TARGETjobs black logo
Students' strategies for managing their job search: public sector

Top tips to get a graduate job in the public sector

Five pointers to launch your career in the public sector and get ahead of the competition.

We’ve gathered the results of the Graduate Survey 2018, the largest UK survey of students’ attitudes towards job hunting, conducted by Trendence UK, a partner of TARGETjobs’ owner, Group GTI. From these results of the 73,517 students who took part in the survey, we’ve extracted key information regarding students interested in public sector employers, so you can benchmark yourself against your peers and ensure that you’re not missing out on any crucial elements that recruiters look for.

Five tips on how to get a job in the public sector

Compare yourself with your peers interested in the publix sector

1. Work experience that helps you stand out from the crowd

Don’t be fooled that only around a quarter of final-year students interested in public service careers have an internship of more than two months: many formal work experience opportunities run for six to eight weeks. As students interested in public sector careers are more likely to have work experience than the average student (45% of all final-year students have experience, compared to 49% of final-year students interested in the public sector), you’ll find yourself up against tough competition.

To avoid being outperformed by other students with an interest in the public sector, gaining some form of work experience is essential. Depending on the branch of the public sector you are interested in, it would be wise to demonstrate an interest in areas of policy affecting it and gain some relevant experience. You could do this: by volunteering with an NGO (non-governmental organisation) or IGO (intergovernmental organisation) if you’re interested in joining the Civil Service; by working or volunteering at a care home if you’re interested in social work or local government; or by volunteering as a community outreach worker if you’re interested in probation or youth services.

There are many different ways you can secure work experience: a structured internship, sandwich placements or work shadowing are a good place to start, for instance.


2. Use your degree and background to your advantage

As you can see from the infographic, the public sector attracts interest from students from a variety of courses. Employers are far more interested in the skills you acquire from your time at university than the degree you studied. If you’re considering a career in the public sector, find out what skills are the most sought after in your field of choice. Take the time, too, to find out how best to display your skills on your application form by looking through our articles on CV and cover letter writing.


3. Connect with employers digitally

One of the most popular ways to engage with potential employers is digitally: 58% of students interested in the public sector favour social media as a way of engaging with employers. LinkedIn is by far the most popular social media channel for job-hunting students (71% have used it for careers-related purposes), though Facebook, Twitter and Google+ are also considered useful tools for professional job searching by 22%, 21% and 21% of students respectively.

So as not to be left out, you can set up professional social media accounts. A polished account can impress a potential employer, while one that is filled with pictures of your nights out or riddled with typos is bound to give the wrong impression. It is also important to tailor your accounts to the public sector employers you want to catch the eye of, and ensure that your key achievements and skills are highlighted.

Furthermore, many public sector employers will advertise jobs, internships or volunteering opportunities through social media, for example the Civil Service Fast Stream (@faststreamuk) and the NHS (@NHSuk). You can also make the most of social media to network with industry professionals and start creating a good reputation for yourself. Beware, however, of falling down the rabbit hole of political Twitter feuds. Instead try joining conversations on social media platforms by posting about issues you feel are relevant, sharing articles and establishing a dialogue with others in your sector of interest. It may be wise to not reveal political opinions (particularly if you want to join the Civil Service). If in doubt about whether to post, you might find the Civil Service's social media guidelines, available on the GOV.UK website, helpful.


4. Make the best impression with employers

Engaging with employers in person is equally as important as connecting with them digitally. The engagement methods that students value most are stands at careers fairs (63%), via the university careers service (62%), on-campus careers workshops (56%) and guest lectures (55%).

Any chance to connect with professionals in the public sector is one you should make the most of. It is a way to gain an advantage over other prospective applicants by getting advice from public sector workers. You can be sure that many employers in the sector will make a point of attending careers fairs, employer events and networking events.


5. Consider what you want from a job

Want to be happy in your first job? Research public sector employers to find one that closely matches your values. Unsure of what those values are? Take a moment to list down what you would value most in a job – a high starting salary? The chance to make a difference – if so, what? Friendly colleagues? A good work/life balance? Once you’ve got your list written, it will be much easier to assess whether or not an employer is the right fit for you.

The Graduate Survey discovered that students interested in public sector jobs:

  • were slightly more likely than average to rate a good work/life balance as a ‘very important’ factor when considering employers (at 60%, compared to 58%)
  • rated the opportunity for personal development and good career prospects highly (with 61% and 65% respectively viewing them as ‘very important’ factors)
  • were slightly less likely than average to consider a high starting salary to be a ‘very important’ factor, at 18% compared to 22%

It’s true that graduate public sector starting salaries don’t match those of some private professions, so if a high starting salary is important to you, it could narrow your employer search considerably.