Getting a graduate job in public services
Weigh up whether your existing skills and qualifications are likely to lead to employment in this ultra-competitive sector - or if there’s anything you can do to improve your chances
Do I need a related degree?
There are opportunities in public services and administration for graduates of any discipline. In general, however, degrees in politics or social policy are particularly useful for public services roles. Similarly, degrees in business, economics, management, finance, accountancy, IT or law can be most beneficial for administrative positions.
Any degree subject is acceptable for the majority of Civil Service graduate schemes, including most of the ‘Fast Stream’ options; however, some departments may require or prefer specific degrees. Language degrees - particularly those in less commonly-studied languages such as Mandarin, Russian and Japanese - are advantageous for some posts at the Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO), MI5 and MI6. A 2:2 is required for most Civil Service Fast Streams, but some schemes in MI6 and the Government Communication Service (GCS) require at least a 2:1.
Higher apprenticeships in business are suitable for those with A-levels (or equivalent) and provide an alternative to degree entry for many roles in this sector. The Civil Service Fast Track Apprenticeship scheme for those aged 16 or older (with no upper age limit) includes working towards level 4 qualifications and provides a springboard into a Civil Service career. To apply, you’ll need at least five GCSEs, grades A* to C, including English language and maths. For some schemes, you’ll also require a certain number of A-levels.
The Technical Higher Apprenticeship available at MI5, MI6 and the GCHQ includes studying for a foundation degree in technology. You’ll need three A-levels at grades A-C, with at least two of these in science-, technology- or maths-related subjects to apply.
For information on entry requirements and relevant qualifications, see job profiles.
What skills do employers want?
Graduate employers in the public services and administration sector require candidates with:
- a genuine motivation to improve society or their local community;
- adaptability and flexibility;
- strong attention to detail;
- strong organisational and planning skills;
- the ability to prioritise and make decisions.
Where can I look for work experience?
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; the GCHQ for technology and maths students; and the FCO’s Future Talent Scheme for those interested in a career in international relations. Many local authorities offer work experience or voluntary work opportunities. See individual council websites for details.
The European Commission 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, and a second European Union (EU) official language.
The Civil Service offers the Summer Diversity Internship Programme (SDIP), a six- to nine-week government work placement aimed at disadvantaged, disabled and ethnic minority undergraduates (in their final two years of university) and graduates. The Early Diversity Internship Programme (EDIP) offers a week of work experience for first-year students wishing to find out what a Fast Stream placement is like.
Up-to-date knowledge of the latest office technology is often required for administrative posts, and you can gain valuable experience through temporary work. For some specialised or professional-level roles, experience and qualifications in a professional field such as law or accountancy is often preferred.
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 public services and administration?
There are a number of graduate schemes in the public services and administration sector. Central government department schemes can be found at:
- FCO - includes diplomatic posts;
- GCHQ - opportunities available via the Future Leaders Programme;
- HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) - Tax Specialist Programme open to graduates of any degree discipline with a 2:2;
- HM Treasury - opportunities in a policy adviser role;
- MI5 - Intelligence Officer Development Programme (IODP), Intelligence and Data Analyst Development Programme (I&DADP) and Technology Graduate Development Programme (TGDP);
- MI6 - schemes for operational officers, technology professionals and language specialists.
Civil Service Fast Stream opportunities include:
- digital and technology;
- Government Communication Service;
For each of the above areas, there are a number of different fast stream opportunities. The starting salary for all is £25,000-£27,000 a year. For full details of entry requirements and how to apply see Civil Service Fast Stream: Graduate Schemes.
The local government National Graduate Development Programme (NGDP) is a two-year management programme run by the Local Government Association (LGA). Placement options include policy and strategy posts, front-line service delivery roles and support positions in areas such as human resources or finance. The salary is £23,698, plus London weighting if appropriate. Some local authorities run their own graduate schemes, so it is worth checking in your local area.
You could also search for public services and administration vacancies at:
To find graduate jobs in this sector, search graduates jobs in public services and administration.