How do I get a graduate job in central or local government?

27 Sept 2023, 12:06

Want a graduate career in public service and government? Whether you want to join the Civil Service Fast Stream, work for your local authority or follow another career path, this is the ideal place to start your job search.

Westminster houses of parliament

If you want to help run the country, set your sights on working in government. Where you choose to work depends on what you’d like to accomplish in your career.

Choosing between a career in central or local government

If you want to make a difference to the lives of people in a specific location, then local government is the choice for you and you should check out the National Graduate Development Programme for local authorities (NGDP). This two-year scheme allows you to work on placements in different councils and work towards a leadership qualification.

Some local authorities run their own graduate schemes. They're similar to schemes in other sectors: you'll work on placements in different departments, build up a range of skills and work towards a management role.

There are many graduate-level jobs in local councils too. They may not be part of a graduate scheme, but they'll give you the chance to get involved in work that makes an impact on a whole community. You'll also have the flexibility to move around: once you have your foot in the door, you'll be able to apply for secondments and promotions.

If you’d like to help deliver government policies, then central government is the place to be and you should consider the Civil Service Fast Stream. Recruitment is highly competitive, but if you're successful, you have a range of opportunities open to you, from advisory and administrative positions to postings overseas.

How to get a job with the Civil Service Fast Stream

There are central government graduate schemes outside the Fast Stream too:

  • HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) runs a tax professionals graduate scheme.
  • The Defence Engineering and Science Group (DESG) graduate scheme is open to candidates with a 2.2 degree or above.
  • The Government Legal Profession offers a legal trainee scheme for intending solicitors and barristers.
  • Forestry England runs a two-year graduate management programme for graduates with environment-based degrees, or qualifications in land management, civil engineering, forestry or business studies.

There are graduate jobs in the Civil Service outside the Fast Stream too. They'll be advertised as and when positions become vacant, and could be in any department, from the Attorney General's office to HM Treasury. Roles are available all over the UK – not just in London.

Alternatively, you could work for a public body such as the Crown Prosecution Service, the Arts Council or the National Crime Agency. These organisations deliver government services, but some are set up and run by the government while others are set up by and directly accountable to Parliament. Either way, you'll be contributing to work that makes an impact on a large number of people.

How else can I make a difference?

If you're keen to get a graduate job where you can make a difference, you could consider a social work graduate scheme . You'll undertake placements in local authorities, study for a social work qualification and work directly with vulnerable people, including children and people with mental health problems.

How do I apply?

The wide range of work that these organisations do means that there's no single recruitment process.

However, in general, graduate schemes such as the NGDP and the Fast Stream will involve several stages, including video interviews and assessment centres. If you apply for an individual role in central or local government, you're likely to need to fill in an online application and attend at least one interview. This is likely to be competency-based, so make sure you prepare thoroughly.

How to answer typical competency-based interview questions

There are citizenship criteria for Civil Service jobs. For some, you'll also need a security check. Check the requirements for roles that interest you on the Civil Service website.

What qualifications and skills do I need to work in government?

There are 15 different schemes within the Fast Stream and entry requirements differ. The minimum requirement for some roles is a 2.2 in any discipline, but some areas (such as the finance fast stream and government economics service) require a 2.1 degree (or predicted degree) or a specific degree subject.

Certain jobs in central or local government require technical skills or specific aptitudes so you may need a relevant background.

Across the board, soft skills are valued. You’re likely to need to demonstrate:

  • organisation
  • creativity and flexible thinking
  • IT skills
  • the ability to work with people from a range of backgrounds
  • leadership
  • decision-making ability
  • teamworking skills
  • the ability to work alone
  • excellent communication skills
  • excellent communication skills, including the ability to give clear explanations and be tactful.

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