This page has been written by Pamela Andrew
, the relevant Careers Adviser for this occupational area. To see how you can meet Pamela, or any of our advisers, visit our website
What is the Civil Service?
- It is one of the largest employers in the UK with nearly half a million staff working in a wide range of functions, helping the Government of the day to develop and deliver its policies as effectively as possible. For graduates there is a large and varied range of job opportunities with the Civil Service, from the fast stream to specialist roles for professionals and direct entry jobs.
- It incorporates three types of organisations – departments, agencies, and non-departmental public bodies (NDPBs). They work in a wide range of areas that touch on everyone’s day-to-day lives, such as education, health and policing. Because their organisations deal with so many different aspects of government, civil servants work in an enormous variety of roles.
- Civil servants are politically impartial and their workforce includes people who deliver crucial services direct to the public across the UK, such as Jobcentre Plus staff and coastguards. They also have staff working on policy development and implementation, including analysts, project managers, lawyers and economists.
- The range of jobs available within the Civil Service is huge. Jobs can range from administrative positions with arts councils, to embassy posts with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), to intelligence roles at MI5, to legal services with the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS).
- The Civil Service employs people from many sectors, including finance, research and development, business, administration, education, military, and sports. Staff may work anywhere in the United Kingdom and possibly overseas, although a large number, especially those dealing with policy formulation and advice, are located in London. There are increasing numbers of opportunities within the devolved regions and some departments are based in locations such as Bristol, Leeds, Sheffield, Newcastle, Edinburgh and Cardiff.
- The Civil Service Fast Stream is an accelerated leadership development programme that provides talented graduates from a range of backgrounds with the experience, skills and knowledge needed to become senior leaders within the Civil Service.
- It is a popular career choice for graduates and consistently ranks high in The Times Top 100. In 2015 (latest statistics available), 307 St Andrews graduates applied for the Civil Service Fast Stream. 4.9% were successful. (Source: Civil Service Report).
Fast Stream options
There are currently 15 different options:
- Diplomatic Service
- Houses of Parliament
- Science and Engineering
- Human Resources
- Government Communication Service
- Digital and Technology
- Project Delivery
- Government Economic Service
- Government Statistical Service
- Government Operational Service
- Government Social Research Service
Details of each of these fast track schemes is available from Civil Service Fast Stream.
Main Stream/Direct Entry/Professional Entry Routes
Civil Service roles vary greatly depending on the department to which you are assigned but you will be contributing to political affairs and working within a team to deliver a high quality of service. The range is enormous and covers any department which employs civil servants. Some of these jobs may be part of a graduate programme and most offer on the job training and a senior member of staff as a mentor. The Civil Service is committed to continuing professional development (CPD) and professional qualifications and has a policy of rewarding excellent service with promotion and/or pay increases.
- Other departments such as GCHQ, MI5, SIS (MI6) and HMRC also recruit graduates separately from the Fast Stream.
- Direct Entry jobs, tend to be specific to a department and applicants generally don't go through an accelerated program of training. When searching for jobs you will need to think about the kinds of posts you can apply to, some of these might be at admin or assistant level others slightly more advanced. They might not specify degree qualifications so looking at the starting salaries and the job descriptions will give you an idea of which jobs would match your knowledge/skills and experience.
- Applying for the Fast Stream as a Civil Servant. Once in post Civil Servants can apply for the Fast Stream via the Open Competition described above as well as the In-Service Fast Stream.
Civil Service attributes/skills profile
|Key attributes/skills needed for the role||Where you could develop these skills or attributes while at university|
|Setting direction – having initiative and decision making ability
||Through life experience, especially taking responsibility for your own decisions and making sure you take up opportunities available to you.
|Ability to process large amounts of information quickly and be able to condense into key points
||Through academic studies, especially presentations.
|Engaging people – ability to lead with conviction and enthusiasm. Have the ability to create and maintain positive, professional and trusting relationships with a wide range of people
||Going out of your comfort zone and being involved with people outside of your immediate circle. Through volunteering with SVS (St Andrews Voluntary Service) or local voluntary groups.
|Delivering results – working to agreed goals and deadlines
||Achieving academic deadlines and taking roles of responsibility for university societies.
|Strong communication & interpersonal skills
Many of these skills you will develop through your academic studies and extra- curricular activities.
