It doesn’t seem like a year ago that I left the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to take up my new role at HM Passport Office in Belfast. After nearly 13 years of dealing with people's benefits, it was time to travel down a new path, and move into the wide and intriguing world of passports.
On Monday 9 March 2015, I arrived as the new guy in the office. I was allocated to the customer service interview network team. It’s a dedicated and highly trained interview team within all passport offices, whose job it is to interview all adult applicants (over 16 years old) applying for their first British passport. I was given a warm welcome by new HEOs Stephen and Lynn and all the other interview officers.
As my first few days passed, I sat in on several interviews to experience what was going to be involved in my new role. Just ask a few questions of the applicants I thought, but it was far more than that! As I listened to my new colleagues, all of whom where fully experienced and highly trained interviewers, my first thought was how am I going to learn all this? Part of the answer to this question was a 5 day training course at one of our London offices. The course was very intense ,interesting and there was a lot of new information and skills to learn. As the training week progressed, I quickly learned the importance of why the interviews are carried out. I’m pleased to say I passed the course. It was now time to return to the office, where my training would continue on the job and through mock interviews. I was mentored by Nicola, an experienced interview officer. She was great and had the patience of a saint. I'm still learning from her and my new colleagues.
My old colleagues in DWP and CS local and the north west Academy all know that I am very rarely stuck for words, but I will never forget the morning of my first solo interview. For 13 years in my old role at DWP, I had been used talking to people about disabilities and illness. But this was new, completely different. So with my first applicant waiting to be called to the interview booth, my palms where sweating, and I was convinced my throat had decided to close over. The applicant arrived in front of me. On reflection, I think he looked more nervous than I was. I told myself, "come on Graham you can do this", so with a deep breath, I said good morning and introduced myself. I’m convinced I must have sounded very nervous but I carried on, and thankfully completed the interview. Now, 12 months later I look back on that first interview with fond memories and smile to myself, and wonder if the applicant knew he was my first interviewee.
As I mentioned earlier, everybody over the age of 16 applying for their first British passport is interviewed. You get to meet a wide variety of people from all walks of life, and social backgrounds. This also includes people from different nations who have been granted their British Citizenship, and are applying for their first British passport. While the principle of every interview is the same, all interviews are different, as you never know what you will hear or be told until the applicant arrives in the booth and the interview starts.
It is a very busy role, but I have to say an enjoyable and rewarding one, knowing you are helping to protect peoples identity, and contribute to the security of the country and its citizens. And it's a role where you are always continuing to develop and build your skills and knowledge base.
All of the interviews are based on the CAT process (credibility assessment techniques) . The objective of the interviews is to ensure that the identity of the applicant is as they have stated. This helps to ensure we issue passports to the correct person, and in turn helps protect their identity, particularly in the current climate of identity fraud. We carry out 2 different type of interviews, the first being what’s called face to face - this is where the person makes an appointment and comes into the office in Belfast or any of the other major offices across the rest of the UK for their interview. The second is more digital and known as the Video interview service. This involves applicants whose main passport office is more than 2 hours travel for them, and they come into their local council office. We interview them using a video or web cam link. At present, these are from a wide range of offices including Caernarfon, Haverfordwest/Hwlffordd and Newport/Casnewydd in Wales and the Shetland Islands, Inverness and Elgin in Scotland, to name just a few.
The Passport Office, like many other Government Departments is going through major changes, and I have joined at an exciting time, as we build on the existing high professional service we provide. The UK is already known as one of the leaders in providing its citizens with the most secure and respected passports in the world, and as we continue to develop our services, including the digital networks, we aim to become the world leader in security, service and professionalism in the passports we issue.
Before joining the Passport office in Belfast, I was actively involved with CS Local in the north west of England, including the Academy. I’m still in contact with many colleagues, including my Academy family members. Currently, we don't have CS Local or an Academy here in Northern Ireland, but hopefully that'll change some day, and I hope I'll be involved - so I guess it’s a case of watch this space!
The past 12 months have gone very quickly, and I’m looking forward to the next year and all that it has to offer .
To finish this little update, I want to say hello to all my old colleagues. I hope you're all doing well, and am sending you St Patrick's Day greetings from Belfast.