10-Minute Chat:​ Intelligence Officer

’10-Minute Chat’ is a series of interviews talking with extraordinary ‘normal’ people navigating interesting careers, living remarkable lives and following their passions.


10 minute chat intelligence officer

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M is a dazzling young woman working in intelligence. Her job is to scrutinise and assist in the operational apprehension of individual crooks as well as international crime gangs.

She cut her investigative teeth within the police force for 3 years and is the closest person to a real-life spy that I’ll ever know about.

We met for coffee a few months ago to chat about her career so far and what working in British intelligence is like. Obviously, her name has been changed and she could only be vague with details for security reasons (so cool).

Initially, M didn’t even think about breaking into the world of intelligence and like most people, found herself Googling ‘interesting jobs’ in a bid to find work after finishing up at uni (she studied history).

*There’s a pause while she swallows a mouthful of teacake*

‘  It was my mum who saw a job with the police, and I thought this sounds really cool. I went for an interview, got that, smashed that, and then spent a few years there. 

M went in as an Intelligence Researcher for the police. But the opportunity to develop her career within this role was limited.  The next rung on that ladder was Intelligence Analyst – a highly covetable and often rare role within her industry, as the skills that are taught are so valuable. She decided that the only way she was going to move forward in her career was switching organisations.

M starts from the beginning and goes through what type of person you need to be to work in intelligence.

‘ You’ll have to look at lots of information and be able to pick out really key points about someone to determine what kind of person they are and why they might commit the types of crimes they commit. You need understand trends in their behaviour or in the pieces of data in front of you…You have to keep looking at small details as though they are going to be a clue to something bigger and thinking about details in two ways. It’s quite a skill and it’s taken me a long while to learn.

When I first started, I’d do a task, hand the results in, do another task, hand the results in and then do another task. People would say ‘But what does that tell you? What does it show you? What recommendations can you make from that?’ And I’d be like ‘Oh. I don’t know.’ So you have to train yourself to think ‘Why is this, this? 

intelligence officer

‘So is it like profiling?’ I asked, picturing the dozens of American crime shows I’ve binged on over the years.

No. That kind of training is only specifically for profilers. In my role, you can’t say for definite, anything about anyone but you can give recommendations to give other officers a steer on where to go. As an intelligence officer, you can give them [Editor’s note: as in people on the frontline of fighting crime] an idea on who someone is and the best way to go about preventing them from committing a crime.’

Surprisingly, M paints a picture of how heavily female-dominated the intelligence industry is. She gesticulates wildly, reckoning it’s because women are naturally inquisitive and have the inclination to want to find out everything about someone, like insta-stalking an ex-boyfriend’s new girlfriend for example. [Editors note: 100% both sexes do this- maybe girls are more honest about it?]

‘ If you’re a snooper (like me) you’ll be absorbed looking in and at other people’s lives… I love looking into people’s lives. Being given one little bit of detail and then at the end of a day or two I’ve built up a whole picture of someone’s life. That’s really interesting.

In my old job in our office, it was probably 85% women. In my job now, it’s a much smaller office, there’s two men there and six or seven women. The same kind of percentage. ‘

On the reverse, the operational side of crime-fighting is predominantly male she said. I go for a well-trodden question, ‘What about sexism? Have you experienced it within this world?’

I haven’t come across any. Anyone who comes into my office doesn’t automatically go to the men to ask a question. They might do a bit more at the moment as the men that are there have been there longer and know more.

But I don’t think it’s a question of I’m not being asked because I’m a woman. If you’re used to working in a more female environment that intelligence kind of has, you wouldn’t think twice about going to a woman to ask a question. The issue is more your capability in helping the investigation or not. I’m sure there’s been some but I haven’t come across any. ‘

M quote 2

And as for role models in her industry M looks up to the head of her organisation.

‘ I’ve not met her personally but I’ve seen her talk. She’s really good at commanding a room and seeming like she really cares about what she’s doing. She’s passionate and she’s driven to implement the changes she’s put forward.

She’s a good talker. She comes across as confident. But not like a woman trying too hard to be taken seriously, she’s taken seriously because you respect her. She’s friendly and is approachable. That’s the kind of person I’d want to be if I was in a position of responsibility. ‘

M lights up talking me through her day to day tasks and that the changing nature of her work is always interesting. Her hands are animated again explaining that one minute she could be working on a sexual assault, the next it could be a burglary or drugs; she claims she rarely has a dull day with not much to do.

I work a standard 8-4, but due to the dynamic nature of the work, I am expected to be flexible.

