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Where to start  

Many Cambridge students and recent alumni apply for the UK Civil Service Fast Stream. It is very competitive with a success rate of 3.5% (though the success rate for Cambridge students is higher). The scheme has an early deadline, usually around the third week of October for a start the following September, and the recruitment process is lengthy. See the Civil Service Fast Stream website for full details of the various streams and diversity internships, including an Early Diversity Internship for first years, and Summer Diversity internship for penultimate and final year students.

It’s wise, however, to think beyond the Fast Stream. You can apply directly for jobs in the Civil Service, without going through the Fast Stream process, and there are many other graduate schemes in the public sector which are less famous, but also less competitive. Employers include the Bank of England, Houses of Parliament, and the National Graduate Development Programme for Local Government. There are also multiple graduate streams for working in the NHS.

Listen to our two-part video on Charity and Public Sector Graduate Schemes for an overview of the many and varied schemes.

How to know if you’re suited to this sector

Careers in the public sector are, by definition, focused on public good. Beyond that basic remit there is a huge range of jobs. The sense of being ‘close to the action’ and of making a difference can vary widely depending on the role and organisation you work for.

How to get the experience to be credible

Public sector organisations tend to select based on competencies rather than specific degrees or internships. Use examples from your work or involvement in student societies to demonstrate these competencies - teamwork, analytical ability, communication - and your commitment to furthering the public good.

The Summer Diversity Internship Programme (SDIP) gives people from diverse backgrounds the opportunity to see what a career in the Civil Service is like, on a paid eight week work placement in a government department.

The shorter 1 week Early Diversity Internship Scheme takes place in the spring. Eligibility criteria for both schemes can be found on the website. 

Further study or certification required

With some exceptions the public sector tends to value experience over additional academic qualifications. Many of the graduate programmes allow you to study for a master’s part-time alongside your work.

How to find employers or training courses

Complete your “Career Industry Interests” on Handshake to be notified about appropriate jobs, graduate schemes, careers briefings and employer presentations.

For direct recruitment into the Civil Service see Civil Service Jobs and consider setting up an alert.

Some useful sources for vacancies include: Working for an MP website for a variety of public sector and politics-related opportunities, Civil Service job search for graduate scheme and immediate-start jobs in the UK civil service and Jobs Go Public for jobs in local government plus housing, education and other areas of social policy.

Tips for succeeding in the application or selection process

It is vital that you give evidence of the competency requirements. Watch this two-part talk on Successful Application Forms for some help.

You may be required to complete psychometric tests. You can practice these for free here with Graduates First.

Assessment Centres are common in this sector. See this four-part video on Succeeding at Assessment Centres and use for help with video interviews.

What Cambridge offers to help with this career

You will find public sector jobs and graduate schemes advertised on Handshake. Some employers will also give presentations at Cambridge.

The Careers Service usually runs a briefing on the Civil Service Fast Stream and another on Charity and Public Sector Graduate Schemes in October.

Other things you should know

You can join the public sector at any stage in your career. Even the graduate schemes are not just for those straight out of university, and the personal and professional skills you gain in other areas may well be transferable to the public sector.

The Institute for Government has an explanation of the internal structure of the civil service - which might help to demystify it.

What to do next

Now you have looked at this page, think about your next steps. Everyone's journey is different. There are many ways to move forward. Here are some actions you could take now: