To prepare graduates for careers at the highest levels of the Civil Service there is an accelerated development programme known as the Civil Service Fast Stream. It allows graduates to gain a wide range of experience in a very short time.
Working with and for central government, Civil Service Fast Streamers are exposed to a range of contrasting placements or postings in government departments and agencies. This provides the opportunity to build up a portfolio of experience by moving between areas of work and projects.
Fast Streamers usually work in more than one government department and in more than one part of the UK.
Opportunities for secondment into the private sector, charities, Europe or other public sector organisations are also available.
The precise nature of the job depends on which Fast Stream option you choose to undertake and changes from placement to placement.
However, all Fast Streamers can expect to experience a range of work in three broad areas:
- front-line operational delivery;
- corporate services.
Civil Service Fast Streamers are expected to become good leaders and managers. After completing the programme (normally four years, but varies between Fast Stream options), Fast Stream entrants might be managing a multimillion-pound budget or taking the lead in drafting a government White Paper.
Work activities depend on the nature of the placement or posting. However, typical tasks may include:
- rapidly developing an in-depth knowledge of a particular subject or issue, to the extent that you will be consulted as a topic expert;
- representing your department's interests and negotiating with others to reach a position of mutual satisfaction;
- contributing constructively to issues where many interests are involved;
- formulating and implementing policy;
- communicating complex ideas clearly, both orally and in writing (e.g. you may be required to summarise a 1,000 page report into a page of A4 for a busy minister);
- adapting to different jobs on a regular basis, sometimes in different departments and also in different parts of the UK;
- working quickly and under pressure, often within complex rules and procedures;
- leading and managing projects, resources and people;
- achieving and delivering results to deadline.
- Starting salaries usually range between £25,000 and £27,000.
- Salary after promotion (typically four to five years after entry but dependent entirely on performance): in excess of £45,000.
Income figures are intended as a guide only.
Benefits include a pension scheme. Other benefits may include flexible working, home working and job sharing opportunities, as well as crèches, holiday play schemes and childcare assistance, loans for transport season tickets and access to sports and social facilities.
Some roles require long and/or irregular hours, but working hours are more likely to be a standard 9am to 5pm and most roles do not require working weekends or shifts. Most departments allow flexible working hours.
Holiday entitlement is generally 22 days per year plus nine days' public and privilege holidays.
Part-time work and career breaks are possible but self-employment and freelance work are not.
What to expect
- Although a large proportion of the work is office based, Fast Streamers will also experience frontline operational delivery, which includes meeting the public and visiting other organisations.
- Slightly more than half of Civil Service jobs are held by women. However, the proportion of females working at Senior Civil Service level is 38% and the proportion working at Grade 6 and 7 is 37.7% (Office for National Statistics (ONS), 2014).
- Although the majority of Fast Streamers are currently based in London, opportunities increasingly exist in other cities such as Cardiff, Edinburgh and Leeds and Fast Streamers in the Central Departments or Science and Engineering are likely to undertake at least one posting away from their usual base. Fast Streamers are expected to be flexible and mobile.
- The work can be highly pressurised but very rewarding as you will make an impact on real life in the UK.
- Travel within a working day, absence from home overnight and overseas work or travel may be required occasionally. Relocation and mobility may be required to make progress in some departments and may be a permanent fact of life in others, such as the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO). Here, diplomats and operational staff can expect to spend a significant part of their working life abroad.
There are several different fast stream options:
- Generalist (this includes the Houses of Parliament, Diplomatic Service and Science and Engineering);
- Commercial and Finance;
- Government Communication Service;
- Human Resources;
- Digital and technology;
- Northern Ireland.
Full details of each of these fast track schemes, is available from Civil Service Fast Stream. Details about the types of roles you would be carrying out, where you might be based and what further training and professional qualifications you may be eligible for can be found from the Civil Service Fast Stream Options Chart.You can only apply to one of the schemes in the same recruitment year.
The Generalist, Human Resources, European and Northern Ireland streams all require a minimum of 2:2 for entry; while the Analytical, Commercial, Government and Digital streams require at least a 2:1.
Entry is not possible with a HND or foundation degree only.
Postgraduate qualifications are not essential for entry to the Civil Service Fast Stream.
You will need to show:
- excellent communication skills and the ability to make an impact;
- results driven approach to work;
- constructive and innovative thinking;
- proactive approach to work;
- a commitment to learning and improvement;
- the ability to build and develop productive relationships;
- decision-making skills;
- attention to detail;
- the ability to work under pressure and to take on responsibility;
- flexibility and the ability to deal with the unexpected;
- self-awareness of your own personal and professional development needs.