I might go in at 8am and expect to be leaving at 4pm but then they need me and I’ll be staying until 2am the following morning.

You do get paid overtime for it which helps, as it can be pretty tiring at the end of the day, concentrating for long periods of time.

Your well being is monitored though so you don’t end up overdoing it. If you’re struggling they’ll tell you to stop or ask if are you ok to do an overnight and it’s fine if you’re not, you don’t have to. ‘

I enquire what a ‘good day’ and a ‘bad day’ looks like for her. She replies that they are actually one of the same – the worst days are the most exciting and leave her feeling fulfilled having helped defuse a potentially dangerous situation.  

It can get really hectic. You could have a firearms incident for example. It gets very high pressure. Potentially, you’re helping to save someone’s life which is going to have bad consequences if it goes wrong. Those kinds of days (which doesn’t happen very often) get intense and even though it’s not solely down to you, your effort does make a huge difference. That’s quite a full on day. ‘

‘And what about mistakes, have you made any?’ I pry, realising as soon as I’ve asked, that even if she had ballsed-up she wouldn’t tell me anyway. M is completely honest though.

M quote 3

Not any like big mistakes. I don’t really make that many mistakes! Haha. I obviously get little things wrong occasionally but I can’t think of anything I’ve done where I’ve thought oh my god, you shouldn’t have done that, that’s caused a problem.

The pressure and consequences of making a mistake are huge compared to your ‘normal office job’. You’re dealing with safety and people’s lives, you don’t want to have a big slip up because of the big consequences, it can be a little bit stressful.

Good to know the nation’s security is in safe hands.

And what if M wasn’t doing what she was doing. What if she could swap jobs with anyone in the world.

In the world?

In the world

I’d be a professional tennis player. I’d be Serena Williams. I’ve always really enjoyed tennis and I’d love to up my game and have the confidence that they have to do what they do. I don’t feel like I’d ever had that enough confidence to push myself to do something like that. ‘

I push for her to expand on what she means by not having enough confidence. As battling baddies, every day takes having a lot of confidence in your abilities from where I’m sitting.

Because if you’re going to be on the world stage you have to develop a really thick skin and ignore everyone making their comments and opinions about you all the time and I’d read all those awful comments that people say ‘Oh she’s not doing very well at the moment’ ‘Oh she’s looking a bit fat’ I wouldn’t get out of bed in the morning reading those. ‘

Shaking my fist here at you Daily Mail comments section.

From what she’s told me so far, it appears the love of her job is a massive motivator. This kind of priority shift is something that is more likely to be found within the millennial generation. I put this thought to her and she comes back with a conflicted answer that she wouldn’t completely sacrifice happiness for a job. However, she explains that if it came down to it between a job that she loved but didn’t pay very much and a job that was OK but paid more, she would pick the latter to feel more financially secure.

If I had a partner and wasn’t on my own, then maybe I would think differently as they would be there with a level of support. As a single woman living in Surrey, I feel like you have to make concessions. But perhaps for a lot of people, it’s not as important. ‘

My fascination with her job leads me to ask what the impact of doing what she does has her on her mental health. From my narrow perspective, being a civilian who is living in almost blissful ignorance is being exposed to the darker side of humanity a hard place to come back from every day for the people in M’s position.

‘ When I first started I was a little paranoid as you are exposed to a new world of crime – especially things like burglaries that are quite prevalent. But after a while, you become more realistic about it and it just kind of just went away. I think if you worked on something like child exploitation the chances of mental taxation would be far greater but you just have to make sure you look after your health.  

…You don’t really see anything too horrific too often. It definitely makes me feel more aware but in a way, it also makes me feel better.

M quote 4

Looking back at her younger self M talks about her first job at a local sports shop where crippling shyness almost got her fired. She’s regularly made comments in this interview about her lack of confidence but realises how far she’s actually come.  

I just couldn’t speak to any of the customers. I felt so out of my comfort zone. I had never been trained to speak to people on a professional level.

I wasn’t a blagger. Management then got me on the phone for a spell talking to customers and that helped massively. I suppose it’s kind of the same from when I started my police job. I’ve improved since then and I’ll go on to improve at this job. ‘

‘And if you could give your 18 year-old-self career advice now, what would you say to her?’ I ask.

Be more confident in interviews. In the police when interviewing people for jobs, I was amazed at how many people undersell themselves. So I would say be more ballsy to achieve what you want. I think being more assertive and confident is not a bad thing. If you think there’s a better way to do something then say it.  One of my problems is I’m too scared of confrontation to make myself noticed.  

