Insight into careers in the Civil Service

Key facts

The function of the Civil Service is to support the government of the day to develop and implement its policies in an effective manner. It works in central government departments, government agencies, and non-departmental public bodies (NDPBs) including: Department for Work and Pensions, Department for Education, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Cabinet Office, and Department for Communities and Local Government. Despite implementing central government policy, the Civil Service is politically independent and is not controlled by the Government.

Civil servants work in a wide variety of jobs affecting life in Britain in areas such as administering social security and benefits, border control, national and international intelligence, and policing. Currently there are approximately 427,000 people employed by the Civil Service in the UK.

The Civil Service, like many public sector employers, has seen many job cuts in the last few years and a number of departments have made significant cuts to their workforce. There are still opportunities available, The Fast Stream programme continues to recruit and remains popular and very competitive but there are other pathways for graduates into the civil service.

Opportunities in the Civil Service

Graduates from any degree discipline can apply for the Fast Stream, entry to the Fast Stream is very competitive and the recruitment process involves online tests, e-tray exercise, video interview, a half day assessment centre (leadership exercise/ group exercise/ analysis exercise) and possibly (depending on the stream) a final selection board. You can read more about the application process and try practice tests on the Civil Service Fast Stream website.

As well as the Generalist Fast Stream, there are a number of additional schemes designed for specialists and other groups: Analytical (economists, statisticians, social researchers and operational researchers); Commercial and Finance; Human Resources; Digital and Technology; European (for graduates seeking careers in EU institutions in Brussels); Project Delivery and Government Communication Service. 

Individual departments also have their own graduate schemes, e.g. The Security Service MI5 has an Intelligence Officer Development Programme and a Technology Graduate Development Programme which graduates are recruited to.

Many graduates work in the Civil Service without following the graduate scheme route. Jobs across the numerous departments can be found on the Civil Service recruitment website. The Civil Service operates a banding system for its various opportunities across all departments. Graduates can expect to enter at EO (Executive Officer) or HEO (Higher Executive Officer) level. Recent opportunities included: Statistical Officer, Business Support Officer, Asylum Casework Decision Maker, Economic Analyst, Communications Officer and Policy Adviser.   

The Civil Service like many employers, has assessed competences within the recruitment process, as outlined in their Civil Service Competency Framework, essentially looking for examples that evidence Working Together or Making Effective Decisions etc.  Evidence will still be looked for but there is a move away from a purely competency based system of assessment, to a new more flexible, inclusive structure, The Success Profile Framework. This consists of five elements: Experience, Strengths, Ability, Technical, Behaviours.  

Work experience and internships

Some Government departments offer internships, e.g. the Government Economic Service summer student placement scheme.

There is also the Fast Stream Summer Diversity Internship Programme. This scheme, which offers a 6-9 week placement in a government department, is aimed at ethnic minority students and those from under-represented socio-economic backgrounds. You need to be in your penultimate or final year at university and from one of the targeted underrepresented groups to apply. If you do well, you could benefit from “Fast Pass” and be fast-tracked past the initial online selection stages for Fast Stream entry. For first year students the civil service has now also introduced the Early Diversity Internship Programme

You may also find graduate internship opportunities with certain departments advertised on the Civil Service recruitment website

Further resources


Professional Services