CAPOD offers courses on these kinds of skills regularly within its Professional Skills Curriculum
|Ability to organise time and work methodically whilst paying attention to detail
|Leadership qualities and effective team working skills
||Using the University’s subscription to the Microsoft IT Academy can help to develop your skills with programmes such as Excel.
Networks - why and how to use them
Why are networks important?
- Networking is particularly important and can help you succeed with your applications. If you have been in contact with someone working for the organisation then you have extra information to assist you with your application. Use social media sites such as LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook (the Fast Stream has its own page) to connect with organisations.
Where alumni work now
- St Andrews graduates have gone on to work with the European and Generalist Fast Stream as well as jobs within the Scottish Government. Alumni can make extremely useful contacts, giving you an "edge" with your applications and interviews.
There are several ways to make contact with alumni.
- Saint Connect- is the new networking platform which allows you to connect with alumni and join discussion groups. Find out how to use Saint Connect by viewing the 'Video Tour' (bottom right-hand side of Saint Connect screen).
- Groups - "Civil Service" by joining this group you will receive updates on events, competitions, jobs and other sector related news.
- LinkedIn – Alumni Tool, this feature shows the career paths of 40,000+ St Andrews alumni. Watch the YouTube video on how to use this resource. By using the search field you can find alumni working in the Civil Service eg The Department of Health, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Ministry of Defence, Department for International Development, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, and the Government Insolvency Service.
- Friends and family - ask around your immediate social network for any contacts in the organisations which interest you.
- This networking video produced by Cass Business School gives excellent tips on effective networking.
How to gain experience/internships
Comparatively few formal opportunities exist for working in the government service during the vacations.
The main recognised internship opportunities are as follows
- The Government Economic Service (GES) offers 6 to 12 week Summer Student Placements to students in 2nd year or above who are studying for a degree in economics or a joint degree where economics comprises at least 50% of the total course.
- The Early Diversity Internship Programme provides a five-day placement in a government department to first-year undergraduates from diverse backgrounds. This is useful if you want to get an understanding of what it's like to be on the Fast Stream.
- Maths Summer Students (GCHQ) offer a 9 – 12 week placement practicing advanced mathematical research in the penultimate year of study. Applicants need to expect to obtain a first class degree.
Other ways to gain experience
- Civil Service recruitment is competency-based, which means that they look for good examples of evidence of relevant competencies (skills and aptitudes) in applicants. This means that any work experience where you have the opportunity to develop these will be valuable.
- At university there are many opportunities to develop competencies. Involvement in societies and volunteering can give you teamwork, organisational, leadership, project management, communication and many other types of experience.
- Read our advice on networking then send some well-crafted emails to find out what the work is really like and gain tips on how to progress your own career.
- Check Adopt an Intern for paid internships in Scotland for postgraduates and graduates, many of which are in the public sector.
How to get a (graduate) job
- The degree required will depend on which scheme you apply for. For some schemes, eg the Government Economic Service and the Government Social Research Service, you will need a specific degree subject. Some schemes accept a 2:2 or above in any subject, some require a 2:1 or higher. Check the Civil Service Fast Stream website for full details on entry requirements for each Fast Stream option.
- The level of competition for all Fast Stream entry posts is high. About half the entrants to the Fast Stream schemes have worked elsewhere post-graduation, and have applied more than once.
You are eligible to apply if you are a:
You must be a British citizen to apply for some posts, particularly those related to security and intelligence. Check on the individual scheme pages.
Right to work requirement:
In addition to the nationality requirement, you must have the right to work in the United Kingdom. Eligibility requirements are explained in more detail in the Civil Service nationality rules.
Guaranteed Interview Scheme (GIS)
Under the GIS, if you have a disability and meet the minimum qualifying criteria for the scheme you're interested in, you can progress straight to the main assessment stages, missing out the behavioural questionnaire.
Main Stream/Direct Entry/Professional Entry Routes
- The Civil Service Jobs website is an important source of vacancies. Register to receive email job alerts.
- Each government department runs its own recruitment activities, so you can also check the websites of each department you’re interested in and contact them directly when opportunities occur.
