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Work experience opportunites for graduates in public service

Work experience in public service

Structured internship schemes, placements, sandwich placements and work shadowing are all available, so check out your options and be sure to apply in good time.

Work experience is invaluable if you are considering a career in a sector as competitive, unique and diverse as public service. With so many roles and areas to choose from it can help you to identify where your interests lie and pick up transferable skills that will be useful when you come to apply for graduate jobs, whether in public service or not.

What’s available?

There are many different specialisms in public service and many employers, including the Civil Service, local government, NHS management and the uniformed services. Structured work experience schemes are offered by some of these organisations, while others may respond with a one-off placement to a speculative application.

Some government departments offer sandwich placements for undergraduates and masters students. One- or two-day visits are also available for students, and are designed to provide an insight into their work.

The Civil Service runs two diversity internship schemes:

  • Early diversity internship programme – provides first-year students from diverse backgrounds (with an expected minimum 2.2 degree in any subject) with a one-week placement in a government department. Involves shadowing a fast streamer.
  • Summer diversity internship programme – open to applicants in the final two years of their undergraduate degree or who are undertaking postgraduate study with an expected or gained minimum 2.2 degree in any subject.

To be eligible for either of these programmes, you must be from a BAME (black, Asian and minority ethnic) background, or disabled, or socially or economically disadvantaged. If you have a positive appraisal during the internship, the Civil Service will fast track you to the initial online stages of the Civil Service Fast Stream process. 

Here are some other examples of internship programmes in the public sector:

  • Financial Conduct Authority (FCA): ten-week summer internships open to students from any background in their penultimate year of study.
  • Bank of England first-year internship (six weeks), penultimate-year internship (eight weeks) and postgraduate internship (eight weeks) schemes. Applicants must be on track for a minimum 2.1 degree. 

What will I do during my work experience in the public sector?

It really depends upon which area of the public service you work in. On formal, structured placements students are given real projects with business significance. Shorter work experience stints may involve helping out with small projects and overseeing particular areas of work. Work shadowing will see you following the daily tasks of someone already working to see what they do and how their role fits into the sector as a whole.

What are employers looking for?

An interest in public issues is essential – most workers in this sector are very community minded and driven by more than a generous benefits package. Keep track of developments in the news and issues affecting the public service and attend interviews prepared to share your thoughts and suggestions.

Other work experience opportunities in the public service

Temping in a local council office or government organisation could provide a possible route in. Local government organisations recruit graduates into all sorts of occupations, so work experience in another industry is always worth mentioning. Teamworking, IT skills, communication and general administrative experience can be picked up in almost any job and are applicable to many roles within the public service. Work experience within Parliament or working for an MP are also popular ways to gain experience in the public sector. 

Making the most of work experience

Having a successful placement depends upon thorough preparation, clearly focused objectives, a negotiated programme and effective action planning. Candidates should know what they want to achieve before starting a placement and communicate their requirements.

Employers frequently choose proactive candidates who have demonstrated their commitment and abilities in real-life work situations. Students that have gained relevant experience through part-time jobs have the golden opportunity to highlight their experience in application forms and during interviews.