Getting a graduate job in public services

Dominic Claeys-Jackson, Editor
January, 2017

Find out whether your existing skills and qualifications are likely to lead to employment in this ultra-competitive sector…

There are opportunities in the public services and administration sector for graduates of all disciplines. Any degree subject is acceptable for the majority of Civil Service graduate schemes, including most of the Fast Stream options - although some departments may require or prefer specific degrees.

Some other roles require specialist knowledge. For example, you'll need a relevant degree to apply for certain posts in accountancy and finance, or science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM). You'll also need a degree in a STEM subject to apply for most tech-focused graduate schemes.

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.

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, 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.

The Technical Apprenticeship Scheme available at MI5, MI6 and the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) includes studying for a foundation degree in technology. You'll need three A-levels at grade A-C, with at least two of these in STEM-related subjects.

For information on entry requirements and relevant qualifications, see job profiles.

What skills do 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
  • creativity
  • knowledge of the latest office technology
  • strong organisational, planning and leadership skills
  • teamwork
  • the ability to interpret complex data
  • time management skills, including 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; GCHQ for STEM students; and the Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) for those interested in a career in international relations.

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 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, while the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) and Bank of England offer internships.

You can gain valuable experience of administrative posts through temporary 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 public services and administration?

There are a number of graduate schemes in 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 Fast Stream currently recruits around 900 graduates a year. The minimum entry requirement is a 2:2 in any discipline, but some specialisms in MI6 and the Government Communication Service (GCS) require at least a 2:1 or a specific subject.

Language degrees - particularly those in less commonly-studied languages such as Mandarin, Russian and Japanese - are advantageous for some posts at the FCO, MI5 and MI6.

The local government National Graduate Development Programme (NGDP) is a two-year management programme run by the Local Government Association (LGA), for graduates with a 2:1 Bachelors degree or a merit at Masters level. Options include policy and strategy posts, front-line service delivery roles, and support positions in areas such as HR or finance. The salary is £22,958, plus London weighting if appropriate. Some local authorities run their own graduate schemes.

For those who are interested in traineeships, the European Personnel Selection Office (EPSO) organises competitions for roles within EU institutions. These include jobs as administrators, economists, conference interpreters, translators and lawyers with EU institutions.

The NHS, Bank of England, FCA, HMRC and the National Audit Office also have vacancies for graduates.

Jobs with local authorities are advertised on the local government jobsite and are available in areas such as administrative and clerical work, IT and housing. You could also search for vacancies at:

To find graduate jobs in this sector, search graduate jobs in public services and administration.