Career catchup – Matthew Congreve
4 March 2022
Last year Matthew Congreve, who graduated from our BScEcon International Relations and Politics programme in 2018, completed the Civil Service Fast Stream and was promoted to the role of Second Clerk of the Defence Committee in the House of Commons.
Since then, Matthew has moved on to a new role in Inter-Parliamentary Relations by supporting the UK’s delegations to the NATO and Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) Parliamentary Assemblies.
We caught up with Matthew to find out more about his job and how his time at the School of Law and Politics helped him on the road to his dream career in politics.
Congratulations on your new role Matthew! Could you tell us a little about it and what you do on a day-to-day basis?
In December, I started working in Inter-Parliamentary Relations by supporting the UK’s delegations to the NATO and OSCE Parliamentary Assemblies.
These assemblies are made up of parliamentarians from across NATO or OSCE member states and discuss matters of relevance to the organisations and have committee structures of their own. My role is to work closely with the delegation members, made up of MPs and Peers, and particularly with the delegation leaders. I regularly attend conferences and meetings of the NATO and OSCE Assemblies, which take place across Europe and North America. A normal day whilst travelling is pretty intense, accompanying Members to meetings with other delegations and also in plenary or committee meetings of the assemblies. Outside of travel, I am writing briefings for the members, drafting press releases, engaging with my international counterparts, and planning for the next meeting of the Assembly. We have a small team to support the UK delegations, but I like to think that we punch above our weight and give our members a strong voice on NATO and OSCE matters.
You worked at the Houses of Parliament for four years. Could you tell us about the path that took you there?
I had a couple of months break after graduating from the School of Law and Politics in 2018 and joined the Graduate Development Programme, otherwise known as Civil Service Fast Stream, at the House of Commons in September of the same year.
When I joined, I worked as the Second Clerk (Deputy Head of the Committee Secretariat) for the Welsh Affairs and Northern Ireland Affairs Committees. I assisted the Committees in scrutinising their government departments by designing future programmes, creating briefs and organising visits in the UK and abroad. I was the lead member of staff on several Committee inquiries on topics as varied as trade and customs after Brexit, support for victims of IRA attacks and on Tourism. I drafted two select Committee reports for Committee agreement during this period, focussing on support for victims of IRA attacks and on City and Growth Deals in Wales.
Following that role, I worked as the Second Clerk of the Defence Committee. My day-to-day role included designing future programmes, creating briefs, writing reports and organising domestic and international Committee visits. I managed the regular programme of Sub-Committees including inquiries into the Security of 5G, Foreign Involvement in the Defence Supply Chain and the Treatment of Contracted Staff for the MOD's Ancillary Services. Outside the core role I assisted with the organisation of outbound foreign visits as well as inbound visits from foreign delegations and acted as a Liaison Officer between the House and UK universities that run the Parliamentary Studies module. The module is co-taught by academics and officials from UK Parliament and provides students with detailed knowledge of how Parliament works in both theory and practice. The School of Law and Politics offers this module so it was great to be able to liaise with my former lecturers.
It sounds like the Civil Service Fast Stream integrated you within House of Commons life immediately! Could you give any current students some tips on applying for the scheme?
The application process actually began almost a year earlier when I applied for the scheme at the start of my final year. The Fast Stream has a number of different options one of which is the Houses of Parliament programme. The Civil Service Fast Stream is a fairly well known programme, but I benefited from attending a number of careers fairs and talks at Cardiff and discussing my options with the careers service.
The careers service at Cardiff University helped me with my initial application and practice materials for some of the online tests. The process is fairly long with stages including an initial written application, online tests, a video interview, assessment centre and final board interview. Having started my application in October I only found out I had the job in late February. It was comforting to have a job lined up after university, allowing me to enjoy the final semester without the pressure to job hunt.
My top advice would be to start looking at opportunities early, think about internships after your first and second year and remember to start applying for graduate schemes right at the start of your final year. It’s also a good idea to apply for a couple of schemes so you come out with a desired option at the end of it. In another life I could have been working at the Bank of England or as a Royal Marine Commando Officer!
You’ve touched upon the careers support you received at university but could you tell us about your time here generally.
I grew up in South Wales so Cardiff was my local major city. The city itself was a big draw, being a small capital city it’s very easy to get around but also full of things to do. I studied politics at A-Level which sparked an interest in the topic, I also then did some work experience with my local MP. I liked the course offering that Cardiff University had with the opportunity to study abroad, do a placement in the final year and chose from a variety of subjects in international relations or politics.
For someone interested in a career working in the Government or political sector, Cardiff is full of opportunities with Welsh Government, Senedd Cymru and other public bodies or think tanks. I interned with the Senedd Research Service and also interned at a political intelligence company based in Cardiff Bay.
I really enjoyed my time at university and found certain modules useful for future work, particularly the placement module in the third year and the research methods module in second year. The placement module resulted in me interning once a week in the Senedd Research Service and I think this was what gave me the edge in applying for my role in the House of Commons. Cardiff University also has a programme called Cardiff Undergraduate Research Opportunities Programme (CUROP) which gives students the opportunity to do paid work alongside academics. In my first summer I worked with Professor Roger Awan-Scully on the Welsh Election Study of 2016. The data analysis skills I learnt were particularly useful for my dissertation on the importance of identity in general elections in Wales. I also had the opportunity to work on two other research programmes with academics, focussing on voting patterns inside the then National Assembly for Wales and on the implications of the Troubles in Northern Ireland for its present-day politics.
I have lots of great memories from my time at Cardiff, but a great experience was studying abroad in the United States. I studied for a semester at the College of William and Mary in Virginia in the second half of my second year. Cardiff University were strongly supportive of this. The university held talks and seminars about studying abroad and how to apply, assisted me with my application and, once I knew I was going, the University’s Global Opportunities Centre provided some funding to help with costs. Studying abroad is a great experience that I would urge any student to take part in. I think I really grew as an individual and have great memories of making friends from across the world, travelling along the Eastern Coast of the USA and experiencing a different style of teaching and learning.
Looking back, what advice would you give yourself as a student?
Make full use of the opportunities you have whilst being a student! I think I tried my best to do this at the time, but I’m always surprised that more people don’t study abroad, take internship opportunities or volunteer. In addition to taking part in interesting opportunities also make full use of the facilities available at the university, talk to your lecturers about their research and offer to help, utilise the careers service early in your student life and keep up to date with what the Student Union is doing.