Damon Fairley talks about how seizing the opportunities at Lancaster led to his position in the Civil Service
Most people are lucky to be offered their dream job, but Damon Fairley (Politics with International Relations, 2014, Furness) ended up having the pick of two, which he puts down to a combination of the education he received at Lancaster and the opportunities he took to learn life skills whilst still a student.
For him the best option was the Civil Service’s Fast Stream graduate programme (in preference to another offer to join the Police as a police officer) because he felt it opened a gateway to some of the most influential and versatile jobs in public service - guiding policy, advising Government Ministers and making a difference to people's lives.
The teenager from a comprehensive school in Chelmsford in Essex, had already seized the chance to build his CV whilst at school by becoming the member of the Youth Parliament for Chelmsford and Maldon and a founding chair of Chelmsford YMCA Young Governors. The welcome he received in his first week at Lancaster impressed him so much, that he decided to become involved in Furness College’s JCR and became the College President. He topped this by gaining election to a one-year sabbatical position as Vice President (Union Development) for the Students’ Union, which provided him with some invaluable lessons about the isolation of leadership and the pressures and responsibilities of decision making on behalf of others and as part of a team.
Damon says: “These roles at university have made a huge difference to my employability. If you have not had this type of experience nowadays you make struggle to demonstrate adequate competencies that many graduate employers look for.”
His choice of Lancaster was influenced by its rankings in the top 10 UK universities, the collegiate system and the fact that he had gained a good impression from the lecturers, staff and students he met on the open day. The breadth of study at Lancaster really suited Damon. Not only did he take courses on the politics of the European Union, the UK and the USA, but he was even able to take a module entitled The Universe as Art, to enable arts students to gain an understanding of physics without the need for extensive mathematical skills.
His dissertation was on the recently-introduced Police and Crime Commissioners, and backed up his academic research with an internship with Essex’s Police and Crime Commissioner. This vacation experience enhanced his interest in the role of Police and Crime Commissioners and the relationship between elected individuals and the delivery of front line public services.
Damon’s social life was focused round Furness college and university politics , which brought him many lasting friendships, as well as many skills to build a professional life beyond Lancaster.
After his sabbatical year, Damon was successful in applying for an internship with Labour MP for Brentford and Isleworth, Ruth Cadbury. He immediately set to work to overhaul her social media profiles and presence and the way she engaged with constituents on policy matters. The MP was sufficiently impressed with Damon's performance that she promoted him to a job as her Junior Parliamentary Assistant. Through his work with Ruth Cadbury, he realised that his career lay in public service and had already applied to both the Police and the Civil Service Fast Stream and was offered both positions. The tasks that formed part of the Civil Service Fast Stream assessment and interview process were not dissimilar to situations he had already encountered working in his Student’ Union Sabbatical position and as Furness College JCR President. “I was lucky that both my dream jobs came up,” he says. “It was the breadth of the opportunities with the Civil Service that made me go for it. I understood that I had the chance of a really great and varied career.”
He has nothing but praise for the quality of the teaching and the commitment of the teaching staff and feels that his degree helped him to develop key skills in interpreting, analysing and using information effectively. Damon is, however, convinced that the greatest prize was gained outside the lecture hall in the JCR and the Students' Union: “They gave me the transferable skills and experiences to be successful in gaining graduate employment. You learn to understand the dynamics between people and how to overcome problems and setbacks. These are the skills graduate employers often look for in their assessment processes.
“If you leave university with experiences of volunteering and taking part in activities beyond your education, it really does set you up for the direction you want to go.”