How To Be a Successful Candidate When Applying to the UK Civil Service 

Working in government provides the opportunity many look for: the chance to have a fulfilling career by making a positive social impact. Finding solutions to the public policy challenges the country faces is a rewarding experience, which is why young people should seize the opportunity to build a career in government. And the only way to do so is by taking a chance and applying. 

Too many young people miss out on exciting opportunities to make a difference simply by failing to put themselves forward and/or lacking confidence. According to the Prince’s Trust, the pandemic has exacerbated a “crisis of confidence” among young people in their future career. While the prospect of applying for a job in government may seem daunting, the simple truth is you cannot be successful if you fail to make an application. 

Those pontificating about taking a shot at getting a job in government should take confidence in the fact that government needs you. Too many young people approach job applications thinking the employer holds all the cards. I know all too well that this could not be further from the truth. As someone who has interviewed hundreds of candidates for roles at Polis Analysis, I know that young people bring the fresh perspective, social impact mindset, and skills my organization is desperate for. We simply would not function as an organization were it not for smart people backing themselves and applying for a role with us. 

Too many young people approach job applications thinking the employer holds all the cards… This could not be further from the truth.

The same is true of government. The UK Civil Service desperately needs young people to join its ranks. Government needs intelligent people offering innovative thinking and renewed drive to find solutions to the challenges we face today. Do not be intimidated by the idea of applying for a job in government as chances are, you have something to offer which the government is desperate to snap up. 

There are two main routes into government. Graduates can opt to apply for the Civil Service Fast Stream, which offers the opportunity to pursue applications for up to four graduate programs. While this is the most traditional entry route into government, there is an alternative path to securing a role in the UK Civil Service. The direct entry route into the Civil Service gives young people the chance to apply for specific roles in government as and when they become available. 

While making an application and knowing what to apply for are important building blocks to success, understanding how to stand out as a candidate is crucial to securing a role in government. I spoke with three young civil servants working in government who secured their roles through both available routes who had some advice to offer. 

Julian Style, 23, is on the Generalist Fast Stream and currently works at the Ministry of Justice. When I asked him why he thinks he was successful in securing a role in government, he mentioned the importance of the Civil Service Behaviours. Style is currently helping on interview panels and believes you have a good chance of being successful “if you tick the boxes” by providing detailed examples of when you have demonstrated these behaviours. 

 

Bishalee Sehijpal, 24, who works in Project Delivery at the Department for Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy, agrees. She attributed her success to the fact she undertook a Summer Diversity Internship Programme at the Department for International Trade. This meant Sehijpal was “highly familiar” with the Civil Service Behaviours and the work culture in government when we came to do her application. 

Eligible candidates would clearly benefit from applying for this internship to maximize their chances of securing a job in government. However, there are other ways to be successful. 

Eleanor Kershaw

Eleanor Kershaw, 24, is a Strategic Adviser in the Department for Health and Social Care and believes having work experience is useful. Kershaw told me having experience provided substance to the answers she was giving on demonstrating key behaviours during the assessment process. She said it is important to use the STAR technique – situation, task, action, result – during your interviews. “Speak to your university’s career service” was Eleanor’s advice for graduates to help them gain more information on what government is looking for. 

While being able to demonstrate times when you have lived the Civil Service Behaviours was a factor behind the success of all the civil servants I spoke to, Kershaw said her success ultimately lay in her perseverance. She was unsuccessful when applying to the Generalist Fast Stream the first time. Candidates should “be really confident” and, as her story shows, that can lead to success. Sehijpal had a similar message: “don’t be scared to fail.” If you do not get the first role, you may still be contacted by the government, which “can open your eyes to other roles and a world of opportunities” in the Civil Service. 

At Polis Analysis, I have seen first-hand the advantage of showing work experience as a way to succeed in job applications. I asked Style what experiences helped him secure his job in government. He recognized he was privileged to have good experiences from interning at a multinational organization to show how he had demonstrated the behaviours in a professional setting. However, he said he cited his experience as a waiter as well and pointed out that as long as you can relate your experiences to the Civil Service Behaviours, the place you demonstrated them is less important. 

Do not be intimidated by the idea of applying for a job in government as chances are, you have something to offer which the government is desperate to snap up. 

Interestingly, when I put the same question to Sehijpal, she did not immediately mention her government internship. She felt her experience running a successful Instagram page and being part of a university society were her best examples of her initiative and how she works as part of a community. Kershaw’s application for a government job benefited from her eight-month experience working for a charity. While in a junior role, she was still able to use this experience to illustrate her leadership. “Leadership is about setting direction,” she says, so experience that shows you were driving change is what matters. 

Finally, I asked the civil servants I interviewed what advice they would give to candidates applying for a government job. “Do the prep,” was Style’s main advice. He also emphasized the need to “learn examples for (the Civil Service) behaviours” by heart, as these will matter throughout the application process, including in the situational judgment test and video interview. For the assessment center, with assessment forms including individual and group interviews, Styles urged candidates to be personable and to neither dominate nor shy away from group discussion. 

Government needs intelligent people offering innovative thinking and renewed drive to find solutions to the challenges we face today. 

Kershaw tailored her advice to the route a candidate pursues. If you are applying for a specific role, she told me candidates are not expected to be experts but must show interest in learning about the specific policy area of the position. For those applying to one of the fast streams, a demonstration of commitment to public service and “wanting to make a difference” will stand candidates in good stead. 

Sehijpal’s advice for those looking for a job in government is to “reach out on LinkedIn and ask to get a coffee” if you know the members of the team you are applying to join. She believes this shows initiative and a desire to better understand the role. 

If you want to find out more from myself or the civil servants I spoke to, then just reach out. 

Thomas Barton

Thomas Barton is the Founder and CEO of Polis Analysis, a startup provider of fact-based analysis on international politics. Thomas has a background in government affairs for leading FTSE 100 companies and has previously held roles in the U.K. Parliament and at a major U.K. political party. He has a BA in History from University College London and an MSc in Political Science from the London School of Economics and Political Science. Thomas is committed to supporting young people navigate global politics through delivering factual, non-partisan and accessible analysis.

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