What is it like working in National Security?

‘National Security’ is more than just a phrase you might see in a spy movie - it’s a real and exciting career for thousands of people in the UK, keeping the country safe.

As mentioned in our article Five Things to Know About a Career in National Security, there are a whole range of career paths available if you’re looking for a role in National Security, from Policy Advisors to Technology Engineers and more. Each offers a chance to use your own skills, interests and life experiences to protect citizens no matter what your background is. 

That said, what is it like to actually work in National Security? We were able to speak to a handful of folks working in National Security to see what it’s all about.

Though their backgrounds and paths into National Security were completely different, what was immediately apparent was that all six of our interviewees shared a strong sense of satisfaction and pride in the work they do to contribute to the safety of the UK. 

Ayo, for example, works as a Project Manager for the Ministry of Defence. He was born in Nigeria, graduated with a degree in Electronic Engineering and worked his way up from the very bottom to get to where he is.

As a new immigrant, I was fortunate to secure employment as an administrative assistant in the Civil Service. My task was simple - letter sorting! I think it was my desire to contribute and my willingness to challenge myself and work hard, which led to roles in several other Government departments. Little did I know when I started my career in the Civil Service that I would end up delivering large scale programmes and projects supporting National Security for the UK Government,  domestically and overseas.


Michael, who currently works in the Joint Intelligence Organisation within the Cabinet Office, produces intelligence assessments for the Prime Minister and National Security Council. He has held a few National Security roles in his career.

After learning that the private sector was not for me, I bought myself some time by going back to University and doing a Masters in the one part of my degree that I really, really enjoyed - International Relations. Whilst I was there, I spotted an advert for an Intelligence Analyst role in the National Crime Agency. This seemed intriguing, so I applied and was successful in the various tests, exercises and interviews, and worked there for a number of years. My time there was varied and exciting, from assessing threats to the London Olympics to leading an investigations team that tackled some serious ‘household name’ criminals or being part of tactical intelligence teams against international money launderers moving billions around the world.


In contrast, Karina, who works in administration and office management at the Surgeon-General’s office, was on a completely different career path prior to learning about National Security career opportunities and making the switch, which goes to show that you don’t have to have a lifelong dream to work here in order to succeed in finding your place.

I completed my secondary education and trained as a medical secretary. I joined a local GP’s practice and then worked for a consultant obstetrician/gynaecologist at the local hospital. I was working for the NHS when I saw an opportunity to join National Security. It took several months but I was offered an administrative role in the office of the Surgeon-General of the United Kingdom Armed Forces.


Clearly, there’s no set path to a National Security job - what seems most important for the people we spoke to is having passion and drive, protecting people while putting your skills to the test. 

When asked about how they felt about their roles and what a National Security career is like, each of our interviewees had their own unique takes on why they’re happy where they are and what makes it a special career path.

Akosua, a Policy Advisor for the Home Office, relished the daily challenges and knowing that her work is making a difference.

Being challenged daily, understanding how policies are formed and impact citizen lives. Seeing your work on the news and making a difference.


Meanwhile, Harrison, a Lawyer in the Government Legal Department, listed the people you’ll end up working with and amongst as one of his favourite things about the job.

For me, it’s very simple - the people. Once you get in, it’s incredibly welcoming. I found that, whatever their role, everyone I met, was focused on the overall mission and therefore, there is a great buzz about the work and collaborating. We all remember being new to this, so we’re quite accommodating of new people.


Karina summed things up nicely, with a reminder of what it’s all about at the end of the day.

Although there are hundreds of different jobs in National Security we are all working towards one aim – the defence of our country.  The diverse background of the National Security community brings together experiences, friendships and work ethics rarely seen in other working environments.


While our interviewees might be from different backgrounds, working in different roles, they share a commitment to keeping the country safe for citizens from all walks of life.  Each of them has found a position where they can be the best version of themselves and use their skills and experiences.

What advice might they offer to someone who may be considering a National Security career path? Don’t worry, we asked them.

Put in as much time as needed to get a job done; always keep an eye toward the big picture; embrace curiosity and strive to keep learning, and make sure to establish strong relationships and trust with colleagues. After all, camaraderie and respect are indispensable when you are spending long hours in sometimes high-stress situations.


Don’t rule yourself out; rule yourself in. The National Security community works best when it’s full of people just like you. There cannot be ‘one type’ because then we just get one viewpoint, one perspective, and one way of understanding. And that’s too simplistic for today’s complex, international environment. Understand what motivates you. If you have a sense of duty, a need to make things better, a willingness to go up against an adversary - then welcome to National Security


The National Security community needs you, your perspective, experience, thoughts and ability. When you see an opportunity, approach it, try it, and take it if you can.  You can always learn from it and even more, give back to others. A quote I hold onto is: “Successful people have fear, successful people have doubts, and successful people have worries. They just don’t let these feelings stop them.” - T.Harv Eker.


So there you have it - some very hands-on experiences of what it’s like working in National Security. Our thanks to all of the interviewees for sharing their experiences. Hopefully, you’ve found something interesting, intriguing or even exciting amongst them.

If you’re interested in a career in National Security, you can find your route into a National Security career via the Civil Service Jobs site. You can also find details of apprenticeship and summer diversity internship programmes, as well as the Civil Service Fast Stream programme on the Careers in National Security website.

About our sponsor

National Security is an important part of the Civil Service, protecting the country and its people. The work we do is interesting and rewarding, with many different careers. Our day to day may look different, but everyone working in National Security shares a common goal: protecting our people, projecting our global influence, and promoting our prosperity.