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From Bradford to Westminster, the journey of City Alumni, Sarah Khan

Posted on 23.04.2019

Former Dixons City student, Sarah Khan recently made contact with our Executive Principal, Ms Watson to give an update about her career progress as a senior civil servant in Government. Interested to hear more, we asked Sarah to write a short article about her experience since leaving Dixons City, her varied and exciting role in government and some advice for current students about how to reach their goals:

"When drafting this article, the UK is potentially nine days away from leaving the EU without a deal. At the centre of the debate is customs, and as a Senior Civil Servant/Deputy Director in HM Revenue and Customs, I am living the reality of the political uncertainty the country faces. I am proud of the work my teams have done to work at pace, under relentless pressure, to define the policies to support EU exit.

My name is Sarah Khan. I am one of the very few young, female and Black Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) senior civil servants in government. The civil service is heavily committed to increasing diversity. A role in the civil service is fascinating – I would highly recommend it! I have had ten different roles in fourteen years ranging from taxes, welfare benefits, HR, IT to customs. I find myself motivated each day as no week is the same – for example, the last month has seen me meet ports and car manufacturers to understand delivery of policies, join BBC radio shows and make trips to Brussels and EU member states to discuss UK’s Brexit position.

My journey started with Dixons (City Technology College ) back in 1997. My fourth day in the UK was my first day in A-levels. I had recently lost my father to a terrorist attack in Karachi. I accompanied my mum to the place of her birth, Bradford. I credit the very strong foundation which Dixons provided me to where I am today. The extremely high standard of teaching, the career advice, access to technology and the incredible support the school offered to my development (including a funded trip to a Global Young Leaders conference in the US) were of critical importance.

I followed in the footsteps of my sociology teacher (Ms Shirley Watson) to study BA in Political Studies at University of Leeds. A mentoring match with a civil servant convinced me to apply for an internship, which in turn led to a place on the Civil Service fast stream graduate programme. Whilst working, I have completed a MSc in HR Management and Leadership and a MA in International Relations. The key learning that I can share from my school days through to my career today is as follows:

Always take opportunities for mentoring, career advice or meeting people. On the surface these can seem like they aren’t helpful or telling you anything new but you will be surprised when you look back how a small conversation can be a catalyst to a different life.

Unless you are specialising in a vocation, don’t worry too much about the university course you choose or your early career choices. Attending university is an amazing experience. What you think you want to do in the future is subject to change. I went through a phase of wanting to be a teacher, then I wanted to work in the United Nations, then I wanted to volunteer but in the end I went for a civil service career.

Do the basics well before stepping out further. Opportunities gravitate towards those who display excellence in the smallest of things. I was committed to all aspects of my jobs from Pizza Hut to Argos, to being an intern. I never shied away from what people considered the boring parts of the job – writing minutes for meetings, making teas / coffees etc.

Do not let a lack of confidence stand in your way. I was shy and struggled with my confidence – but slowly, in time, the layers of insecurities peeled off. Don’t be harsh on yourself if you don’t exude confidence – take each day at a time. Even today I deploy tactics such as reminding myself that people very senior in my organisation are placing the responsibility I have on me – I must be good at something!"