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Must-have skills for graduate careers in government

Must-have skills for graduate careers in government

Public service recruiters are on the look-out for graduates with top-notch skills and management potential. We explain why certain abilities are so valuable – and how you can demonstrate them.

Although graduate jobs in government vary widely, there are some key skills that will help you impress recruiters and succeed at work 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.

Communication

Building working relationships and delivering results all require strong communication, whether that’s verbal, written or through body language. 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. 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 communicate your skills: during interview recruiters expect to see a candidate actively seeking to be understood, communicating messages quickly and succinctly, and endeavouring to build a rapport with the interviewer before moving on to ‘sell’ their skills.

Organisation and management

Whether you join a government graduate scheme as a trainee manager or start working your way up from an entry-level position, you’ll have responsibility for providing and improving essential public services. You’ll be expected to deliver quality results to agreed timescales, quality and costs. Therefore, some of the essential competences public service recruiters are looking to identify in candidates are the ability to manage, plan and organise.

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. When completing any assessments, read the instructions carefully and prioritise your time. It will also help to be 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.

Teamwork

Teamworking skills are essential in local authorities and the Civil Service; they go hand-in-hand with effective communication. Graduates on a management training scheme will need to work well with their peers and adapt their working style to new team environments as they move around departments and placements. They’ll also go on to work within and manage a wide range of teams throughout the rest of their careers.

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 will also 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

In a graduate role in a council or government department, you’ll be responsible for developing and improving public services and spending tax payers’ 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 has a clearly established and detailed competency framework which is used for recruitment and performance management and applies at all levels of the organisation. The key competencies are grouped together as follows:

  • Setting direction: seeing the big picture, changing and improving, making effective decisions.
  • Engaging people: leading and communicating, collaborating and partnering, building capability for all.
  • Delivering results: achieving commercial outcomes, delivering value for money, managing a quality service, delivery at pace.
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