- Direct Entry jobs tend to be specific to a department and applicants generally don't go through an accelerated program of training. When searching for jobs you will need to think about the kinds of posts you can apply to, some of these might be at admin or assistant level others slightly more advanced. They might not specify degree qualifications so looking at the starting salaries and the job descriptions will give you an idea of which jobs would match your knowledge/skills and experience.
- If you're interested in working for MI5, read Guardian Careers - Working for MI5: what you need to know about the application process.
Applications, interviews and assessment centres
Fast Stream deadlines
- The application window for the Civil Service Fast Stream competition usually opens in September each year. Closing dates will vary and be notified once the online application process has opened.
- Some of the Fast Stream pathways, if not filled, may reopen in February and close in April, although the closing date for the first round is normally mid-October.
- You will first be asked to register a username and password and select your Fast Stream scheme preferences. Each Fast Stream scheme you apply for will have a separate scheme progress page.
- Full details of the application process are available on the Civil Service Fast Stream website.
- In 2017, both numerical and verbal reasoning tests have been removed for most schemes (there is a later numeracy test for the Finance and Commercial schemes). There are now just two online questionnaires (Situational Judgement and Behavioural).
- The application and assessment process is thorough and can take up to 12 weeks to complete.
- Online questionnaires - you will need to complete 2 online questionnaires that consist of several questions to test behavioural style and situational judgement
- E-tray - this online exercise requires you to use your decision making skills to respond to a series of emails, given a choice of options.
- Video interview - respond via your webcam/device camera to a number of pre-recorded interview questions about your motivation and strengths.
- Fast stream Assessment Centre - if you pass the online exercises, you’ll be invited to attend an assessment centre. The assessment centre reflects some of the key elements of a Fast Streamer role and will consist of a leadership exercise, a group exercise and an analysis exercise.
- Final selection assessments – You must go through a final selection process when applying for all Fast Stream schemes (except Generalist and HR). You will then be asked to attend this final assessment if you reach the required standard at the assessment centre.
Relevant Postgraduate Study
Is it a requirement?
Although many successful applicants have postgraduate qualifications, these are not mandatory. The average age of a successful Fast Stream applicant is 26, therefore additional experience, alongside your undergraduate degree, is beneficial to your application.
|For further information on researching and planning for a postgraduate qualification, please visit the postgraduate study page.
Key UK links and resources
Careers Centre resources
- How to Pass the Civil Service Qualifying Tests
- London Diplomatic List
Use CareerConnect, your central careers hub, to:
- Book an appointment with a careers adviser
- Search for vacancies (Job Shop, internships/work experience, graduate jobs)
- Register for events
- The Careers Centre subscribes to Policy Jobs - Public Policy jobs and Internships. Allows member access to its sister sites: Political Jobs, Ethical Jobs and Human Rights Jobs.
- You might also find the following Careers A-Z pages of interest:
- Temporary and contract positions at EU institutions or EU executive agencies:
The European Personnel Selection Office (EPSO) sample tests can give you an idea of the type of questions and level of difficulty you will face in a competition.
The USA job market and recruitment timetables, for both internships and graduate jobs, for sectors of employment often differ from the UK.
The Careers Centre subscribes to the reputable independent USA careers information and vacancy provider Vault. The links below will take you directly to Vault subscription resources which cover this sector. You may find further useful and relevant resources linked from there as well.
Internships in the US - Civil Service
This list is by no means exhaustive. It is simply designed to serve as a starting point.
- Central Intelligence Agency: Internships, co-ops, and scholarships available for undergraduate and students that are entering graduate school, current graduate students, or doctoral students; Applicants must be US citizens.
- Congressional Budget Office: Ten-week unpaid internships open to students who are pursuing a graduate degree in economics, public policy, health policy, finance, or a related field; Applicants should be familiar with computer programming, statistics, econometrics, or other quantitative method.
- Congressional Research Service: offers a limited number of paid and unpaid internship programs to undergraduate, graduate and postgraduate students; Diversity program included.
- Department of Energy: Offers a number of different student programs and internships for undergraduate and graduate students.
- Department of Health and Human Services: Paid and unpaid opportunities for current students.
- Department of Health Internship Program: Open to undergraduate and graduate students.
