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Ever considered working for the Civil Service?

by Tahira Majothi on September 16, 2011

I am posting this on behalf of my colleague Mary Macfarlane, who is a Careers Consultant here at the University of Salford.

The Civil Service runs a graduate scheme called the Fast Stream, which takes several hundred graduates every year. It includes several different options, such as the Analytical Fast Stream, the Technology in Business Stream, the HR Stream, the European Fast Stream, Clerk for the House of Lords or Commons, and more.

Some of these require specific skills or degree subjects, but others are open to candidates with any degree background. What they are all looking for is bright, committed individuals with an interest in informing policy, building relationships with colleagues, and working at the heart of government.

The entry process has three stages: you start by signing up online and completing a self-assessment (designed to give you an idea of the process and help you decide whether the scheme will be right for you), practice tests, and then verbal and numerical reasoning tests. This is the first selective part of the process, and it’s where many people fall down: the Civil Service wants people who are excellent all-rounders, so you have to achieve a good score in both the numbers and the language part of the test.

But let’s assume you pass that stage! You’ll be invited to attend an In-Tray Exercise day, usually at a training centre in the nearest major city. This is a test undertaken on a computer, with an imaginary situation set in the near future, where you’re working for the Civil Service. You’ll have a certain amount of time to read some background information, telling you what you’re doing and what the department’s priorities are, and then you’ll have about 30 minutes where new emails appear in your “inbox”, along with three or four possible answers. Your job is to choose which of the responses is the most appropriate.

If you pass this, you’ll be invited to a full, one-day Assessment Centre in London, where you’ll be interviewed, take part in group tasks, and write more policy recommendations, and prepare a briefing. And if you pass that, you’re in! I applied to the scheme just after I finished my PhD in 2007. I knew I didn’t want an academic job, but wasn’t sure what to do instead, except that I liked the idea of doing something challenging and fast-moving. I didn’t get in the first year, but the Civil Service say that there is no better preparation for a Fast Stream Assessment Centre than having been through it once before, so I applied again, passed all the stages and was offered a job.

By the time I’d finished the process, I had started working for Careers and Employability at the University of Salford, so I withdrew from the application process and never took up the job. However, I would strongly recommend the scheme to other graduates or postgraduates. The application and selection process itself is challenging and interesting: the Fast Stream say that if you are the type of person who’d enjoy being part of the Fast Stream, you’ll probably enjoy the Assessment Centre, and I certainly did.

The Civil Service places a huge emphasis on people skills and building relationships, which means that the other candidates tend to be confident and friendly people – and the issues and situations you’ll discuss in your group task and briefing are fascinating. Sounds good? Go on – apply now!

Registration opens on 19 September and the general schemes close on 30 November; some of the specialised ones close earlier. For more information, check out the Fast Stream site, or look at theProspects entry on Faststreamers. And you can contact me at for more information about the application process.

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