This week we had a chat with Lisa Bell about her work for the First Minister, her passion for Scottish government and the rewards of her fascinating career.
Can you tell me about your background and what has lead you to where you are today?
I studied psychology at university and always planned to have a career helping people in some way. I got a place on a graduate recruitment scheme at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in London and worked in their Consular department helping British nationals who were in prison or in hospital abroad. I enjoyed the role very much but missed my family and friends and I missed living in Scotland - London wasn’t for me - so I returned home after a while and spent some time gaining work experience in mental health, with the aim of becoming a psychologist.
After a few years of doing temporary posts I wanted something more permanent and applied to join the Scottish Government as a statistician. I had studied statistics as part of my psychology degree and was keen to use my analytical skills, while being attracted to the stability of a civil service job. I worked in analytical roles for the Scottish Government for 3 years, analysing education data for the Government working my way up through various promotion opportunities and gained experience of how the Scottish Government worked more widely and the role of Ministers.
I was attracted to an opportunity to work closely with the First Minister, supporting her preparation for First Minister’s Questions in Parliament each week – something different from my analytical roles but a good opportunity to use my analytical experience and gain experience of working at the heart of government.
Have you always been interested in working in a sphere that encompasses politics and current affairs?
No – not really! I have always had a keen interest in current affairs and over the years have gained experience working for the UK Government, local government, the third sector and now the Scottish Government. I care passionately about people, and Scotland in particular, so although it wasn’t the plan I am glad I have ended up working in a sphere that enables me to be part of the Scottish Government and I am keen to use my role here to contribute to making Scotland the best place in the world for people to live.
Can you talk me through your day-to-day responsibilities?
First Minister’s Questions happens in the Scottish Parliament every Thursday at 12pm. It lasts 45 minutes and offers Members of the Scottish Parliament the opportunity to ask the First Minister questions about the work of the Government. My job is to ensure that the First Minister has the information she needs to answer these questions. I ensure I keep on top of what is in the news that week, what debates are happening in Parliament and what people are saying on social media for example.
What do you find most challenging about your role?
The hours are long – I start around 8am and can often work to 9 or 10pm in the evening. However, the Scottish Government has a great flexible working policy which means I work my full time hours over 4 days and can take every Friday off.
It can also be very time pressured with short deadlines on most pieces of work we undertake. It is very demanding keeping on top of the variety of issues that concern the Scottish Government and ensuring that I provide the information the First Minister needs.
What are the rewards of such demanding work?
It is fascinating to be at the centre of the Scottish Government. I feel privileged to be in such a position. I get to have a broad overview of the key issues that Scotland is facing right now.
If you were to do something else for a living, what would it be?
I would give psychology another go and would like to be a clinical psychologist or work in academia doing mental health research.
What advice would you give to others looking to pursue a similar career?
The Scottish Government is a fantastic employer and this is the best job I have ever done. They often advertise vacancies at entry level and at graduate level – go to their website to check for the latest vacancies http://www.work-for-scotland.org/
Build up transferable skills in communication or analysis, things you will gain in most jobs, and you will be able to apply for many roles within Government.
Don’t worry too much about having a plan – I did have a plan but changed my mind many times. I got lots of experience in various jobs and sectors and through hard work and the odd risk taking move I have ended up in a really rewarding career.