A small number of posts are available only to UK nationals, but most are also open to Commonwealth Citizens or European Economic Area (EEA) Nationals with unrestricted right to reside and work in the UK.
In order to join the Diplomatic Service you must be a British Citizen and have lived in the UK for two of the previous ten years. For full details see the Civil Service Fast Stream.
Pre-entry experience is not required, although sandwich course placements, vacation visits and work experience might be available in some government departments. For details of student internships see Civil Service Student Placements. There are two types, 12 month sandwich placements and 6 to 12 week summer vacation placements.
For black and ethnic minority students and those from lower socio-economic groups there is the Civil Service Fast Stream Summer Diversity Internship Programme.
The Civil Service employs just over 440,000 people (Civil Service Statistics, 2014). As a Fast Streamer you will work in one of the many Civil Service departments on the Civil Service Fast Stream programme.
As the Fast Stream is designed to develop leaders for the whole Civil Service, you are not able to choose which department you work for.
Many Science and Engineering Fast Streamers work in:
- the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills;
- the Department for Energy and Climate Change;
- the Ministry of Defence.
All Fast Streamers on the Central Departments and Science and Engineering programmes are employed by Civil Service Resourcing during their first two years and will gain experience in at least two departments.
Although the majority of Fast Streamers are currently based in London, opportunities also exist in cities such as Cardiff, Edinburgh, Merseyside, Leeds, Newport, Newcastle and Sheffield, and also overseas.
Fast Streamers are expected to be flexible and mobile.
Look for job vacancies at:
- Civil Service Fast Stream - all applications to the Civil Service Fast Stream are handled online.
- Civil Service Job Search
- Facebook - Civil Service Fast Stream
The application and assessment process is thorough and can take up to seven months. Applications are made online and the process involves various stages:
- Self-Assessed Reasoning Test - verbal and numerical reasoning tests.
- Practice for the Online Selection Tests - you will be given the option of further practice in answering verbal and numerical reasoning test questions.
- Online Selection Tests - verbal reasoning test, numerical reasoning test and fast stream competency questionnaire.
- The e-Tray Exercise (example available) - test of your ability to process work that is typical of the requests and tasks that arrive in the email inbox of a Fast Streamer.
- Fast Stream Assessment Centre - shortlisted candidates will be invited to a one-day assessment centre consisting of a series of written and group exercises and interviews held in London.
- Final Selection - There is a further stage, a Final Selection Board or Assessment (Sift), but only for the Diplomatic Service, Houses of Parliament and Science & Engineering options along with the Technology in Business and European Fast Stream schemes.
For more information about the application process, including the deadlines for each of the streams see Civil Service Fast Stream: how to apply.
The Civil Service Fast Stream operates the Guaranteed Interview Scheme (GIS), guaranteeing disabled people an interview if they meet the basic conditions for the job.
Training is usually provided through a series of different postings, mostly in London but you'll usually take one regional placement, which could be anywhere in the UK.
Your initial training will provide an introduction to both the Fast Stream and the Civil Service.
Training will include a combination of formal training courses, organised either within the department or by Civil Service Learning, and on-the-job learning. Regular feedback and performance reviews are used to aid personal development.
Where appropriate you will be given intensive language training.
Fast streamers on the Finance scheme will work towards professional accountancy qualifications as part of their planned training.
All other Fast Streamers are also offered the opportunity to apply, (in a competitive application process), to study for a professional accountancy qualification, and are encouraged to do so.
Most departments will offer you a mentor who can give you extra advice and guidance or another fast streamer to support your development.
In addition to the specific training you will undertake (depending on which stream option you have chosen), you will be expected to develop more general skills in areas such as:
- project management;
- policy development;
- commercial awareness;
- people management.
You will be expected to learn from first-hand experience of delivering services and from working in a range of different working practices and environments.
Training courses may cover areas such as financial management, communication skills or working with ministers and senior officials.
For full details of the training process see the individual schemes on Civil Service Fast Stream.
Once you have joined the Civil Service Fast Stream programme, you will undertake a variety of postings or placements in different departments.
Your career path within the Civil Service will largely depend on the Fast Stream option you are in. However, all Fast Streamers will undertake a range of contrasting roles and gain experience in three broad areas of work:
- front-line operational delivery;
- corporate services.
Although the majority of Fast Streamers work in London, placements may involve moves within the UK.
Responsibility comes quickly and prospects for advancement to higher ranks within the Civil Service are good for those who show an aptitude for the work. Indeed, Fast Streamers are selected precisely for their potential to achieve this.
Promotion is based on performance and first promotion currently takes on average around four to five years.
There is a strong commitment to continuing professional development (CPD) in the Civil Service and it is often possible to work towards professional qualifications, for example, in accountancy or personnel, or a Masters in Business Administration (MBA).