I know myself quite well and I’m never going to be a top, top, top achiever. I just have too much anxiety think about things too much and worry about things too much that I could never lead something or get to the high positions of the women I’ve admired.’

But M says her confidence and anxiety is something she’s constantly working on. Her tips include giving herself regular pep talks, reminding herself that she is smart, capable and successful at a lot of things.

‘ … Plus my lavender oil helps a lot!  ’

You go girl.


Interview has been condensed and edited for clarity. 

10-Minute Chat:​ Intelligence Officer

5 things I’ve learned about working in a larger company.



working hard


So that six-month mark of working at a larger company has officially been hit. Obviously I was very very wrong about 90% of my previous concerns on being a shiny new cog in the corporate wheel (my tendency to over-dramatise with a dash of neurosis is part of my witty charm – friends you may nod in agreement). Not only is the below a synopsis of British office culture on a whole, but a round up of the top five things I’ve learned working for big company.



In an everyday setting, the act of card giving is a manageable and delightfully pleasant token of ones affection to the receiver. In a large office environment they are like an annoying fly that finds its way into your bedroom on a hot summers day, buzzing around your space uselessly nose-diving every so often in a futile attempt to escape back outside, leaving you in a constant state of swatting but the little bastard keeps coming back for more…. My first couple of weeks into the job a glittery card with ‘Happy Birthday’ in pink curly writing appeared on my desk after lunch.


Eyeing the card suspiciously, my brain started ticking over. Do I sign it? Who left it there? Who’s this Carrie chick and what does she have to do with me? What’s the protocol here? At this point I only really know my immediate team members, and even then I don’t say much to them. Will the mysterious Carrie think I’m a cold hearted biatch for not wishing her an insincere generic ‘Happy Birthday, have a lovely day! Xx’. I quietly nudged the card with the stealth of a ninja to the desk of my colleague next to me. And that was the start of it. Not a week goes by now where some sort of card + collection combo hidden inside an ‘innocent’ magazine is casually circulated. Pro tip: Dip into a bank of standard responses so you can appear to be a happy team player with minimal thinking effort.

  • Happy Birthday – wishing you the best!
  • Good luck- wishing you the best!
  • Congratulations – wishing you the best!
  • Condolences – wishing you the best (note the drop of the exclamation point here, this is important)

birthday card fail

And if you actually like the person the card is intended for throw in a quick smiley face. You know, just to make it clear.



‘Welcome to Tea Club. The first rule of Tea Club is: you do not talk about Tea Club.’

You know who’s a (tea)pot-head by saying loud and proud the secret initiation phrase when you first join your new office “I’m going to make a tea, does anyone want one?”. Your desire to be invited into the fold has been established, the Grand Chief (tea)pot-head –i.e. the most addicted- will give a cue to the rest of Tea Club by allowing you to start the ceremony by pipping in with a simple “Oh me please”, then the others will follow with a chorus of “Me too” and “I’d love one!”. Then the ritual begins. Start by asking how everyone takes their tea, memorise preferences as best as you can as you will be tested on this for when it’s your turn to make the round again at a later date. If own mugs are proffered ensure you comment positively on the choice of colour/ pattern or girlishly giggle at any ironic slogans – ‘This is secretly gin’. Now for the closing segment, with the tea made and carefully distributed, the first sips will be the determining factor of your Tea Club admission. After waiting a couple of hours Grand Chief (Tea)pot-head will indicate acceptance into the clan by offering to make the next round and addressing you directly if you fancied another cup. The thing about Tea Club is that it transcends traditional office hierarchy or territories, it gives a chance for interns and MD’s to interact, for analysts and artists to communicate on field they both understand, it breeds a “you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours” mentality akin to secret societies that live on the edge of society’s shadow the world over.


3 / FOOD

Office cake culture is a ‘danger to health‘ says Prof Nigel Hunt, from the Faculty of Dental Surgery and Chief Misery Officer at the Fun Police. 

Food is the driving force behind the day in any environment. Probably even more so when you are in office-based employment. 73.87-ish% of the working week is food focused, whether talking about what was had for dinner the previous night, what we plan on doing for lunch that day or just debating the various merits of different types of pizza toppings (don’t even get me started now Bake Off has rolled around, the afore mentioned percentage spikes 20 points this time of year). Or it’s getting stuck into the inevitable Birthday / Leaving / Engagement (delete as appropriate) Buffet attached to the truckload of cards that are churned out. The Buffet is a smorgasbord of junk food laid out for all who pass the communal food trough to dip into. Of course any Buffet spread is on top of bimonthly charity bake sales, pre-planned naughty snacks to pull people through particularly difficult meetings and offerings from Mary Berry–types who get the urge to whip up some form of heavenly sugary confection over the weekend to bring in for all to share with a floor wide email of “Homemade triple choc cookies on my desk, help yourself 🙂 ” You will never go hungry working in an office.

