FAQ: UK Civil Service Job Applications

by Khorton5 min read27th Mar 202119 comments

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Hi everyone, this is a short post with some thoughts on applying to UK Civil Service jobs. 80,000 Hours also has an article on this topic. Feel free to ask questions below and I will do my best to answer (and update the main post when appropriate).

Q: Why would I want to work for the UK Civil Service?

Working in the Civil Service allows you to recommend changes to the law or how large amounts of money can be spent, even at fairly junior grades. You can work on a variety of policy areas including alleviating poverty in the UK or internationally, improving animal welfare, tackling climate change, stimulating research and innovation, addressing risks to the UK's security, improving institutional decision-making or promoting international collaboration.

Q: Who can work for the UK Civil Service?

UK, EU and Commonwealth citizens with the right to work in the UK can work the Civil Service. The Civil Service does not generally sponsor work visas.

Some jobs may require UK citizenship, especially if they deal with national security or international relations.

Q: Where can I apply for a job with the Civil Service?

Jobs are listed at https://www.civilservicejobs.service.gov.uk/csr/index.cgi

The majority of jobs are only available to existing civil servants, who need to log in to view them. Any civil servants (lawyers, analysts, policy professionals) can apply to any other internally-advertised roles after they've passed their probation (normally 6 months).

You can also apply for the Civil Service Fast Stream or the Treasury Graduate Programme.

Q: How can I boost my chances of being offered a role?

In addition to the application tips below, apply for a lot of jobs, including job postings that are hiring for multiple roles. Some job postings are hiring for 10 or even 100 roles - those are definitely worth applying for!

Consider working outside of your preferred policy area at first in order to build up your policy experience. After a few years of relevant experience, you may find it easier to find a role in a more competitive policy area.

Q: What makes a good application? How can I get an interview?

Civil Service jobs are evaluated using Success Profiles. Most job applications will evaluate particular Behaviours. Information on how Behaviours are assessed is available online - please read the relevant sections before applying!

Job advertisements will generally tell you how they are assessing you, like this:

Civil Service Job Advertisement

This advertisement says you will be sent a link to a standardized test. This is fairly common. The three kinds of tests I've seen are Math, Verbal and Situational Judgement. I have no particular advice; there's much better standardized test information available online! You will need to pass the standardized test for the rest of your application to be assessed.

The advertisement makes it clear that "Communicating and Influencing" is the Lead Behaviour. In other words, if your CV and personal statement does not receive a passing score on "Communicating and Influencing", it will not be evaluated on the other criteria.

If you are uncertain about how your application will be assessed, email the hiring manager to ask.

Q: How can I write a good Behaviour example?

Some job applications will ask for each Behaviour as a separate 250-word example. Others will ask for a personal statement and CV, which must demonstrate all of the Behaviours listed. In this example, we're focusing on "Communicating and Influencing".

The online Behaviours document on GOV.UK shows what a good example of "Communicating and Influencing" should include:

Communicating and Influencing criteria

You must show you can communicate at this level with an example from your previous career, studies or volunteerism. For example, you could tell a short story about how you recruited for your student group in several different ways and in the end recruited 2x the number of students as the year before. Every example of what you did should include an objective (and ideally impressive!) result.

Normally I recommend only sharing one example per Behaviour, as this will allow you to go into more depth.

Q: How can I score well at interview?

The Civil Service Interview Methodology is available online.

You can share the same Behaviour examples from your application at interview. You can bring notes with you to the interview and refer to your notes throughout. The same criteria will be used to evaluate you.

Your interviewers might ask you follow-up questions on your Behaviour example. This is normal! It's a chance for you to share part of the story you may have missed because you were nervous. People often get a higher score after answering the follow-up questions than they would have otherwise.

If an interviewer asks a follow-up question that's not relevant to your example, you can refer to another example or what you would do if you could do it over again. For example, if an interviewer asked, "Did you use any digital communication methods?" you could say, "Not in this situation, but later that year we started using Facebook groups and..." or "No, but if I were doing it again I would use WhatsApp to stay in touch with the other organisers."

Most interviews are time-limited. A normal Behaviour example normally takes around 5 minutes, including follow up questions, although this can vary a little and interviewers are usually pretty nice about it. You should practice your Behaviour examples with a friend to check that you're spending a reasonable amount of time and get some feedback.

You could also be asked some Strengths questions. You don't need to prepare for a Strengths question; it's based on your natural enthusiasm for certain types of work. You might be asked a question like "Would your friends call you an organised person?" If organisation is something you're excited about but don't have much experience with, you'd likely score of 3/4. If organisation is something you enjoy and you're able to share a time when that's helped you with your work, you'd probably score 4/4.

You might also be asked to prepare a presentation in advance, in which case you'll be given specific instructions.

Q: What if I have more questions?

Feel free to ask questions below and I'll try to answer them if I can!

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19 comments, sorted by Highlighting new comments since Today at 10:57 AM
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This article is really useful- thanks for writing it Kirsten.

