In the expansive landscape of government and policy careers there are many potential entry points and many ways to find and monitor job opportunities. These are reflected throughout this briefing, whilst 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:
- Diplomatic Service
- Houses of Parliament
- Science & Engineering
- Human Resources (HR)
- Government Communications Service
- Digital, Data and Technology
- Project Delivery
- Diplomatic Service Economics
Analytical Scheme options:
- Government Economic Service
- Government Statistical Service
- Government Operational Research
- Government Social Research 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, expect applications for all the fast stream schemes to open in late September for only 4 weeks (closing on the last Thursday in October at 12:00noon). The Summer Diversity Internship Programme (SDIP) has the same early application window as the full-time graduate programmes, whilst applications to the 1-week Early Diversity Internship Programme (EDIP) (for first year students and second year students on 4-year degree) tends to have a deadline in mid-November.
Competition for places is high, and candidates can apply to up to four different streams. This allows you to target both the most popular options alongside larger, main-stream programmes. However, it is worth noting that the ratio of applicants to available places can vary 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.
- For 60 positions within the Diplomatic Service (FCO), there were twice as many applications, equating to a 20-fold increase in competition.
- 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 know, but the intake in 2021 was considerably reduced, perhaps due to uncertainties due to Covid19. A September 2020 paper announced numbers for all 14 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 appointment in 2017.
For general information we recommend:
Graduates can be employed directly by individual Departments. There are three main routes:
- Departments, cross-government services and agencies that 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). Many of these organisations will also offer summer internship programmes, such as those run by the Government’s Economic Service; Legal Service; GORS; and Social Research Service, which tend to be advertised in February or March each year.
- 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, but also a SEO (Senior Executive Officer) and Team leader levels for students with more substantial experience.
We recommend attending some of the Oxford Careers Fairs to meet current civil servants, and learn about other other public sector careers. For example, the Oxford Careers Fair early in of Michaelmas Term includes a public sector panel discussion, and stands from some of the hiring Dearptments and representatives for graduate leadership programmes in the public sector, including the NHS, social work, prison service and teaching professions. Similarly, the Science, Engineering and Technology Fair attracts a cluster of public sector oriented organisations keen to recruit STEM candidates, including GORS and 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 websites regularly because schemes may only open for a short application window: for example, in 2017 one summer vacation was announced only one week before its 48 hour application window closed. In addition, register for email alerts and follow recruitment programmes on social media to keep in touch.
GCHQ and Intelligence Services
The intelligence services recruit graduates in many disciplines. Some core programmes, such as graduate leadership schemes, intelligence officers (analysts) or project management programmes will be open to graduates from all subjects. In addition, there will be other roles that require specialist skills, such as IT Security and IT/Software Engineering, higher level mathematical modelling for code-breaking, and opportunities for language students.
The different branches of the security service (Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ); The Security Service (MI5); The Secret Intelligence Service (MI6)) will run their own programmes, and these are advertised at different times of the year.
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 requires 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.