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Civil Service, central and local government

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This sector offers a diverse range of jobs in central government departments and public bodies, the civil service, and local government. There are opportunities for graduates from many different degree disciplines in general graduate schemes for management careers, as well as jobs in specific professions.

Local government has employees working in a wide range of careers, including accountancy, HR, marketing, legal services, social work and many more, so you should check the information for those sectors too to help you in your decision making.

If you are considering this sector, you may be attracted by the opportunity to have an impact on national issues or to do a job that will make a difference in your local community.

What you need to know

Find out about Civil Service, central and local government

The Civil Service is responsible for formulating central government policy, offering support and advice on policy-making to ministers, and for implementing policy by providing services direct to the public. It is one of the country's largest employersand its staff includes economists, statisticians, researchers, scientists, engineers, HR professionals, experts in technology and many others. Recruitment is from all subject disciplines.

Although it serves the government of the day, the Civil Service is politically independent. 

Local government offers a variety of graduate careers, in over 430 councils in the UK. Councils have responsibility for the delivery of local services (for example, social care, education, housing, transport, leisure), as well as formulating local policy. The sector has to be accountable, is target driven and is expected to embrace new working practices, innovation and development.

The public sector as a whole employs around 17% of people in employment across the UK (ONS 2020).

Key resources to help you understand the sector include:

  • The overview of the Public services sector and job profiles on Prospects website
  • Civil Service Fast Stream - a competitive programme, with 15 different streams, offering high-quality, structured learning and a career path in a government profession. Schemes last 3-4 years and include rotations in different departments. Some also include study for a professional qualification. Entry requirements are a 2:2 for most schemes; some require a 2:1 or Masters degree
  • How to get a job in the Civil Service - gov.uk blog
  • The Civil Service - the work of the Civil Service, and the range of business areas and professions; direct entry into the Civil Service also offers graduate level jobs with excellent opportunities for training and career progression
  • 21st century public servant, based on research by the University of Birmingham, identifying characteristics and key challenges for 21st century public service
  • New Local - an independent think tank and network for councils and community-led public services
  • Local Government Association - a cross-party organisation that seeks to influence the political agenda on council-related matters
  • Apolitical - a global learning platform and B Corp for those working in public service, with articles, guides and courses (free sign-up to access content)

What skills do I need?

The skills needed will depend on the individual job role; specialist posts may require specific subject knowledge. However valuable skills for this sector will include:

  • communication - written and spoken
  • customer service
  • organisation
  • negotiation
  • project management
  • problem solving
  • initiative
  • team working
  • commercial awareness
  • ability to work under pressure

The Civil Service Success Profiles comprise five elements: ability, technical, behaviours, strengths, experience. Elements vary according to the role - always read the job description carefully. See the separate guides to each of the elements to find out more about how you can demonstrate the requirements.

The LGA website lists skills and behaviours essential for work in local government.

Work experience

Work experience is invaluable for entry into this competitive sector. Ideally work experience will give you some practical experience in the job you are interested in, give you a greater insight into work in the sector, and build on your skills and knowledge. If you don't manage to get work experience in your chosen area of work, any work experience will give you the opportunity to develop the transferable skills that are important to employers. Consider volunteer roles too, as these can be equally valuable, particularly in demonstrating your commitment and values.

Work experience and internships

Finding jobs

Recruitment into this sector takes place year-round, as needs arise. However, the main recruitment period for the Civil Service Fast Stream is usually early September to the end of October, sometimes with a second round in the spring.

Some graduates enter this sector via administrative or office assistant jobs which help build up relevant skills before applying for a managerial post.

The following sites may be useful in looking for vacancies:

Make sure you don't miss the deadlines for the Fast Stream and other civil service jobs by setting up job alerts from their recruitment pages; see what kinds of jobs come up and when to inform your job search strategy. If possible have a conversation with the recruiter to see what they're really hoping for, in addition to reading the job ad.

The recruitment process

The Civil Service Fast Stream recruitment process has several phases, including online tests, work based scenarios, and a video interview. Successful applicants from these stages may then complete further tests (depending on the chosen scheme), followed by a half day assessment centre and a final selection assessment. 

Nationality requirements may apply to Civil Service posts - check the relevant websites before applying.

See the Civil Service blog: How to get a job in the Civil Service

For council jobs, the recruitment process will usually consist of an application and interview (which may include a presentation or additional assessment), pre-employment clearance, if relevant (eg DBS criminal records check), and job offer.

What can I do at York?

  • Talk to people working in the sector - use York profiles and mentors (search Civil Service, and Government - Local and National) and attend relevant events
  • Make sure you understand the application process and timetable (especially important for the Civil Service Fast Stream)
  • Develop the key skills for these roles, such as project management and digital skills, through skills courses and MOOCs (mass open online courses) or gaining practical experience (eg volunteering, student societies, formal work experience)
  • Keep up to date with sector issues in the news
  • Start building your network to learn more about this sector.

More resources: people to follow, podcasts, blogs, event recordings

People to follow

Connect with York graduates on York Profiles & Mentors

Find the full list of graduate profiles on York Profiles & Mentors.

You can also find and connect with York alumni working in this sector on LinkedIn.