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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.

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 16.5% of people in employment across the UK (ONS Sept 2018).

Key resources to help you understand the sector include:

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

Check the competencies required for the Civil Service and consider how you can develop these. 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:

The recruitment process

The stages in the Civil Service Fast Stream application process are two online questionnaires, an e-tray exercise and a video interview. Successful applicants from these stages may then face 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.

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 employer and networking 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