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Sixty seconds with... MI5

02 September 2019  
Posted by: Rob Mackinlay
Sixty seconds with... MI5

Sixty seconds with... MI5

I’m Sarah* and I’m in charge of Information Careers in MI5’s Information, Policy and Compliance Branch leading on the development of our Information Skills Framework. As an organisation, this helps identify our skills gaps, make appropriate recruitment decisions, provide recognition for staff of their information skills and enable them to plan their future career development. We have a diverse information community in MI5 – staff with deep specialisms in areas of particular interest to us (e.g. protecting our most sensitive records, open source research in support of investigations) and a large number of staff who move around different information roles throughout their career. Some are professionally qualified staff recruited to work in information, while some specialise only for shorter periods before moving onto other areas of MI5 work. I previously worked in a variety of local government roles and was attracted to work for MI5 due to the intrigue of what might be involved and the appeal of working for an organisation which has such a clear and worthy purpose. After 11 years, and a variety of information roles, both of these attractions still hold true!

Who has inspired you in your career? M
I’ve worked with a range of incredibly supportive colleagues and managers who’ve always encouraged me to challenge myself, to make mistakes but learn from them and to be unafraid of trying something that feels, or is, a bit different. Knowing you have people in your corner who value and recognise your skills and contribution is incredibly motivating.

Career advice – what’s your top tip?
Make sure you keep your skills relevant, know what your team and organisation is aiming for so you can demonstrate how your skills assist with that and add value. Value (and develop) your “softer”, non-information skills, such as business change and managerial skills, just as highly as your core information skills. They are relevant to so many information roles and are just as in demand from employers.

Best professional achievement?
Working for MI5 means networking and CPD can be challenging. I initiated and delivered the first IM conference within the UK intelligence agencies, bringing staff in a variety of roles together to network, discuss common challenges, and support their career development. External speakers have given a flavour of developments and challenges in the wider IM sector. It has been incredibly successful and well received, so much so, that we are currently planning the fourth conference.

Worst professional moment?
Even if you’re not directly working on investigations, being in the intelligence agencies in the aftermath of a terrorist incident is always very challenging and upsetting. But realising how your work contributes to MI5’s wider mission of keeping the country safe, particularly after an incident, is extremely satisfying.

What drives you on?
I love my job and I’m incredibly passionate about the diversity of information careers and of information professionals being able to demonstrate the value of information management and the impact made by staff in those roles. For me the best thing about information roles is that no day is ever really the same so you are dealing with new challenges and opportunities that really stretch and develop you. I just really love the challenge and how it motivates me and my colleagues to continually find ways to provide effective and innovative information management support to our organisation.

A book you’ve enjoyed recently?
Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer about the ill-fated Everest expeditions in 1996 – I’m scared of heights so I’m never going to climb a mountain but I find it fascinating and inspiring to read about people who challenge themselves to do the near impossible.

*Real name withheld for security reasons

Contributor: Sarah (not her real name) is head of Information Careers at MI5

Published: 2 September 2019

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