Alumna: Harriet Smith

Senior Private Secretary, Department for Business, Innovation & Skills (BA, Corpus Christi)

Describe your job in ten words.

First port of call for all things on Minister’s mind.

What does a typical day look like?

The focus is the Minister, making sure she is briefed and that the day runs smoothly. Between meetings, I discuss urgent issues with her, then figure out what to do: speaking to policy advisers, or talking with stakeholders and Parliamentarians. During Parliamentary debates, I sit in the officials’ box and make sure she has all she needs. Finally, we prepare the Minister’s ‘box’, write up notes, and catch up on emails before it all begins again!

What is the best part of your job?

I feel privileged to be the ‘boss’ of five dynamic individuals. I make sure they have what they need, and they depend on me to take the difficult judgements, answer tricky policy issues, and be accountable. It’s a big responsibility, but I love knowing I have real impact.

How did Oxford prepare you for your chosen career path?

I was encouraged to consider not 'what is the law?' but 'what should the law be?' and I wanted a career that dealt with that. In the Civil Service, I’ve worked on EU competition policy, had a stint in policy development at the Attorney General’s Office, and I am about to join a Bill team – all places to explore the practical application of the law and where decisions might lead. 

What do you know now that you wish you had known then?

I wish I had known that I would have no regrets! I always worried whether I had chosen the right uni, the right course, the right internship, the right grad scheme. But as long as your decision makes sense to you and you work hard at whatever you choose, it will be the right course of action.

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