In the expansive landscape of government and policy careers there are many potential entry points and many ways to find and monitor job opportunities. This section focuses on the principal graduate specific entry points into the central Government’s Civil Service.
The Fast Stream
The flagship development programmes of the Civil Service are grouped within the Fast Stream. These offer early responsibility (e.g. policy, operations, and corporate services) and a fast-track to leadership roles. Anyone can apply, including serving civil servants, and many graduates who enter the civil service as a direct hire will choose to apply (or re-apply) to the fast-stream in subsequent years.
There are 15 different ‘streams’ split between two broad categories: the Corporate Schemes and the Analytical Schemes.
The Corporate Scheme options:
- Digital, Data and Technology
- Diplomatic Service
- Diplomatic Service Economics
- Houses of Parliament
- Human Resources (HR)
- Project Delivery
- Science & Engineering
Analytical Scheme options:
- Government Economic Service
- Government Operational Research
- Government Social Research Service
- Government Statistical Service
Whether a generalist role or a technically specialised one, all schemes offer rotations through developmental roles and will be supported with additional training. Most Fast Streamers can expect to work in more than one department or agency, and there are opportunities for external secondment as well.
Each academic year, the application dates tend to fit this pattern:
- Expect applications for all the fast stream schemes to open in September for only 4-6 weeks, most likely with a closing deadline of 12:00(noon) on the penultimate Thursday in October
- The Summer Diversity Internship Programme (SDIP) has the same early application window as the full-time graduate programmes: eligible candidates can apply simultaneously to the Fast Stream and SDIP, although candidates are expected to accept the full-time Fast Stream appointment if successful in both applications
- Applications to the 1-week Early Diversity Internship Programme (EDIP) (for first year students and second year students on 4-year degree), with a deadline in mid-November.
Candidates can apply to up to four different streams, which allows you to target your top choices and perhaps hedge between the most popular options and other less prominent programmes as competition for places is high. It is worth noting that the ratio of successful ‘first-choice’ applicants varies considerably, as outlined by the most recent published information (2017):
- The Generalist scheme was the largest scheme, with more than 450 positions available and 6500 ‘first-choice’ applications: a success ratio around 1:13
- For 60 positions within the Diplomatic Service (FCO), there were twice as many applications, equating to success for roughly 1:200 applications
- Tougher still, the Houses of Parliament scheme has only 4 places available each year, but attracts more than 2000 applications: a success ratio of only 1:500
- Of the technical fast streams, the Government Economic Service was the largest, offering 250 places, and most others offered 40-100 places for new entrants.
The number of available appointments for 2022 starts is not yet known, but the intake in 2021 was considerably reduced, perhaps due to uncertainties due to Covid19. A September 2020 paper announced numbers for all streams open for 2021 starts, with "more than 800 posts being advertised" overall (compared to 1233 appointment in 2017). There were only 244 Generalist positions and 100 in the Government Economic Fast Stream, whilst the FCO Diplomatic Fast Stream advertised only 10 places compared with 52 appointments in 2017.
For general information we recommend:
- Using the Civil Service Fast Stream website and Fast Stream Brochure 2019-20 which both provide comprehensive details of all the different options and the application processes
- Reading about the Fast Stream schemes and engaging with them on social media, for example through the FS Social Wall, to follow and catch up on the latest information.
Departmental and Direct Entry positions
Graduates can be employed directly by individual Departments. The main routes are:
- Some Departments and Agencies run independent graduate recruitment schemes, including: the HM Treasury Office; Financial Conduct Authority; Government Legal Profession; National Audit Office; Valuation Office, Government Operational Research (GORS) and HMRC Graduate Programme (Tax Professional)
- The main cross-government service professions, which participate in the Fast Stream, can offer as many direct entry routes. Each year, there are opportunities to join the Government’s Economic Service; Legal Service; Operational Research (GORS) and both the Statistical and Social Research services. These opportunities tend to open around the turn of the year (November to February)
- Departments can offer direct-entry routes to individuals completing the Fast Stream Assessment Centre, who do not secure a Fast Stream offer. This system for placing ‘near-miss’ fast stream candidates is analogous to an Oxbridge College offering a place to candidates from the ‘pool’ if they narrowly missed their offer grades
- Direct entry to positions advertised by individual Departments, most typically at EO (Executive Officer) and HEO (Higher Executive Officer) for new graduates. Positions at SEO (Senior Executive Officer) and Team leader levels may also be within reach for some DPhils and graduates who have more substantial work experience, although most will require some management experience.
Use online events and the Oxford Careers Fairs to meet current civil servants and learn about other public sector careers. We run panel discussions featuring our alumni working in the public sector and in Michaelmas Term:
- the Oxford Careers Fair (in first week) will attract representatives of graduate programmes in individual departments and wider public sector, including the NHS, social work, prison service and teaching professions
- the Science, Engineering and Technology Fair (in second week) attracts a cluster of public sector oriented organisations keen to recruit STEM candidates, including GORS, the Statistical Service, the Intellectual Property Office, the UK Atomic Energy Authority, and the Defence Science and Technology Laboratories (Dstl).
If you have a specific focus or strong interest in particular Department or Agency, check their website regularly, register for email alerts and follow them on social media to keep in touch. Not every programme is well marketed and some schemes may open only a very short application window: for example, we once saw a summer internship scheme that was announced only one week before its 48-hour application window opened.
Local Government and the NGDP
The NGDP is a graduate entry and accelerated development programme coordinated by the Local Government Association (LGA). Successful applicants are employed by their local authority for the duration of the NGDP. Although this is not a permanent contract, some 95% of participants successfully transition into permanent positions at the end of the programme, usually with their existing authority and with about 10% of each cohort securing a permanent position at a different local authority.
Trainees will develop a broad understanding of different aspects of local government by undertaking placements in corporate roles, and front-line and support services across a number of the key areas within a council, for example, in education, social services, planning, corporate services and strategy. There may also be the opportunity to take an external secondment with a different local authority or on a separate public sector graduate scheme such as Teach First or NHS Direct.
To stay up to date, and for confirmation of the recruitment timetable, monitor the LGA NGDP website or follow @ngdp_LGA on Twitter, although the details may not be updated until applications open in the autumn.
GCHQ and Intelligence Services
The intelligence services recruit graduates in many disciplines. Some core programmes will be open to graduates from all subjects, such as the graduate leadership scheme, intelligence officers (analysts) or project management programmes. In addition, other roles require specialist skills such as higher-level mathematical modelling skills for code-breaking, opportunities for language students, and expertise in software engineering and cyber security.
The different branches of the security service (Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ); The Security Service (MI5); The Secret Intelligence Service (MI6)) run their own programmes. See the Intelligence Analyst job description on Prospects (a national graduate careers website) for insights into these roles, the skills required, sources for vacancies and likely entry routes as well as suggestions for other similar roles.
A note on Security Clearance and Vetting Processes
We want to stress that any students who may be affected by this specific issue should not in any way be discouraged from applying to the Civil Service nor should they feel they will be at a disadvantage in the recruitment processes.
We have heard that some positions and sensitive work locations require vetting under counter terrorism measures, which has required new hires to have resided within the UK for the past 5 years. Most positions will not be affected by this requirement, but it may be an additional complication for some students receiving offers who have taken a year abroad as part of their studies. Whether a fast-stream offer-holder of direct entry candidate, if you think this may apply to you, we suggest you seek advice from an Oxford careers adviser or raise this with the recruiting officer at the point you accept the offer. This makes sense because it is possible the team handling your placement will not be fully aware of these issues, and it will be helpful if they look into this question early in the placement process.