So, you want my job? Head of external comms at HMRC

PRWeek takes a sidelong look at recruitment in public sector comms. Do you fancy Matt Hopkinson's job as head of external comms at HMRC?

Show me the money: HMRC sniffer dogs are trained to sniff out cash, reveals Matt Hopkinson
Show me the money: HMRC sniffer dogs are trained to sniff out cash, reveals Matt Hopkinson


Matt Hopkinson


Head of External Communications at HM Revenue and Customs

Starting salary/salary band for the job?

The salary band is £68,500-£117,800.

What qualifications do you need?

There aren’t any specific qualifications, but I joined the industry as a graduate with a degree in politics and contemporary history, which has come in useful. Studying history I learned how to argue a point with evidence – all useful skills for a communicator. 

What level of experience do you need?

While we no longer have a set number of years' experience you have to have for civil service roles, this role demanded experience of crisis communications; of a wide range of different communications disciplines including digital and social media, campaigns and in-depth experience of media relations; and experience of team leadership.

Is previous experience in a public sector comms role necessary/useful?

Definitely useful as far as I’m concerned. I'd previously worked at the Department for Education, the Cabinet Office and had done a short stint at No10. And I’ve worked in the charity sector, for the NSPCC during Operation Yewtree. I’m glad I got all that experience under my belt before facing the challenges we have here.

What are the main day-to-day challenges?

Defending us from unfair criticism in the media. Promoting our services such as tax credits and tax-free childcare to customers. Keeping a large and busy team motivated and inspired, often during challenging and high-stress times. I love it. The big challenge all Whitehall comms teams are facing now is to do more with less and to modernise how we communicate. Government communications has never seen such rapid change in such a short space of time. Just 10 years ago social media was a sideshow and not long before that we were faxing our press releases. We are rightly being challenged from the centre, and from our customers, to not only keep up with the pace of change but to lead it. It’s a very exciting time to work for HMRC as a customer-facing department. People access commercial services at the push of a button via apps now and, understandably, expect the same from government services. 

What is the best part of the job?

The people. My team are great and I learn as much from them as they do from me. Taking something dry and turning it into news is also something I’ll never get bored of. And I still can’t wait to see our work in the papers, online or on the airwaves. I’ve never lost that buzz. 

What is the most unusual fact you know as a result of this job?

That we use dogs trained to sniff out cash in tax-evaders' homes.

If you get an interview, do say…

That you’re a team player. You won’t get far in this job if you’re not all about the team. No one can do this job on their own. It’s like that Army officer ad from years back where they are stuck behind enemy lines and it says: 'If you’re thinking how do I get out of here? Forget it. If you’re thinking how do we get out of here? Call 0800….'

If you get an interview, don't say…

You don’t like change! Change is a constant in communications and you have to be willing and able to embrace it. I love constantly trying to find new and better ways of working and HMRC has a communications team that is embracing the future and new ways of communicating with our customers.

If you’re good at this job you might also be well-suited to…

Well you deal with people a lot, you deal with explaining things and interpreting complex issues, and you have to understand the inner workings of government and parliament, so any job that involves persuading people or convincing them of the need for change. So lobbying firms or PR agencies would both have jobs with similar skill sets. Anything where you need to use communications as a tool to convince people of a point of view.

Please note: Interviewees for 'So, you want my job' are not leaving their current role.


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