From Intern to Senior Comms

Lewis Williams is a PR professional from South Wales, currently working in-house in local government.

Lewis started his #CommsHero journey four years ago as a postgrad Masters in PR and Communication Management. He is now gearing up to start a new role as Senior Communications Officer for NHS Blood and Transplant, England’s blood and organ donation service.

Having recently blogged for the U.K. Government Communication Service to reflect on his time as an intern as part of their diversity internship scheme, in this episode he talks about how important this was to his career to date.

You can read the blog Lewis wrote HERE.

Lewis Williams

Senior Communications Officer, NHS Blood and Transplant

Key topics

“So yeah, the government communication service, or the GCS, um, essentially it’s just the overarching body, that supports comms people in all their capacities, who are working across, government. So, you know, your, government departments, which like the home office, etc, etc, but also, ever associated organizations, which they call arms length bodies. I was actually placed in an arms length body myself. I started at my career as an intern with NHS Blood and Transplants. So, I’ve actually done a bit of a full circle so far in my career actually, which is completely coincidental, but yes.

“Studying PR for me was it was my foot, foot in the door to the PR and comms industry. If I’m honest Asif, I think there’s a lot of, you know, kind of, debate or conversation that goes on around whether, you know, master level qualifications, are the way forward, for lots of industries, but in particular, you know, as we were talking about PR and comms for myself and for lots of other people that I know some of my peers, it gave us a foot in the door to the industry. Yeah, if I’m honest, when I chose to study the masters that I did, I didn’t know an awful lot about what PR or comms actually meant.

All that I knew is that I, you know, potentially had a few transferable skills that, you know, I was, you know, good at writing, quite digitally savvy as well. I guess my interest grew from actually studying the subject more in depth and, you know, being able to gain some of the traditional practical skills as well as some of the more emerging, you know, digital skills as we work across the comms mix such as being able to create content, you know, writing and creating content for social media, and other things like that. So I would say, yes, it definitely gave me absolutely a good theoretical background, but also those practical skills as well to then take into the workplace and have a really good ground and an understanding of how the modern comms practice should work really across the piece.”

“I think it depends on your on your situation for myself. Absolutely no regrets, but then I guess you could be somebody who is perhaps going for the PR industry already. And you might have, you know, an idea that you want to go into that kind of area. And for those people, I’d say, I guess it’s just a matter of personal choice. You know, there are other avenues that you can explore. For example, there were lots of colleagues of mine who did a GCS internship who didn’t necessarily have the background of a PR masters. They may have done something else for their undergraduate studies, but you know, they had expressed a real interest on the application of wanting to enter the industry and perhaps, you know, referencing some transferable skills. And I think all of that is really important to put into your application for a job in comms entry level in general, in particular for the GCS internship.

“Yeah, I mean, there’s a fair few, if I’m honest, I think firstly, it’s with regard to entering the industry itself, there are entry level positions out there, and I think that they can be few and far between and even the ones that do exist, I feel that some of these opportunities often expect you to kind of go into an entry level position with lots of experience when in fact, the reality isn’t for lots of people going into those situations, they may not have any experience or practical, you know, direct experience at all on paper to bring to some of these organisations. And I think that’s where it’s really important for employers in particular to think outside of the box when they are looking at people’s applications and for applicants as well, to think outside of the box, in terms of their relevant life experience, it doesn’t necessarily have to be, oh, I’ve written a press release before, or, you know, I’ve, been fortunate enough to have a week’s work experience within said agency.

I really think it’s about, you know, going back to basics and thinking about what are the core skills for someone going into comms, in my opinion, it would be, you know, having a, you know, a good, standard, of writing, having an understanding, I guess, of you know, of society in general and how the media landscape looks like. But yeah, also just having that bit of passion and personality and bringing that to the table, I think that for any job, particularly in the comms industry, that that’s something which always shines through. And those are the people that seem to, you know, get on and do really well.”

“Yeah, I mean, for myself, I think it’s kind of a double-ended sword where I have obviously done a master’s in my chosen profession. So early on in my career, right at the start that it definitely gave me that leverage to get my foot in the door, but I guess yeah, where the playing field kind of levels out once you get into certain positions, it’s like, okay, what can I do next? There are lots of people in PR and other industries that will do a master’s degree in their chosen subject at a certain point in their career where they kind of want to you know, level up or go to the next step where it’s to step into management or to a more senior position. So, I guess, you know, what I would say is for myself, I think that it can be regardless of what qualifications you have, it can be just keeping those qualifications fresh and being able to you know, bring something new to the table.

