Work experience is invaluable if you're thinking about 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 work out 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.
The location and format of some of these schemes may have changed as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. So, be sure to check the details on the website of the relevant government department or employer, or on the Civil Service Fast Stream.
Several public sector employers, including the Civil Service, local government and the NHS, offer structured work experience schemes.
Civil Service internship schemes
- Early diversity internship programme – provides first-year students from diverse backgrounds (such as black students, other ethnic minority students, socioeconomically disadvantaged students and students with disabilities) with a one-week placement in a government department. Expenses are paid and the scheme involves shadowing a fast streamer..
- Summer diversity internship programme – open to applicants from diverse backgrounds who are in the final two years of an undergraduate degree or studying a postgraduate course. You'll need to be on track for, or have gained, a minimum 2.2 degree in any subject. If you have a positive appraisal during the internship, the Civil Service will fast-track you past the initial online stages of the Civil Service Fast Stream process.
- Care leavers internship – a paid internship open to young people leaving care. There are two schemes available: an administrative officer scheme with less responsibility and an executive officer programme with more responsibility.
Other central government options to explore
The Government Communications Service runs a paid internship scheme that lasts for 6 to 12 weeks. Furthermore, some government departments offer sandwich placements for undergraduates and masters students. You usually need to be enrolled on a four-year degree to apply.
More public sector work experience options
- Many local authorities offer paid internship schemes. You're likely to work on a specific project, and you may have the option to work full- or part-time.
- The NHS offers eight-week summer internships.
- The Financial Conduct Authority runs ten-week summer internships open to students from any degree background who are expected to gain a 2.1 or equivalent.
- The Bank of England offers paid first-year internships (six weeks), penultimate-year internships (eight weeks) and an internship for those about to start postgraduate study (eight weeks).
- Temping in a local council or government organisation could provide a possible route in.
- Part-time work, such as for a local government call centre, will also give you an insight into how organisations respond to the needs of the people they serve.
- Some local authorities offer informal unpaid work experience or work shadowing opportunities.
- Volunteering is a great way to demonstrate your commitment to your community. Some local authorities have opportunities for volunteers; otherwise, local charities and voluntary organisations will be keen to hear from you.
What are employers looking for?
An interest in public issues is essential – most workers in this sector are community minded and driven by more than a generous benefits package. Keep track of developments in the public sector that interest you so that you can ask about them in interviews and while you're on placement.
You'll need to show that you're able to communicate clearly and sensitively with people from all backgrounds. You'll also need to show that you're organised – public sector organisations are responsible for spending taxpayers' money and must do this effectively and efficiently. They need people who can keep track of their work, use systems and processes correctly and look for ways to do things cost-effectively.
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.
Making the most of work experience
Make the most of your placement by preparing for it, asking questions and thinking about what you want to learn and being flexible and proactive. Use our work experience tracker to keep notes on what you achieved and how you could use this in your job applications.