Public service, charity and social work
Successful candidates are radiators, not sinks

How to get a job with the Civil Service Fast Stream

How to target and tailor your application for a graduate career in the Civil Service.
Successful candidates are radiators, not sinks, people who provide energy rather than extract it from a team

'Where will you lead?' Though they look short and sharp the job adverts for the Civil Service Fast Stream (ranked 18th in The Guardian UK 300 in 2016/17) pose big open questions. Before you launch yourself into your application think of what you want to do and how you can achieve that aim.

There are numerous graduate streams to choose from, including four generalist options: central departments, diplomatic service, Houses of Parliament and science and engineering. Other options include the following schemes: commercial, finance, European, human resources, government communication service, digital and technology and project delivery. There are also four analytical schemes for graduates who wish to work for the government's economic service, operational research service, social research service or statistical service.

A blanket approach will leave you everywhere and nowhere. Target and tailor your applications, don't skimp on what you say about yourself. State what you have to offer, what really interests you and definitely don't leave any blanks on the forms. After all, if you don't know what you want out of a job, apart from the chance to earn money and pay off your student loan, why should anyone, let alone the Civil Service, employ you?

Tips from the top

Director of the civil contingencies secretariat at the Cabinet Office, Dr Campbell McCafferty CBE, who has been a Fast Stream assessor, emphasises that no-one expects a graduate to be the finished article. However, there are certain attributes he sees in many successful applicants:

  • They are radiators, not sinks, people who provide energy rather than extract it from a team;
  • They are aware of their own development needs;
  • They are self-motivated self-starters.

David Bearfield is the director of the European Personnel Selection Office (EPSO), the HR selection body of the EU Institutions. He started his career in the UK Civil Service European Fast Stream and there is cross-over between the two, with placements and secondments and a similar recruitment structure.

'On balance there are more opportunities here offered to people brought up with the advantage of English as a mother tongue,' he says adding that many of the people he recruits have studied, worked or travelled abroad, if only for a short period.

So to start with you have to meet the criteria on the Civil Service tick list. Bear in mind what will get you through that before you can shine. David Bearfield says he works with an eclectic mix of interesting people, but your chance to display your differentiating attributes will have to wait until later.

'To be honest we don't look for people with a wide range of interests, we just look at those who get through the process,' he says. 

Look at the core skills and competencies required – how do you fit the bill?

Student life, as well as studying, has prepared you for more than you might at first imagine. Your task, if you choose to accept it, is to consider the connections between your undergraduate life and employer expectations. TARGETjobs has a specific article highlighting ten top skills to help you with this.

Most Civil Service UK jobs are based outside London and the south-east

Putting it on the application form… and more

Make sure you understand the stream you're applying to and what that will mean as a career choice. Most Civil Service UK jobs are based outside London and the south-east; European and diplomatic service careers may require long periods living abroad; parliamentary posts could involve working odd hours. Thoroughly research the Civil Service site, where there's plenty of information available, and read through the advice on TARGETjobs. Do you know how much time you're prepared to commit to your career and where you'll be happy to be based?

Back up your application with evidence. Saying you're interested in a stream or opening won't be enough. Have you spent time abroad as part of your course? What did you learn while you were away, besides improving your language skills? Have you developed a strong interest in speech writing or delivery – what have you done to hone that?

Pay attention to detail and get every aspect of your application spell-checked and double checked otherwise you'll fall at the first hurdle. Fill in every box.

Instant turn-offs and how to avoid them

  • Copying and pasting the wrong department (or even employer name) into your online applications – it instantly tells them you're making blanket applications and you don't pay attention to detail.
  • Being too brief – go armed with knowledge about what you'll say to classic questions but beware reeling off pat answers.
  • Using flattery and rambling – deliver concise and direct replies instead.

Interviews and how to shine in them

Don't just parrot answers back to the interviewer, be aware of who they'll have in mind as you make your response. They're looking for someone who understands the stream they've applied for and has grasped what their role will involve, who wants and is interested in the job, who will grow into the position and will return on the investment the Civil Service is making in hiring them, so:

  • Talk about long-term career aims within the Civil Service;
  • Enthuse about the role on offer and why you want to work there;
  • Talk about relevant things that are not on the Civil Service's own website to show that you've done your research.

Other help

See the TARGETjobs employer hubs for further insights into job applications.

See what the Civil Service says about itself to find out more.

Besides the Civil Service Fast Stream site look for other information about the Civil Service.