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).
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:
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:
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!