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Civil Servant

civil service careers

Civil Servant

Tell me about it
Civil Servants work in a non-political capacity for the elected government of the day.  They are part of the Civil Service, a huge organisation offering a wide range of roles for non-graduates, graduates and specialists with specific qualifications. Career opportunities can range from office-based work, involving clerical/computer skills, liaising with the public, record keeping and dealing with finance and accounts, to supporting government ministers by providing them with the information they need to turn their policies into reality.  There are around 100 different departments, agencies and devolved administrations, with the detailed nature of the work varying according to the department.

Your job could involve finance or procurement, or marketing and public relations. Whether your interest is human resources or neighbourhood renewal, social justice or European and international relations, there is a huge variety of opportunity to appeal to many interests.

Entry level
Individual departments and agencies set their own entry requirements. Some may accept a new entrant with good communication or decision-making skills, whereas others may require a minimum of two A levels/AH grades or three H grades or equivalent for a junior manager position.  In the main, the entry standard for non-graduates is four to five GCSEs (A*-C)/S grades (1-3), or equivalent, including English.  Around half the junior managers recruited each year are graduates. The ‘Fast Stream’ programme offers accelerated promotion for ambitious graduates.

The majority of fast streamers are recruited from any degree discipline (the exceptions being those entering the streams for statisticians, economists, technology in business and science and engineering). A 2.2 honours degree is the minimum entry requirement (2.1 for economists and for the technology in business stream). The recruitment process is extremely thorough and places greater emphasis on future potential than past achievement.

You can apply for any job in the Civil Service as long as you are a UK national or have dual nationality (one of which is British). As a European Economic Area national, EU national or Commonwealth citizen, you would be eligible for about 75% of Civil Service jobs. The Diplomatic Service recruits UK citizens who have lived in the country for at least five years and requires that they have the ability to learn languages easily.

There is no formal upper age limit for vacancies in the Civil Service and mature entry is quite common.

Making the grade
Training combines formal courses and practical on-the-job experience, learning from colleagues. Some posts may offer the opportunity to undertake nationally recognised vocational qualifications.  Sometimes further tests must be passed in order to secure promotion. 

You may be able to enter the Civil Service via the apprenticeship programme. Apprenticeships in the Civil Service are offered at NVQ level 2 and level 3. The apprenticeship frameworks that have been used most widely in recent years are: Advice and Guidance, Business and Administration, Customer Service, Hospitality and Catering, IT User, Learning and Development and Management.

Your initial training as a graduate fast streamer would focus on your immediate development needs and on the competencies expected of you at senior management level. This would begin with an induction course at the National School of Government to introduce you to the Civil Service and possible future roles and responsibilities.

Departments usually recruit through advertisements in local and national newspapers and magazines, job centres, their own department websites and the civil service jobs website.

Personal qualities
Whatever department you work in, you would need to be able to work well in a team and have a calm, reliable personality in order to work accurately under pressure. You would have to be a good communicator and should be methodical and organised in your work.  You would be required to pay attention to detail and to follow established procedures.  You must be able to handle confidential information responsibly. Computer, language and number skills are also useful.

If you are seeking a higher appointment, you would need to show leadership qualities and the ability to use your initiative, analyse problems and deliver results. The ‘Fast Stream’ would demand all these qualities and more, especially outstanding intelligence, creative thinking and sound judgement.

Looking ahead

This is not a good time to be considering a career in the civil service: a recruitment freeze announced in 2010 has been extended into 2011. Government Ministers say that the civil service will be much smaller in future, with around 100,000 jobs expected to go by 2015.

Competition for any available places is very keen. Before the freeze, for example, there were over 17,000 applicants for 500 vacancies across the general and specialist fast stream programmes. A white paper on public sector reform is due towards the end of 2011, which should give clearer details of the future shape and size of the civil service.

Alternative suggestions
Depending on your level of ability and your ambition, you might consider anything from secretarial/clerical work to local government administration, management consultancy, human resources management or professional qualification in the financial or legal fields.

Take-home pay
Salaries vary according to department and the location of the post. Salaries for senior civil servants also depend on job performance and bands set by the government. As a guideline, typical graduate starting salaries range from around £21,000 to £27,500, rising after four to five years in post to £29,000 to £40,000. Posts in London often command a higher salary.

The average fast stream starting salary is between £25,000 and £27,000, rising after promotion, usually after four or five years, to around £45,000. These salary ranges apply to London-based posts because this is where most fast streamers begin their Civil Service career.

Generally staff work a 37 hours a week with opportunities for flexible and part-time working and job sharing. Posts are mainly office-based but there may occasionally be a requirement to travel to attend meetings, conferences, training sessions or other events.

Typically, you would have around 25 days’ annual holiday, with more than ten public holidays on top. Depending on your department, you might also receive season ticket loans and access to a wide range of sports and social facilities. Many civil servants work flexible hours and most departments are happy to provide part-time and term-time posts.

Sources of information
Civil Service Careers:
Civil Service Fast Stream:  





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