Couple of opinions I'd add:

If you don't get on the fast stream, do apply for other jobs. The fast stream seems good, but I'm not convinced it's much better than just getting a job in the Civil Service and just moving around independently.

Applying for jobs in the Civil Service is a specific skill that you can get better at. Apply for a bunch of jobs, get feedback, and try and improve your scores.

Thanks for this post! As someone looking to apply to the UK Civil Service in the future, it's really useful to have a resource like this :)

One question I have is whether you have a sense of the value of a Master's program in public policy. In particular, are you aware of many/any positions where having a Master's is either required or would significantly increase the chances of a successful application? 

I've never seen a position that requires a Master's. A Master's in public policy is definitely a positive but relevent experience can be even more valuable.

The Civil Service will not take into account where you got your Master's, so getting a very prestigious qualification won't help you as much as it might at other organisations.

If you join the Civil Service and think a Master's could help you do your job better, the Civil Service might subsidize your degree.

I'm also a current UK Civil Servant and agree with Kirsten. I don't think doing a Masters in public policy is going to do much to help your application. Obviously, there can be lots of good reasons to do one, but I wouldn't treat as a major factor it helping you get into the UK Civil Service.

This is super helpful, thank you!

Which departments/roles do you think are most important to work in from an EA perspective? The Cabinet Office, HM Treasury and FCDO seem particularly impactful, but are also the most crowded and competitive. Are there lesser known departments doing neglected but important work? (e.g. my impression is DEFRA would be this for animal welfare policy - are there similar opportunities in other cause areas?). Thanks!

These 2 apps should help give a sense of where you can work on different causes in the Civil Service:

https://highimpact.shinyapps.io/impact_areas/

https://highimpact.shinyapps.io/civil_service_jobs_explorer/

That said, for non-civil servants - I would strongly suggest focussing the first role you get on skill development and understanding how government works, rather than trying to go straight into the most impactful area.

Civil servants are expected to move around a lot, so you can find the  most impactul areas once you are in, and demonstrating good generalist skills is one the key things that will make moving around easy.

Hey 22tom, this depends a lot on which cause area you're most interested in. For example, if you want to work on climate change, several departments could be good options (BEIS, DfT, DEFRA). If you're interested in emerging technologies, DCMS could be a strong contender. Is there a particular cause you're most interested in?

I'd add that if you're interested in tech/AI policy, the Competition & Markets Authority (CMA) is quite a good, lesser known, place to consider.

EDIT to add: also the CMA is incubating the new Digital Markets Unit (DMU).

Thank you so much for posting this! I've just submitted an application for a civil service position (before reading your post, alas) and while I know they're all very competitive roles, as someone who didn't study at a super top university for various reasons, I loved the blind recruitment process and the guidance available online. Fair, clear and reasonable. Your thoughts are really valuable too and align perfectly with what I took away from the online guidance.

I'm glad to hear it. Good luck with your application!

Thanks for writing this!

Consider working outside of your preferred policy area at first in order to build up your policy experience. After a few years of relevant experience, you may find it easier to find a role in a more competitive policy area.

Do you know if this works for someone coming from outside the civil service? E.g. if someone works in say economic policy at a think tank and they want to shift into say an emerging technology role at the civil service, would they be able to easily do so? Or would the job description likely say something like "experience in emerging technology policy required"?

A recent job advertisement said: "Previous experience in government is not essential, but you will need to have good political awareness and the ability to communicate effectively to a wide range of audiences and the ability to solve problems using structured problem-solving techniques."

I think that attitude is typical for policy roles. The better you understand government, including for example experience working with senior politicians or drafting legislation, the stronger a candidate you would likely be. Civil Service experience is certainly not essential, though!

Edit: I realize I didn't answer another part of your question. Experience in the relevant subject is encouraged but usually not essential - it depends on the role. Often an advertisement might say something like, "Able to credibly engage with stakeholders."

The civil service now use an AI " bot" interviewer, I can't seem to pass this part. I've made it through 6 times now and can't get past the AI, would you have any tips on what would be the key words etc? Thank you

I'm sorry, I haven't heard of any change to AI-based screening and don't know what you're talking about. Can you share a link that explains what you're talking about?

https://launchpadrecruits.com/ This is the company they use for all the civil service interviews. The sift team for the application is still non computerised, but the actual interview is this company.

I think you must be at least partially mistaken - I interviewed someone myself just last week so we certainly have not outsourced all recruitment. I'm sorry I can't help more but I'm really not familiar with what you're describing.

"Any civil servants (lawyers, policy professionals, analysts) can apply to any other internally advertised role after that have passed their probation." 

 

What do you think about joining the civil service in e.g. administrative roles so that more civil service vacancies are then advertised to you?

Hi rharris, if you have more experience in eg admin than in policy, it might make sense to apply for an administrative role to get some initial experience with the Civil Service. You'd be eligible to apply for other internally-advertised roles after you've passed your probation (normally six months) and you'll be a more competitive applicant because of your Civil Service experience.

[+][comment deleted]3mo 1