Ellie Binks

Ellie Binks

Ellie Binks, Civil Service Fast Streamer

BA History and Politics (2014)

Ellie graduated in History and Politics in 2014 and joined the Civil Service Fast Stream in 2015.

To reveal expert advice from Ellie, click on the questions below.

To find out more about the Civil Service Fast Stream, click here.

I graduated from Exeter in 2014, with a degree in history and politics. In September 2015 I joined the Civil Service HR Fast Stream, having applied during my final year. The scheme consists of two 18 month placements in two different government departments, as well as post-graduate qualification in HR.

My first placement was in the Civil Service Diversity and Inclusion Team in the Cabinet Office, in which I led on all things gender equality in the Civil Service. I absolutely loved this role, I had so much freedom to be creative, work directly with very senior leaders and I really felt like I made a difference. 

I’m now approaching the end of my second 18 month placement in Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service which I have found equally rewarding but for very different reasons. For my first 12 months in the department I was the HR Business Partner for HMP Wandsworth, one of the largest prisons in the country. Working in such a unique environment was great way to develop my HR skills, both in terms of how I work with people, but also my practical HR knowledge. It also highlighted to me just how important HR is.

For my final six months of the programme I am using what I have learnt throughout the past couple of years to get involved in strategic HR projects across the Ministry of Justice.

I’m so glad I chose to pursue a career in HR, but I’m aware that I particularly enjoy the political environment I work in  – I get such a an adrenaline rush from the high pressure situations I find myself in.

There are so many aspects to HR; the HR function does everything from making sure that an organisation meets its legal requirements to ensuring that the organisation is the best employer it can be, nurturing talent, rewarding results and hard work and also looking after its employees. HR really does touch every part of an organisation and is key in an organisation reaching its goals.

I pursued a career in HR because, as cheesy as it sounds, I love working with people. I enjoy the compassionate, values-driven side of it – the days where I go home knowing that I’ve made a difference. But over the past couple of years, I have learned (to my surprise) that I like getting stuck into the financial side of things too. The further in to my career I progress, the more I realise how many opportunities there are to be stretched intellectually – I don’t think you can get bored in HR.

I wasn’t always aware while I was at Exeter just how useful some of my experiences would be. Being Chair of the Debating Society and Senior Elections Officer in the Guild definitely helped me develop my confidence and the way I work with different types of people, as well as how I handle pressure.

In my final year, one of politics modules involved a research placement in Devon County Council. This was brilliant – it helped me get used to the working environment, ask lots of questions without being worried about being a pain and I gained a general understanding of policy and governance procedures. 

In terms of my actual degree, the written and analytical skills I gained have definitely helped me from day one of my career. I think it is easy for all of us to take these skills for granted.

I think the key skills for a career in HR is a willingness to learn and work hard. I’m nearing the end of my MSc in Human Resource Management, which will allow me to gain membership to the Chartered Institute for Personnel Development. This qualification and membership is vital for me to perform well and progress. It has taken a lot of hard work to study alongside work, but has been well worth it. It has required both experiential learning and conventional university study.

Strong communication skills are also vital. If you put yourself in the shoes of someone needing HR support, or being challenged by HR, you can understand why an HR professional needs to communicate in an engaging way.

Although I had taken part in internship programmes during university, they weren’t HR-focused. While I learnt a great deal from these, I wish I had more of a basic knowledge of HR before I entered the workplace. Even if you just shadow someone for a day, I think it would be invaluable in helping you decide what area of HR you’d like to start in.