Civil Service Fast Stream – application process, 2013

civilserviceIf you want to influence how the UK operates, the Civil Service should be high up on your list of possible careers. Last night, we were lucky to have an in-depth talk on the application process from Michael Tansini, an English graduate from York University who has recently joined the Civil Service Fast Stream.

Here are some of the facts, inside info and application tips we gleaned from his talk, in case you couldn’t make it. The slides Michael used are also at the end of the post.

UPDATE: 11 Nov ’13
The Fast Stream have just published their new guide to the Fast Stream Assessment Centre (pdf)
End of update

The Fast Stream – facts & figures

  • This year there will be approximately 800 vacancies on the Fast Stream. That’s up 200 places from last year and considerably more than the year before when there were significant recruitment freezes – contrary to popular belief, this part of the public sector is open for business.
  • The Diplomatic Service (Foreign & Commonwealth Office – part of the Generalist Fast Stream) is, as ever, the most popular stream, with about 120 applicants per available place.
  • Second most popular for applicants are the Economist places within the Analytical Stream. Last year there were 150 places available, and they recruited around 120 people. The first round for this stream has already closed. They anticipate a second round of recruitment opening in February (NB: this doesn’t happen for the other streams).
  • HR and Technology are popular with the people who prefer to specialise and move around within one department rather than move between departments.
  • Q: Which university sends most applications to the Civil Service?
    A: Queens University, Belfast – more applicants than any other university, including Oxford and Cambridge (bet you didn’t guess that).
  • There are a high number of Oxbridge candidates on the Fast Stream but this is more to do with volume of applicants rather than bias in the recruitment process as is often perceived.
  • Last year there were 14 successful applications from University of Manchester – not bad but could be much better, especially if more good Manchester students applied!
  • If successful it’s possible to defer the start if you want to take a year out after university. It may be possible to take time out in the middle of the programme but that would be an internal departmental decision.

Advice on the application process

  • There’s a step-by-step guide to the application process on the Fast Steam website – the closing date for applications for most streams is 31st October.
  • For most streams, whether you have a 2.1 or a 2.2 matters less than being able to meet the competencies. However, some streams (such as Technology in Business) do require a 2:1 or a postgraduate degree.
  • Once you sign up, you have 7 days to complete the first online tests. Last day to sign in for this year is 31st October, to be completed by 7th November.
  • Don’t be tempted to get someone else to do the online tests – you’ll be retested later in the process!
  • One of the critical exercises is an e-tray, which is now completed at home, rather than travelling to an assessment centre. Don’t be lulled into being too relaxed just because you can sit there in your pjs doing it! It’s really time-critical. There’s a bit more info and a link to the practice e-tray exercise on our post on Recruitment and selection – situational judgement tests.
  • You must be consistent, and be able to justify your answers given in the e-tray exercise. You will fail if you’re not using the information given and applying it consistently throughout the answers.
  • Time management is often a problem with the e-tray, and many candidates don’t complete the exercise in the time given. Failure to complete is worse than completing, but not as thoroughly as you might have liked.
  • The assessment centre is tough. There will be approximately 25 people per centre. You will be tested against the given competencies for the Fast Stream.
  • The average age of those appointed is 28.
    a) If you’re applying for the first time while still at university, without much/any work experience, don’t be intimidated if the other applicants have more life/work experience. You’re not marked against each other but against the competencies so concentrate on demonstrating you meet them.
    b) If you’re also closer to 28 than 21, don’t assume that you’re too old for an entry level role in the Fast Stream, or that you should be considered separately because you’re doing a PhD or Masters.
  • Feedback from the assessment centre is excellent. If you’re not successful, you will get a detailed 6 page report 3-4 weeks after assessment. Use this feedback if applying again (or applying elsewhere).
  • Gov.uk is your friend! Use this to learn about what’s going on in government. Bring this into your answers at interview. You might be interviewed by someone who’s had a hand in shaping the policy or plan you’ve been reading about.
  • When talking about yourself, it’s important to be able to say what you got from an experience, not just what you did. What did you gain/learn? Was there self-improvement?
  • Civil servants must be politically neutral in carrying out their duties. Even if you don’t agree with the policy, the job is to enact the wishes of the Government in a way that works for the public in the best way possible. Once you are in more senior roles, you cannot be a member of a political party. If you’re very politically active, you should consider whether the Civil Service is really a suitable career option.

Slides from the presentation

All Postgrad-highlighted Postgraduate

Elizabeth View All →

Careers Manager (Postgraduate) at the University of Manchester, UK

2 Comments Leave a comment

  1. Are there any suggestions as to why some people are unable to pass the online application form, despite feeling they have included the required competencies? Also has any applicant actually past at the first attempt

    • Hi Fatma

      These are some of the most competitive jobs you’ll find – lots and lots of applicants, so don’t be downhearted if you don’t get through first time. When I’ve spoken to Fast Streamers, it’s been notable how many got in after having experience elsewhere, or on second attempt (though some did get in straight from an undergraduate degree so it’s not impossible).

      Without knowing your application in detail, I can’t say why you didn’t get through. It might be worth talking to a careers adviser (at your own institution if you’re not at Manchester, or make an appointment with one of us if you are one of our students or recent grads) with a printout of the info you submitted, to find some clues as to how you might improve for a next attempt.

      Best regards
      Elizabeth

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