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How did Neha Sharma, an Apeejay alumna, become a Public Servant in the UK?

Coming from a family of social workers, she chose the profession after moving to the UK post marriage



Like everyone else, as a child, Neha Sharma, a 33-year-old public servant at Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC), United Kingdom dreamt of becoming a Miss India one day. However, growing up, she heard her grandmother narrate stories of bravery about her late freedom fighter grandfather. During that time, she often wondered, how does it feel to serve people, listen to their needs and try to seek solutions. Her motivation, from there on, was channeled to becoming a public servant.   

And so, as a student, Sharma tried to appear for Civil Service Examinations in India. Luck turned the other way, when after staying months away from her home in Amritsar, giving three attempts, and receiving relentless coaching in Delhi, she couldn’t crack the examinations. Shortly, she sought a job at a multinational company, but left from there in a few months. She then joined Apeejay Institute of Management Engineering and Technical Campus (AIMETC), Jalandhar in 2008 to pursue Masters in Computer Application (MCA), after which she worked at National Institute of Rural Development and Panchayati Raj (NIRDPR) as a Project Consultant.

What happened in 2020 was a turning point for Sharma who got married and settled in the UK. Struggling to find a new job in a new country during Covid-19 pandemic, she began searching various job postings. How did she end up as a public servant? Read on:

When did you find your calling as a public servant?

I have changed and left some jobs, even those at top multi-nationals because I always found myself interested in serving people. While working at NIRDPR, as I met more and more rural women, I was moving closer to my desired goal in making others’ lives better.

I tried and gave my attempts at Indian Public Services, but it seemed that it wasn’t meant for me. What I would call a “career-breaking” time for me would be when I joined a university in Chandigarh as a research scholar in the Department of Public Administration. There, I got an opportunity to represent the college at a UNESCO Conference, and realised my potential in doing so.  

How can an Indian serve in the UK’s public administration?

This is something that most people do not know and it is perfectly possible. Since India is a Commonwealth Nation, its citizens are eligible to appear for Civil Service Examinations in the UK. When I moved here along with my husband amidst the pandemic, we lived in a single hotel room for about 3-3.5 months. I felt very frustrated because I wanted to work and didn’t know much about the country. Gradually, I saw postings in the newspaper about public servants in the UK, found out that I was eligible for it, applied and eventually qualified.

Does it work similar to Civil Services in India?

It is very different. UK does not have a direct equivalent to an Indian Administrative Officer (IAS) and they provide designations based on managerial positions. I am currently serving as a Senior Executive Officer at HMRC in Telford, UK and my job mostly is about dealing with digital technologies. It is treated just like a regular job, and that is the major difference in the way civil services is perceived in India and the UK.  

As you mentioned, how are the services in India and the UK different?  

§  Unlike civil services in India, which has three stages to be covered over a span of one year, in the UK some public servant positions require the candidate to only clear an interview. Some others, like mine, do have written tests but the process itself is between 1-2 months.

§  In India where the written examinations judge a candidate’s knowledge, UK differentially follows a STAR approach, i.e. Situation, Task, Action and Result to judge a candidate’s on-ground capability to tackle real-life situations.   

§  Leaving technical and methodical questions aside, the interview process for the services in the UK would have a panel of six experts who would primarily look for the aptitude and leadership qualities of the candidate.

§  A public servant who is on probation may or may not become permanent in the UK. This is because each public servant’s performance is analysed monthly, and they are expected to work consistently for the people.

§  The process of receiving promotions in India may be gradual, but in the UK they happen rapidly based on performance and merit.

It seems that you are learning the ropes, how does that feel?

Well, yes! It has been three weeks since I have joined and I feel very excited about the opportunities here. I am looking forward to a promising career, new roles and greater responsibilities.

At Apeejay, what was your experience like?

I joined the college 45 days late because I was working somewhere before joining my course at Apeejay. My batch-mates initially thought that I had some airs but soon it was cleared up. I remember that I missed becoming Miss Apeejay, and got very upset with everyone. It turned out quite funny because since that time all faculty members knew me and became very concerned about me.

What has been the inspiration for your career?

I come from a family of social workers, a few of them also being civil servants and this is the profession I have grown up seeing. Administration and sense of business were instilled in me early on due to my parents and relatives, and I just feel that it has all fallen in place. This is just the beginning.

For anyone wanting to be in your shoes, your advice?

Well, the process of becoming a public servant is not daunting in the UK at all. For those wanting to try, my word of advice would be to put on their thinking cap and come up with smart solutions to real-time situations during the interview. Reflect on your personal traits and think what value you will add to the services. 

Mrini Devnani is a Principal Correspondent and Marketing Coordinator at Newsroom. She covers student achievements, conducts interviews, and contributes content to the website. Previously, she served as a Correspondent specialising in Edu-tech for the India Today Group. Her skill areas extend to Social Media and Digital Marketing. For any inquiries or correspondence, you can reach out to her at [email protected].

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