Graduate jobs in government vary widely, but there are some key skills that will help you impress recruiters regardless of your area of specialism. Whether you're applying for jobs or training schemes in central or local government, you'll need to show your mastery of skills such as communication, organisation, teamwork and problem solving. You'll also find it helpful to research the specific skills sought for the roles you're interested in.
Why are communication skills important when working in government?
Government jobs are about getting things done in collaboration with others. You need to be able to build relationships, and that calls for strong communication skills. Graduates working in local and central government will need to be able to interact with all sorts of people, including colleagues from other areas of government and members of the public. It's likely you'll work with people from a diverse range of backgrounds and that your role will involve collaborating with them to create ways forward.
If you can actively monitor and adapt your communication style to suit the situation and are the sort of person who can nurture good relationships, you’ll be on your way to a successful public service career.
How to demonstrate your skills
During interviews, recruiters look to see if you're actively seeking to be understood, communicating messages quickly and succinctly and endeavouring to build a rapport with the interviewer before moving on to ‘sell’ your skills.
Why is an aptitude for organisation and management key to a career in government?
Whether you join a government graduate scheme as a trainee manager or start working your way up from an entry-level position, you’ll be responsible for providing and improving essential public services. You’ll also be expected to deliver quality results to agreed timescales, quality and costs.
Public sector recruiters will want to see evidence that you can plan ahead, organise yourself and others and manage projects.
How to demonstrate that you’re highly organised
Make sure you’re well prepared throughout the application process, from the online form to the assessment centre or interview. When completing any assessments, read the instructions carefully and prioritise your time.
Go to your interview armed with examples of when you’ve played a project management role – for example, when you were secretary for a student society or looked after the staff rota in your summer bar job.
Why is teamwork an important skill for government staff?
Government work often involves teams of people who bring different strengths to a project. If you can get along with everyone, you'll make projects more successful and your colleagues happier. Plus, if you're on a management training scheme, you'll need to work well with your peers and adapt your working style to new team environments as you move around departments and placements. You'll also go on to work within and manage a wide range of teams throughout the rest of your career.
How to prove you’re a team player
Make sure you have examples of when you have worked in a team in the past (in a university group project, perhaps, or through volunteering or work experience) and what your role was in each instance. These skills could be tested during an assessment centre in role play and group exercises – so be sure to play an active part and show how you relate to others.
Innovative thinking and problem solving is important for working in government
In a graduate role in a council or government department, you’ll be responsible for developing and improving public services and spending taxpayers’ money efficiently and effectively. You’ll therefore need to be able to analyse information and evidence and use it to generate new ideas. If you’re a lateral thinker and enjoy working through a problem and finding the best solution, you’ll be a valued asset to any government employer.
Demonstrate your problem-solving prowess
Look back over your experiences and list some examples of when you’ve come up with a solution that’s worked well. This could be in university projects (particularly ones where you’ve had to make an analysis of a given scenario and draw conclusions); dealing with difficult customers in your part-time retail job and improving their visit to the store; or times when you’ve taken the initiative and tried a new way of doing things.
Make sure you know exactly what the employer wants
When you research employers, you’ll find out more about the specific competencies they are looking for, which will help you to understand how to present yourself. For example, the Civil Service publishes details of the strengths and behaviours it looks for during the recruitment process. They're available on the Fast Stream website, along with examples of how to demonstrate them.
Local authorities may use a similar approach or may simply outline the skills and experience they need in their recruitment materials. Either way, this is your opportunity to show how you've researched your potential employer and can demonstrate you've got the skills, strengths and experience they need.