Application Advice from a Fast Streamer - Civil Service
Are you interested in applying to work in the Civil Service and to one of their 15 different schemes in the Civil Service Fast Stream? Then have a read of this fast streamer's excellent application advice. Please note, there are some differences in the application process for each scheme, therefore make sure to research the scheme you are interested in. Make sure to also read our recent blog entry for more information and links.
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Please be aware that this application advice is related to the 2017 intake, and therefore there will be changes to future years' application processes. Make sure to research your strand and the application advice already on the Fast Stream page.
Step 1: Pre-Application Process
Most people in the Civil Service tend to have a strong sense of public duty. They essentially want to put their skills to use and improve lives. I would say that potential candidates should be aware that the civil service does not promote a highly individualistic/cut-throat sort of environment, nor does it necessarily pay as well as some of the other accounting, law, or consulting graduate schemes. They do however offer a fairly good wage, excellent pension, fairly generous expenses (including throughout the application process itself where necessary) and some flexibility. In addition, there are excellent, and better-remunerated, job opportunities on completion of the scheme. The scheme is also number 2 in The Times Top 100 Graduate Employers, so in terms of overall experience, it is one of the best schemes in the UK.
The Fast Stream also offers a huge range of varied roles and opportunities, and there are many different schemes to choose from. They also pride themselves on inclusion and diversity, and have Diversity Internship Programmes for BAME candidates, candidates with disabilities, and candidates from deprived/low-income backgrounds. Successfully completing these programmes allows you to ‘fast forward’ to the latter stages of the application process, so this should definitely be a consideration for eligible candidates.
Before applying, it is crucial to read and understand the Civil Service Competency Framework (changed to Success Profiles summer 2018, see more information here and here) and to be able to express your experiences using the same language used in the framework. Also, think carefully about which schemes you would like to do- you choose four at the start, ranking them according to preference. It is possible that if your scores in the various tests are too low, that certain schemes will no longer consider you- for example, I chose Diplomatic as top preference, but in the end was accepted for my second preference. On a more general note, I would also advise applicants to do all of the tests in a quiet place free from distractions.
Step 2: Application Process
I was part of the first cohort to take the new application process, which has moved away from the verbal and numerical reasoning tests. The process is now five stages, none of which necessarily requires practice beforehand. You can register interest in the Fast Stream in advance of the application window, and this is worth doing as you are alerted first and are able to complete the tests as soon as they are made available. Firstly, you will have to complete a situational judgement test. Then, you complete a behavioural test, example questions can be found here: https://faststream.blog.gov.uk/2016/10/04/fast-stream-2017-the-online-tests/.
Providing you have passed these tests, the third stage is more difficult, an online e-tray exercise, followed by the fourth stage, which is a video interview – this is tricky too as you need to have concrete 30-second examples in mind, which fit the competency framework. Finally, if you have been successful in the tests, you will be invited to one of the many Fast Stream Assessment Centres (FSAC) which are held either in Newcastle or London from mid-October to the beginning of January. The FSAC lasts approximately 6 hours and consists of exercises which will test, among other things, your analytical skills, your ability to work in a group, and your ability to work under pressure. Once this stage is complete, the assessors will give you a score out of 16 combining the scores of four separate competencies. For me, the scoring system is fairly opaque and yet is somehow calibrated to increments of 0.01... Most people who successfully pass the FSAC will score between 10 and 12. This year, all candidates knew their results by mid-January.
Step 3: Post-Application Process
Once you receive your congratulatory email (which can arrive as soon as 3 hours after completing the FSAC or up to 3 months later depending on your result), you will be asked to complete various forms, questionnaires and security vetting documents. It takes 5 months or so for all of this paperwork to be processed and some of the questions, especially the security-related ones, are fairly probing in nature. This is a very long process, and it doesn’t always run smoothly. The preparations intensify two months before starting the first posting, with induction days, the assigning of a ‘buddy’, and contact from your new manager.
Overall, I would also add that the system is not perfect, and lots of good people are rejected- it can be a lottery. This year I have been told that the success ratio is roughly 35:1. I would also therefore advise recent graduates/final year students not to ‘put all their eggs in one basket’ with the fast stream process because it is long and at times arduous. That said, I am obviously thrilled to be starting!
The Careers Service would like to thank our alumni fast streamer for this blog post!