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:
- 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 have 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 on to technology-focused graduate schemes it's likely that you'll need to have studied a STEM subject (science, technology, engineering and 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 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 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, 2019/2020 programme costs UK and European Union (EU) students £7,810, while the London School of Economics charges all students £25,368 per year for its two-year MPA.
For information on entry requirements and relevant qualifications, 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, 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 provide Early Careers work experience or internship opportunities, such as:
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 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 in the sector, search for public services and administration 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 more than 430,000 people across the UK. 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 streams 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 there are a variety of apprenticeships on offer in the public sector.
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 on the role. Organisations offering degree apprenticeships in the public sector include:
- The Bank of England - provides opportunities in digital and technology solutions and economics.
- 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 (GESDAP) - in partnership with the University of Kent, this apprenticeship 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.