Public sector jobs are incredibly competitive. To increase your chances of employment find out what skills, qualifications and experience you'll need
Do I need a related degree?
For the majority of careers in the public services and administration sector, graduates of all degree disciplines are accepted. Most Civil Service graduate schemes accept any undergraduate qualification - although some departments may require or prefer specific degrees.
Some roles within the sector may require specialist knowledge. For example, for a career as a chartered public finance accountant a degree in accountancy and finance, business, mathematics or economics is preferable, while for company secretaries qualifications in business and management and law are particularly useful. If you have ambitions to become a local government officer a degree in politics, legal studies or social administration and social policy may increase your chances, while aspiring facilities managers may find an undergraduate qualification in building management, construction, hospitality or surveying beneficial. For entry on to technology-focused graduate schemes it's likely that you'll need to have studied a STEM subject.
Degrees in social science subjects such as politics are particularly sought-after by employers in the public services. Similarly, degrees in IT, law, business, finance, economics, management or accountancy can be beneficial for many administrative positions.
While not essential, studying for a Masters of Public Administration (MPA) could boost the careers of budding managers within the public sector. Most students of an MPA possess a 2:1 undergraduate qualification and at least one to two years' managerial experience. However, the MPA doesn't always reject new graduates. An increasing number of universities provide MPA courses and these include:
- London School of Economics
- University College London
- University of Birmingham
- University of Nottingham
- University of the West of Scotland
- University of York.
The cost of an MPA varies depending on which institution you attend. At the University of York the one-year, full-time, 2018/19 programme costs UK and European Union (EU) students £7,580, while at the London School of Economics 2017/18 entry cost students £25,368.
For information on entry requirements and relevant qualifications, see job profiles.
What skills do public sector employers want?
You will need to show:
- adaptability and flexibility
- an interest in world affairs
- commitment to improve society or your local community
- communication and interpersonal skills
- knowledge of the latest office technology
- the ability to work independently and meet deadlines
- strong organisational, planning and leadership skills
- the ability to interpret complex data
- time management skills, including the ability to prioritise and make decisions.
To learn more see the top 7 skills for a successful career in public services.
Where can I look for work experience?
The public services sector is diverse and with a variety of careers on offer, taking advantage of work experience opportunities is smart. Placements not only help you to identify where your interests lie but also provide an insight into what to expect when working in the public sector.
A number of sector employers such as the Civil Service, NHS, local government, Bank of England and the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) provide work experience or internship opportunities, either as formal internships or as informal placements set up through speculative application.
Some Civil Service departments offer structured work experience in the form of summer internships or 12-month sandwich placements. Examples include the Government Economic Service (GES) for economics students, GCHQ for STEM students and the Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) for those interested in a career in international relations.
The Civil Service also offers the six to nine-week, paid Summer Diversity Internship Programme (SDIP), aimed at disadvantaged, disabled and ethnic minority students and graduates. The Early Diversity Internship Programme (EDIP), meanwhile, offers a week of work experience for first-year students wishing to find out what a Fast Stream placement is like.
The European Commission (EC) offers five-month traineeships in areas including law, human resources (HR) and environmental policy. Any degree is accepted, but you must have a strong knowledge of English, French or German, plus a second European Union (EU) language.
Many local authorities also offer work experience or voluntary work opportunities. The Bank of England has internship programmes for undergraduate, penultimate year and postgraduate students and the FCA offers a ten-week summer programme. It may also be possible to gain experience in an NHS management or administrative position. Visit Step into the NHS to find out more.
You can also gain valuable experience of administrative posts through temporary office work.
To find work placements and internships in the public services and administration sector, search for work experience.
How do I find a graduate job in the public sector?
There are a number of graduate schemes on offer within the public services and administration sector.
Schemes within central government include:
- FCO - includes diplomatic posts.
- GCHQ - opportunities are available via the Future Leaders Programme
- HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) - the Tax Specialist Programme (TSP) is open to graduates of any degree discipline with a 2:2.
- HM Treasury - there are opportunities in policy adviser roles.
- MI5 - you can apply to the Intelligence Officer Development Programme (IODP), Intelligence and Data Analyst Development Programme (I&DADP) and Technology Graduate Development Programme (TGDP).
- MI6 - there are schemes for operational officers, technology professionals and language specialists.
The Civil Service currently employs over 420,000 people across the UK. They have a number of graduate schemes or 'Fast Streams' and these include:
- Government Economic Service
- Government Statistical Service
- Government Operational Research Service
- Government Social Research Service
- Digital, data and technology
- Science and engineering
- Project delivery
- Government Communication Service
- Diplomatic Service
- Human resources
- Houses of Parliament
- Diplomatic Economic scheme.
The majority of streams require a 2:1 or higher, although some specialisms such as the commercial, project delivery, generalist, Diplomatic Service, human resources and Houses of Parliament streams accept a 2:2.
Another option is the local government National Graduate Development Programme (NGDP), which is a two-year management programme run by the Local Government Association (LGA), for graduates with a minimum 2:2 Bachelors degree. You'll earn at least £24,174 a year and enjoy placements in key strategic areas across the council such as policy, social care or human resources.
The NHS also runs the Graduate Management Training Scheme - available in six specialisms:
- general management
- health analysis
- health informatics
- human resources
- policy and strategy.
To find out more about the different entry routes for police officers, including graduate schemes and apprenticeships see joining the police.
Jobs with local authorities are advertised on the local government jobsite. You could also search for vacancies at:
To find graduate jobs in this sector, search graduate jobs in public services and administration.
Can I do an apprenticeship?
If university study isn't for you there are a variety of apprenticeships on offer in the public sector.
Higher business apprenticeships are suitable for those with A-levels (or equivalent) and provide entry for many roles in this sector.
The Civil Service Fast Track Apprenticeship scheme, for those aged 16 or older, provides a springboard into a Civil Service career. To apply, you'll need at least five GCSEs (A*-C), including English language and maths. For some schemes, you'll also require a certain number of A-levels. For more information see getting onto the Civil Service Fast Track Apprenticeship scheme.
The Technical Apprenticeship Scheme, available at MI5, MI6 and the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) includes studying for a foundation degree in communications, security and engineering.
Other relevant apprenticeships include business and administration (available at intermediate, advanced and higher levels) and housing apprenticeships (intermediate and advanced).
To learn more about apprenticeship levels, the length of programmes and pay and working hours see what is an apprenticeship?
Find out more
- Gain an insight into the public services and administration sector.
- Take a look at graduate public sector jobs.
- Learn more about administration jobs.