And I guess the way that I would address that challenge and that I have to date is to just keep my continual professional development up. So particularly during the pandemic I made an effort to just keep an eye out for, free learning opportunities, whether that be webinars or talks on particular parts of comms that I was interested in. Just so I could bring a new perspective back to my organisation or the job in question that I was doing at the time and be able to share some of those learnings and I guess, yeah, I’d be able to develop my CV a bit more, and absolutely, you know, things such as the CIPR which I’ve joined in the last two years, again you have access to a wealth of free opportunities as well, such as talks and webinars, and also lots of the paid training, which are, which is cheaper for members as well.

And yeah, I guess lastly you know, opportunities out there to level up. So, you know, I was really chuffed to be a successful applicant for the Socially Mobile certificate in communication leadership. That was something which, caught my eye and yeah, I wasn’t really too sure whether I would be, successful for that opportunity, but I think it’s just really important to put yourself out there, particularly in the world that we live in now where, I guess we are moving back towards more in person events and stuff, but I think that the hybrid model is very much here to stay. And I think that it’s really, important to remember that networking doesn’t always have to be in person that we can put ourselves up there digitally. And I think that that’s, you know, really kind of valid and, commendable in the space that we are working at the moment with comms.”

Yeah, that’s a really good question. I I’ve picked up on that conversation as well Asif and I’ve been reflecting on that actually over the past few days and honestly in an ideal world, I think, yes, it would be something nice to aim towards and to be able to have, I think that in terms of capability, I’d like to think that I could stretch myself you know, in the, hopefully not too distant future to aim towards chartership and to put myself through that. But, you know, the reality is, the financial restraints that come with doing certain bits of training, certainly the chartership, I would say that you know, to be frank, that it’s something which isn’t accessible for everybody. And you know, there, there will be people out there who are probably more than capable of achieving chartership, but, you know, due to their own financial situation and other commitments as well, not just financial, but, you know, perhaps the, the time that it takes for someone to kind of commit towards that level of intense study to work towards chartership, getting all of their CPD in there and in time.

But yeah, perhaps it’s something that if we want the industry to be more inclusive, that we need to find ways around it for people not to let, not necessarily to lower the standard at all. And I can see where people might have that argument, but, you know, it’s just about being realistic and accepting that not everybody is going to have, the same financial prospects and the same amount of time that, you know, we all have our own commitments in life and other things that we need to do, but yeah that doesn’t take away from someone’s commitment necessarily to wanting to get on and to, you know, to level up in their career.”

“Yeah, that’s a really good question Asif I think, you know, some of the points that I have taken since entering the PR industry is first of all, to be authentically yourself, you know, particularly those from diverse backgrounds, going into the workplace it can be a bit overbearing at times. And I guess it’s just a case of perhaps feeling that you can’t authentically be yourself and, you know, bring your life experiences and perspective to work.

And I think that whether that’s being made to feel like that, or perhaps just made me feeling, you know, a bit self-conscious about it it’s something which we should really try and overcome because ultimately I think the last few years, and, you know, world events have shown us that, you know, the, what people from diverse backgrounds can bring to the table and organisations, has been really amplified. And, you know, there are lots of organisations, at differing levels who are, you know, becoming more awake to the fact that they need to champion and honour diversity, not just talk about it, but they need to honour diversity within the workplace and within their teams and setups. And I would just say to keep, you know, banging on the door, it’s for me, I would say that, you know, at that point in my career, I was trying to enter the workplace that I did end up having to seek out those opportunities that were looking for people who look like me and come from similar backgrounds to me.

And it’s sad that that has to be the way in certain instances. But I think when you think long term, it’s really important about trying just to get your foot on the door to be able to foot in the door, sorry, just to be able to make some change for yourself, but also, you know, just for a society in general. And, I think that hopefully as time goes on that the playing field will start to level out and that, you know, that the ideal world in my opinion would be that we wouldn’t need to have, you know, opportunities that are specifically for people from lower social economic backgrounds or from diverse backgrounds. You know, it’s hard to the, black, Asian and minority ethnic, people that, because the playing field is leveled out and diversity inclusion is truly honoured across, the piece that, we can then actually have more of a level playing field and that these opportunities may still exist and rightly so, they should, but they’re not kind of the, then they don’t have to be necessarily such a, a lifeline for many people as they were for me, if I’m honest.”

“I’d say it probably is an intentional, if I’m honest, although it, you know, everything that we’ve spoken about, they are things that are really important to me. And I, I really see the value in having people to look up to whether that be a role model or just someone, you know, that you really break the kind of work that they’re doing in their particular space.

And, I guess for me growing up and definitely entering the PR and comms industry that I did find it quite difficult, even in the spaces that I did enter, you know, I was really chuffed and fortunate to enter the GCS internship scheme. But I guess even at the time, it was a case of, oh, I’m here now, but I’m also now in a space where there aren’t a lot of people who are like me. And I guess, the change that I would like to see is that there are more people yes, at entry level, but in leadership, in communications that are able to you know, just act as as role models for people and just so that people who are going through the system, after myself have people to look up to and, people who are there to help.