- Department of Transport Student Opportunities: Various paid and unpaid positions for U. S. citizens.
- Environmental Protection Agency: Paid and unpaid internships, fellowships and other opportunities available in Washington, D.C., laboratories, and at regional EPA locations nationwide; For undergraduate and postgraduate students.
- Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Internships: Paid opportunities for undergraduate and postgraduate students; Must be U.S. citizens; Internships for 2014 are suspended, check back for change.
- Federal Government Internships: Internships within federal agencies for current students.
- The Federal Reserve Board: Paid and unpaid internships available to undergraduate and postgraduate students considering careers in economics, finance and accounting, information systems, law, and other areas.
- U.S. Government Accountability Office: Appointments for intern positions last from 10 to 16 weeks and are normally held during summer months; Open to both graduate and undergraduate students
- Library of Congress Junior Fellows Program: Open to undergraduate and postgraduate students; Applicants must be U.S. citizens; Interns receive a $300.00 per week stipend.
- Mickey Leland Energy Fellowship: A 10-week summer internship program that aims to improve opportunities for minority and female students who are pursuing degrees in science, technology (IT), engineering, or mathematics (STEM majors) in an accredited college or university (sophomore year or higher), but all eligible candidates are encouraged to apply; Stipend available for students.
- Minority Access' National Diversity & Inclusion Internship Program: allows talented undergraduate and graduate students experience the diversity and scope of career opportunities available in the federal government and other participating entities; For graduates and students who have completed at least undergraduate freshman year; Must be U.S. Citizens; ALL students with all academic majors are encouraged to apply.
- NASA: Various opportunities available
- National Institutes of Health: Several internship, graduate and fellowship opportunities available for current students and recent graduates.
- National Archives: Voluntary internship opportunities in the National Archives, Presidential Libraries, and Regional Archives for undergraduate and graduate level students; Must be a U.S. citizen.
- National Park Service - Cultural Resources Diversity Internship Program: 10-week paid internships during May/June through August for diverse undergraduate and graduate students ages 18-25 in historic preservation/cultural resources work; The program places interns with National Park Service park units and administrative offices, other federal agencies, state historic preservation offices, local governments, and private organizations.
- Department of Citywide Administrative Services: Summer Internship opportunities for undergraduate and graduate students
- Presidential Management Fellows Program (PMF): a two-year placement within a government agency where fellows engage in solving domestic and international issues; Requires a master's, PhD or law degree within certain subject areas; Fellows receive full salary, benefits, partial loan repayment and the opportunity for accelerated promotion.
- Smithsonian internships and fellowships: The world's largest museum complex; Various paid and unpaid positions open to undergraduate and postgraduate students; International applicants are encouraged to apply.
- USA JOBS (The Federal Government's Official Job Site): An aggregation of full-time and internship opportunities within the Federal Government.
- The U.S. Agency for International Development: Paid and unpaid opportunities open to current students from a wide variety of fields of study; Must be U.S. citizens.
- The U.S. Chamber of Commerce: Internship opportunities available in various departments.
- U.S. Department of Education: offers 8-10 weeks unpaid internships in the fall, winter/spring, and summer for interested students seeking valuable work experience in government and federal education policy and administration; Internships are available at several offices within the Department of Education, including the Office of Civil Rights, Higher Education, and Migrant Education; Students enrolled in an accredited educational institution and recent graduates who can provide confirmed proof of future enrolment are eligible to apply.
- U.S. State Department: Offers paid and unpaid opportunities for undergraduate, graduate and post-graduate students who are interested in working in a foreign affairs environment; Must be a U.S. citizen.
- U.S. Department of Transportation: Offers 10-week Summer Transportation Internship Program which provides students with hands-on experience and on-the-job training while working on current transportation-related topics and issues; Open to all qualified applicants but is designed to provide qualified women, persons with disabilities, and members of diverse groups with summer opportunities in transportation where these groups have been under-represented;Interns receive a stipend, housing, and roundtrip travel to placement site; check website for details of eligibility. The Summer 2015 STIPDG application period will open in November 2014.
- White House Internship Program: unpaid program open to undergraduates, postgraduates, and recent graduates (within two years of graduation); Must be a U.S. citizen.