a joke in there somewhere, surely?
This grilling gave me the chance to talk about what I like most about my job. My serious answer was working at the heart of our democracy. My less serious answer was when I deploy a colon for maximum effect.
I explained that no one expects you to be able to report on what happens in Parliament when you first apply for a job at Hansard. Instead they want to see that you have the aptitude to learn and the skills that make a good reporter. For example, you need to be able to work in a team and stick to deadlines. All new reporters then complete a postgraduate diploma in parliamentary reporting, providing them with the specific skills and knowledge required in the role.
One pupil gave Paxman a run for his money. He asked blunt questions about the hardest parts of our jobs and didn't immediately buy our tactful responses. One of the most pertinent questions came from an A-level student who asked about Hansard's deadlines. I won't repeat my answer, not least because we've covered that in a recent blog post. But I was impressed that he'd struck at the heart of a crucial aspect of our job.
The guy from the Cabinet Office then demonstrated Hansard's reach, as he stressed the importance of our prompt publication for his own work.
Don't forget the free stuff
If one person who had never heard of Hansard now considers it an interesting place to work, my trip will have been a success. And I learnt something too. Or rather, I remembered a crucial lesson from my own uni days: students love freebies!
The Tesco stall was surrounded by a sea of students attracted by goodie bags full of sweets. That got me wondering what Hansard could give away at future careers events.
A reporter is never without a pen (and a spare in case the first one runs out), although pens are hardly unique. Tote bags printed with Hansard's terms of reference might be a bit niche. Portcullis-shaped pretzels? Any suggestions, send them my way.
If you'd like someone to come to your school or university to talk about working at Hansard, and maybe bring some sweets, contact our training and development manager, Jonathan Hoare.