And I, I definitely would like to position myself as someone like that, you know, going forward, you know, I, since, writing my GCS blog, I had one or two potential applicants actually reach out to me on LinkedIn. And, you know, I was really happy to be able to provide them with some tips and pointers of how they can apply for the internship scheme. And, one of those that messaged me actually got back in touch a few weeks later to say that, they’d been successful in their application. And, you know, if I’m honest, when I applied, I also followed a similar process. I, reached out to a few people who I could see had done the internship prior to myself. And I think that it’s really important when you do get your foot in the door.

You know, if you feel you’re able to, just to, even if it’s just a few words of wisdom or a tiny bit of advice, just to offer that to somebody, because that could really be the difference in someone else, you know, following in your footsteps and being privy to some of the great opportunities that you might have been privy to as well.”

“Yeah, sure. I think, you know, first of all, it’s really important for anyone listening to, keep an eye out on the government communication services website, or their social media channels, where they will promote this opportunity. I think that usually the, recruitment goes live between, like the January or March time ready for the following summer. But as I say, this could change in the future. So it’s really important to keep an eye on those channels and just, you know, be ready for when applications go live. And then, yeah, when you are ready to put an application, I would say as with lots of public sector and civil service jobs in particular, the way that they like you to structure your responses on applications and in interviews is to use the star approach.

So, star stands for situation task action and result so effectively saying where you were, what you had to do, how you did it and what the outcome was. And I find that that’s actually really helpful once you get into the rhythm of doing it, just a really helpful way of breaking down. Perhaps lots of the, the padding of the situation that you might have found yourself in and the, the really good example you might have. It’s also really important for these applications as it is an entry level position, as I mentioned earlier, to think about the things that you’ve done, which might be relevant. So when I applied for the internship I had next to no comms or marketing experience at all, and I used examples from my previous academic studies. For example, in university, I was part of a society committee.

So, from that I drew that I had, you know, good communication skills, leadership skills. It’s really about thinking of all the possible things that you could, use and drawing those examples out. And, I think that’s what the, recruiters like to see. And actually it, it’s a really good comms skill to be able to, you know, make, promote yourself and, you know, make the, the most out of what experience you’ve got already on paper. All experience is good experience. There’s never any bad experience. And that’s what I’ve learned, so far in my career, for sure.”

“I think in terms of what I would tell myself now, or I tell my younger self, it would be to aim high and be patient. You know, it goes about saying that when I was trying to even get work experience, which would’ve been unpaid at the time, even that was really competitive and it was really disheartening when you just receive lots of emails of, thanks, but no, thanks. And being unsuccessful for applications. And I think it’s just about having persistence and, perhaps yeah, where I became aware of the GCS internship scheme, I was completely unaware of the fact that communicators could play such an important role within government bodies, and even within the public sector. If I’m honest, I knew that obviously public sector communicators were a thing, but not to the extent that I have now.

And, I think that lots of people, or lots of young people entering, the PR industry in particular, are aware of, you know, agency and kind of private sector and, you know, working on lots of different, exciting brands and clients, and they’re all great. And I would never say never to myself, like kind of tee-to-tottering and over to that side, but in the same breath, there’s lots of opportunities that aren’t necessarily promoted, within lots of different spaces, you know, communications and marketing. There’s probably more important than ever and it’s all about making sure that the right information sits with the right people at the right time. So you name it, think about all of your, interests outside of wanting to get a job in PR and comms and see perhaps if there’s opportunities that lie within that, you know, it could be even volunteering for your local sports team or, or something like that.

There’s lots of ways that you can gain even little bits of experience, which could then kind of elevate you and take you on your journey, into comms. And, I definitely say that it’s yeah, it’s patience is a big thing and yeah, I guess it’s, it’s just about being patient and persistent and you are getting where you’re going to go.”

A final thought

“I couldn’t recommend, CommsHero enough. In the last two and a half, three years, I’ve made a return to Twitter. My Twitter was quite dormant for quite some time and one of the first, kind of communities that I was able to latch onto and just kind of navigate the space and see, you know, I guess who was around and what people were talking about was #CommsHero and yeah, as, as time has gone on, I think that it’s been really valuable in terms of, representation across the whole comms industry. That’s to say people who are working in private sector agencies, write the way through to those working in public sector. That it’s just, it’s been a really good way, to, you know, I guess see what is going on in the comms industry whilst at home over the past two years with the pandemic.”

Fancy getting in the hot seat and sharing your CommsHero wisdom? Contact Asif Choudry

Tickets are now available for #CommsHero week, 19-23 September. The week-long virtual event with over 35 sessions live streamed and available on demand for a year. Great value at £180 and you can find out more at


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