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Where to start  

The public sector is the part of the economy owned and operated by the government. It includes military, law enforcement, infrastructure, public transit, public education, health care, elected officials and the supporting structures (the Civil Service in the UK)- it includes local, regional and national government and federal if you’re in a country with states. It’s funded by taxation and work generally doesn’t have a requirement to produce profit. 

The public sector is the largest employer of graduates in the UK and traditionally offers a number of graduate schemes as entry route. You can find inspiration beyond the best known routes in our directory of public sector graduate schemes. Remember that graduate schemes are not the only way to get a job in the public sector (some useful vacancy sites are listed below). 

Our YouTube playlist Careers in government, policy and the public sector will give you more context.

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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

Internships can be harder to find in the public sector than the commercial sector. However, an internship is not essential to getting a graduate job and public sector organisations use hiring practices designed to recognise and give credit for strengths and competencies gained through a variety of experiences. These include internships for private sector organisations, volunteering, ‘casual work’ and extracurricular activities. For some positions, experience working with the general public or more specific groups can be helpful- for example experience of volunteering with vulnerably housed adults might help you demonstrate your commitment and interest for a role in local government housing policy.

Whatever your experience, spend time reflecting on what you did, why it mattered and what skills it helped you develop, for example teamwork, analytical ability, communication - and your commitment to furthering the public good.

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.

The secrets of getting a graduate job with MI5, MI6 or GCHQ from the targetjobs editorial team

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.

Public sector graduate scheme recruiters will feature at our Graduate Schemes and Internships Fair in Michaelmas.

The Public sector graduate scheme directory is a resource on Handshake.

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: