You'll face stiff competition when applying for jobs in the public sector. To ensure you stand out from the crowd, learn more about the skills and qualities you'll need to successfully work in public services

With public sector employment rising to 5.87 million (Office for National Statistics, June 2023), it's becoming more crucial than ever to ensure your CV stands out from other applicants.

We spoke to an expert to identify the seven most important skills for a successful career in the public services and administration sector.

'Many organisational skills are important to roles in the public services, such as project management, leadership and analytical skills,' says Dr Ali Budjanovcanin, senior lecturer in work psychology and public sector management and deputy director, MSc public policy and management at Kings College London. 'However, the skills listed below are specific to public services, which is characterised by a complex set of stakeholders and a challenging, yet rewarding, environment.'

1. Problem solving

'When working in the public services, you'll be dealing with some complex social issues. From helping local government to deliver better healthcare to working with emergency services or local schools. As such, you will need to get good at identifying an issue, analysing it, and finding potential solutions. Using methodical approaches ensures that you are rigorous in your analysis of problems.'

You can develop these skills through academic study, helping to run a student society, being a course representative or through work experience.

2. Adaptability

'You will be working in a constantly evolving environment and as such, you will be required to think on your feet and feel comfortable with change - something known as negative capability. Exposing yourself to challenges wherever you have the opportunity will help you to develop this skill, as it slowly pushes you outside your comfort zone.'

You could also take up a part time job to gain some adaptability. Entering a new work environment is challenging and you'll need to fit your job around other commitments.

3. Cross-cultural awareness

'The public that you serve will be diverse in many ways, with citizens who come from a variety of backgrounds. Being both open to and competent in understanding other cultures will stand you in good stead for communicating effectively with one of your main stakeholder groups - the public.'

Volunteering within your community is a great way to gain knowledge about, and respect for, other cultures and groups.

4. Emotional intelligence

'You will be dealing with multiple stakeholders throughout your work and sometimes dealing with crises. These require good emotional and social skills to manage working relationships and get the most out of a team you work with, as well as to stay calm.

Empathy allows you to see things from others' perspectives, which is essential for public servants who must understand the diverse needs of the citizens they serve. You can develop your empathy by spending time with people who are from different social groups and backgrounds to you.'

5. Diplomacy

'This is the art of dealing with people without offending them. It is particularly useful in the public services because you will find yourself having to negotiate with different stakeholders and advocate for different government policies.

If you can learn to present your ideas in a persuasive and non-offensive manner, you're much more likely to get buy-in from those you are trying to persuade, whether that's public institutions or citizens.

If you work on developing empathy, this will pay off in improving your diplomacy skills.'

6. Reality testing

'This public sector skill describes the ability to see things as they really are. This is important as public servants must balance their goals with the reality of limited budgets.

Developing reality testing will have the benefit of improving your decision making and problem-solving skills. It can be helpful to challenge your views and ideas by speaking to other people about them. This can help you identify when you are missing something in your thinking.'

7. Public service motivation

'While not really a skill, you will find that you're suited to a career in the public services if you have a genuine interest in improving other people's lives. Public service motivation describes this desire to serve the public and maintain your motivation when the work is challenging, meaning that you get high satisfaction from doing your job.'

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