As public sector jobs are highly competitive, to maximise your chances of securing employment, explore the skills, qualifications and experience you'll require
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 prefer or expect specific degrees.
Some roles within the sector may require specialist knowledge. For example:
- a degree in accountancy and finance, business, mathematics or economics is preferable for a career as a chartered public finance accountant
- for company secretaries, qualifications in business and management and law are particularly useful
- if you've ambitions to become a local government officer, a degree in politics, legal studies or social administration and social policy may increase your chances
- aspiring facilities managers may find an undergraduate qualification in building management, construction, hospitality or surveying beneficial.
For entry onto technology-focused graduate schemes, it's likely that you'll need to have studied a STEM subject (science, technology, engineering or maths).
Degrees in social science subjects, such as politics, are particularly sought-after by employers in the public services. Degrees in IT, law, business, finance, economics, management or accountancy are helpful for many administration positions.
While public services courses aren't essential for landing a role, studying for a Masters of Public Administration (MPA) could boost the careers of budding managers within the public sector. Most MPA students 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 offer 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 2020/2021 programme costs UK and European Union (EU) students £8,040, while the London School of Economics charges all students £25,368 per year for its two-year MPA.
You can also explore social policy courses.
For information on entry requirements and relevant qualifications in the public services sector, see job profiles.
What skills do public sector employers want?
You'll 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, read our top 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, it's worth taking advantage of any work experience opportunities. Placements not only help you to identify where your interests lie, but also provide an insight into what to expect.
A number of sector employers provide early careers work experience or internship opportunities, including:
Some Civil Service departments offer structured work experience in the form of summer internships or 12-month sandwich placements. Examples of Civil Service internships include the Government Economic Service (GES) for economics students, GCHQ for STEM students and the Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) for those interested in an international relations career.
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) offers a week of work experience for first-year students hoping 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 volunteering opportunities. The Bank of England has internship programmes for undergraduate, penultimate year and postgraduate students and the FCA offers a ten-week summer programme.
You can also gain valuable experience of administration posts through temporary office work.
To find work placements and internships, search for public services and administration work experience.
How do I find a graduate job in the public sector?
Schemes within central government include:
- FCO - this two-year scheme is split into two 12-month placements with the Diplomatic Service Fast Stream giving you the opportunity to promote British interests abroad.
- GCHQ - opportunities are available to join the GCHQ graduate scheme through its challenging Future Leaders Programme, which involves a series of six to twelve-month business placements.
- HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) - the Tax Specialist Programme (TSP), HMRC's graduate scheme for tax professionals is open to graduates of any discipline who've achieved a 2:2.
- HM Treasury - there are opportunities in policy adviser roles.
- MI5 - with four streams available you can apply to the Intelligence Officer Development Programme (IODP), Intelligence and Data Analyst Development Programme (I&DADP), Technology Graduate Development Programme (TGDP) or Business Enablers Entry Scheme (BEES).
- MI6 - if you want to work for the Secret Intelligence Service, there are MI6 graduate schemes for operational officers, technology professionals and language specialists.
The Civil Service currently employs around 447,000 people across the UK (ONS, June 2019). It offers 15 Fast Stream graduate programmes, designed to equip candidates with the skills and knowledge to become senior members of the Civil Service.
The majority of Civil Service schemes require a 2:1 or higher, although some, such as the commercial, project delivery, generalist, Diplomatic Service, human resources and Houses of Parliament streams accept a 2:2. Find out more about becoming a Civil Service Fast Streamer.
Another option is the local government National Graduate Development Programme (NGDP), 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 £25,295 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.
The Bank of England offers its Graduate Development Programme, and the National Audit Office provides the Chartered Accountancy Training Scheme.
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 local government jobsites. 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, a variety of public service and administration apprenticeships are on offer.
If you've already completed A-levels or an equivalent qualification, you could consider a degree apprenticeship. You'll gain a Bachelors or Masters-level qualification while earning a wage. Organisations offering degree apprenticeships in the public sector include:
- The Bank of England - provides degree apprenticeships in digital and technology solutions, and economics.
- Civil Service - the Fast Track Apprenticeship covers a variety of schemes, with the opportunity to specialise in areas including business, commercial, finance, digital, data and technology, project delivery and policy.
- GCHQ - offers two degree apprenticeships in cyber security and software engineering.
- MI5 - offers a degree apprenticeship in software, on which you'll obtain a BSc in Digital and Technology Solutions (Software Development).
- The Government Economic Service Degree Apprenticeship Programme (GES-DAP) - in partnership with the University of Kent, provides the opportunity to become an expert in economics and work in a range of central government departments across the UK.
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.