Top tips: How to get into Government and the Civil Service 

On 7 November 2023, we held a ‘How to get into Government and the Civil Service’ careers panel event for Social Science and Law students.

Three alumni currently working in governmental roles joined us: 

The panelists were Sarbani Banerjee, Lead - Skills and Capability, Jessie Leung, Assistant Estates Surveyor, and Megan Kidd, National Graduate Development Programme.

Here are some of their top tips and insights about the sector. 

There’s so many opportunities to find a job in this sector. 

In the UK, there are 24 Ministerial Departments, 20 Non-Ministerial Departments, 49 Civil Service Departments, 317 Local Authorities, 424 Agencies and Public Bodies, and over 11000 Local Councils. That’s a lot of options when it comes to choosing what to do and where to work! 

You don’t have to move to London. 

There’s often a misconception that you have to move to London to work in the sector, but you don’t have to. The Civil Service have offices across the country and are keen to reflect the communities it serves. Plus, with hundreds of local authorities and local councils in the UK, there are jobs everywhere for you. For example, Jessie works at South Gloucestershire Council and is based in Bristol.   

An aerial view of Bristol, including Brandon Hill and Bristol Harbour.

Think about what is most important to you. 

When thinking about her future career, Meg knew she wanted to make a difference. Knowing this, her previous manager encouraged her to apply for the National Graduate Development Programme. Now, her role allows her to represent the needs of local councils, lobby the Government, and work on homelessness and environmental concerns. 

There are some key transferable skills that recruiting managers will look for:

As a recruiting manager, Sarbani shared lots of insights into what recruiters are looking for. Communication and people skills are a key priority; you will need to use evidence, persuasive language and public speaking skills to get your message across to different audiences. Project management skills are vital, so you can manage your own time and others’ to complete a project. It’s important to think about what experiences you have already got that use these skills. You can find different skills in the Civil Services’ Success Profiles.   

A student presenting her project timeline to an audience of other students.

Now is the time to build experiences 

As a recent graduate, the time Meg spent building up experience is fresh in her mind. She encouraged students to find experiences they can talk about in applications and interviews. Meg was asked in three interviews about how she responds in a crisis and talked about her time volunteering as a crisis counsellor.  

Jessie enthused about the importance of getting involved in opportunities beyond the sphere. Experiences like mentoring, volunteering at the local charity and other opportunities allow you to understand different people’s perspectives and experiences.  

Part-time work can be as valuable as volunteering  

Meg also talked about her experience working in Superdrug for five years. She thought that this experience wasn’t very useful when applying, but she realised how valuable it could be.  

“When I was doing that retail experience, I didn’t think that would come in useful. But, when I reflect on the skills that I learned, dealing with customers and sticky situations, actually it is useful and… your skills are definitely transferable.”  

The Civil Service Fast Stream is brilliant, but there are other ways to get into the Civil Service or Government. 

Sarbani joined the Civil Service from her previous roles in Higher Education policy. Lots of people in senior positions in the Civil Service didn’t complete the Fast Stream. Once you’re in the Civil Service, you can move between departments and progress easily. Sarbani also talked about how the Fast Stream isn’t for everyone. It’s there to help people into senior leadership roles, but not everyone wants to do this early in their career. 

So don’t be disheartened if you don’t make it onto the Fast Stream – it’s not the only route in! 

Find out more 

Blog written by Sam Cook, Employability Consultant.