My jeans are feeling uncomfortably snug just typing this.



Following and remembering working processes for everyday tasks is an area that I’ve struggled with getting my head around the most. Coming from a work place where I had almost complete autonomy with how I managed what was expected of me from start to end product, I find the majority of processes cumbersomely clunky. However, not knocking the necessity for processes though, particularly in bigger organisations where lots of ~company stakeholders~ need to be kept in the loop with what’s going on within the business. And while we’re on the topic of processes, I’m going to dovetail nicely into office jargon. Because the two are very much a non-funny double act, like Trump & Farage.

w1a siobhan sharp quote office jargon

I would, and still do to a certain extent, get very lost in keeping up with conversations during meetings where it just sounds like people are speaking in circles with over complex words so no one really understands what it is we’ve come to discuss or what actions are needed to be taken from it. The meeting usually ends with the most senior person in the room saying something like “Ah yes, very good Susan. Insightful. Well I suggest…er.. we all crack on then.” After months of practising this mostly foreign language, I now speak near fluent worker bee with phrases like EOP, DPS, TOY, FOC and topline brief.

w1a quote funny office jargon

Anyone else feel like they are working in an episode of W1A?


My favourite and most valuable point that I’ve taken away from being part of a large business is getting to work with kickass ladies (and gents). I’ve inwardly curated a collection of mentors – whether they know it or not – from across the company. I like to study how they work, see how interact with others and watch closely the ways in which they handle tough situations or tricky questions thrown at them. I think larger companies tend to attract more talented people on a whole (not in 100% of cases but in general). More established colleagues are a huge resource of work-info, even talking to them about their careers and examining the route they’ve taken to get to where they are can be a big chunk of food for thought for your own career aspirations.

They can also unintentionally turn your working perspective on its head too. After a particularly tough day battling with a Difficult Co-Worker on some minute detail of a trivial bit of work, I vented to one of my mentors the frustration on how stand offish this colleague was being with me after I was sooooooo polite with voicing my concerns on the project we were working on, Miss Mentor looked at me, shrugged and said “It’s not a personal thing”.

My narrow little mind split open.

It. wasn’t. personal.

Difficult Co-Worker wasn’t being harsh because of me. It was just the way she communicated her point of view. That was her style of working and nothing to do with me. I’m a overly smiley people pleaser who needs to be nice to everyone, and she’s just more abrupt while expressing herself.

Big penny-dropping moment there.

The ‘It’s not personal’ approach has also helped out in other scenarios. As an academic late-bloomer (only really started to achieve success from university. Hard work actually pays off, who knew mum?!) my desire to be consistently praised – a perfectly human inclination by the way- was doing me more harm than good. I noticed I would feel hurt or personally targeted on the occasions I was disagreed with by colleagues or if a mistake was pointed out. And I knew I was being silly for feeling like that, of course they weren’t being tough for a laugh at my expense. They were offering critiques to HELP me get better and produce stronger pieces of work for the company. But the inner-girly swot had grown accustomed to her pat on the back…

“What do you mean you wont give me a gold star and tell me I’m brilliant??!” <—Me, at my most egocentric stage.

Taking a step back, giving a swift kick to the initial bristles of needtoplease-itus and adopting a ‘It’s not personal’ mentality, allows for getting stuff done alongside people with different working styles or who hand out constructive criticisms a hell of a lot easier to swallow.

If you’re ever struggling with a hot-headed co-worker or feel irrationally slighted for not being told how good you are, I seriously recommended repeating ‘It’s not personal’ to yourself.

And if that doesn’t work then I’m afraid you’re probably A) dealing with an office arsehole B) you are the office arsehole.


BIG COMPANY BONUS : I nabbed a pair of *reasonably priced* sold-out Beyoncé tickets back in June through a work perk which I would not of had the chance to take advantage of previously. If that’s not a reason to LOVE working for the man then I don’t know what is.

OK, we all know *reasonably priced* = a’lotta dolla, but they were a fraction of the price for what resale sites were selling them for. Plus it’s a scientific fact that you can’t put a price on Queen B.

5 things I’ve learned about working in a larger company.