Graduate employers guides - civil service non fast stream

Employer Information


  • Application deadline: As stated on the job advert
  • Starting salaries:
    • Dependent on department, grade and job description.
    • Administrative Officers (AOs) – London = £18,000
    • Administrative Officers (AOs) – National = £15,000
    • Executive Officers (EOs) – London = £22,000
    • Executive Officers (EOs) – National = £18,000
    • Higher Executive Officers (HEOs) – London = £25,000
    • Higher Executive Officers (HEOs) – National = £22,000

Specialist roles are likely to have higher starting salaries. These will be dependent on both qualifications and experience. Specialist roles include planners, scientists, engineers, statisticians, economics, press officers, information officers, and IT specialists.

  • Regions: Nationwide, though there are various “hotspots” throughout the country where large offices are located. These include Manchester, Birmingham, Swansea, Newcastle, Croydon and Edinburgh.
  • Industries: Varied – civil servants are responsible for developing policy on the regulation of pretty much everything so the service must have access to expertise in all sectors of the economy.
  • Website:

What is Civil Service Non-Fast Stream? 
The Civil Service delivers the policies of the elected government of the day. It is the institution that keeps the country running during parliamentary recess and in the run up to general elections. They also ensure that essential services are delivered by collecting taxes and providing funding to frontline services such as for schools and hospitals. The “Non-Fast Stream” side of the civil service is significantly larger than the “Fast Stream” side, the latter of which is aimed at filling a very small number of posts on an annual/bi-annual basis. Around 500 Fast Stream posts are filled annually. Given that the civil service has around 400,000 people in it, the number of posts that are filled through the non-Fast Stream route is considerably larger.

What roles are available in the Civil Service?
“How long is a piece of string?” The roles are wide and varied. The ones that most students and graduates tend to focus on are the high profile ones that involve working with ministers. However, the roles are far more varied to the extent that most people don’t realise that many public services are delivered by civil servants. These include:

- General administrators - Project managers - Secretaries - IT officers - Records managers - Statisticians - Economists - Lawyers - Town planners - Finance officers - Accountants - Contract managers - Surveyors - Technicians - Scientists - Diplomats - Vets - Healthcare professionals - HR professionals - Press officers - Publications specialists - Communications officers - Environmental health specialists - Engineers

Tax inspectors, job centre staff, vehicle licensing staff, staff in the courts service, the State Veterinary Service…they are all civil servants.

Application process for the Civil Service.
Dependent on the role, most will be similar to other office-based jobs. Application is normally in response to an advertised vacancy and involves completing an application form and if successful there, followed by an interview. The processes for joining the civil service are overseen by the Civil Service Commissioners. Therefore the application process tends to be far more structured than job interviews in the private sector.

Entry requirements and type of person suited for the civil service.

Entry Requirements

If you are a school/college/university leaver/graduate, the following as a rule-of-thumb are likely to apply as a minimum.

Administrative Officers (AOs) – 5 GCSEs A-C Executive Officers (EOs) – 5 GCSEs A-C + 2 A-Levels Higher Executive Officers (HEOs) – Degree Such is the competitive nature in some parts of the country (e.g. Cambridge) for the jobs available that many AOs join the civil service as graduates and work their way up from there. This is not a bad thing. If you are an ambitious graduate who wants to get on in the civil service and have had a fairly affluent upbringing, spending time as a junior administrator gives you an insight into the jobs and lives of those who form the bedrock of the civil service. (25% of all civil servants earn less than £15,000 per year).

Type of person

If you are motivated primarily by money, you are likely to struggle in the civil service. Unlike the private sector, where you can focus on niche markets, the public sector has to provide services to everyone – even if they don’t want it or don’t like it. There is a “public service culture” to varying degrees across the civil service and other public service providers. Many people like and care genuinely about what they do and will often put in those extra hours to get something done or go that extra mile to ensure the success of what they are working on – knowing that they may not get paid overtime for it. Are you that sort of person? If you are the sort of person who wants to make a positive difference to the world that we live in, and want to get an understanding of how “the system” works (or doesn’t at times) then the civil service might be for you. Honestly though, there are people in the private sector like and cares about what they do, and do unpaid overtime, and administrating various QUANGOs isn't the only way (or even a particularly good way) to help people. If you're the sort of person who recognises this, maybe the civil service isn't for you, judging by the views expressed by CS employees in this article.

Future prospects and training through the civil service. Despite the looming job cuts within the public sector, there will always be opportunities within the civil service. However, given the competition that there is likely to be, you may have to adjust your expectations lower and focus on getting into the civil service first before moving on up. The public sector in general is very good at training and development, with a wide range of funded training and development opportunities available. Once you have passed your probation within the civil service, you then become eligible for internal moves and promotion where your performance merits it.

Other comments regarding civil service.

Like university, the civil service is what you make of it. Being such a large and diverse organisation there is a home for almost anyone. It can be frustrating at times – if you look at the staff surveys that are published these reflect some of the problems faced across Whitehall and beyond. This includes leadership and tackling poor performance.

However, it can be also one of the most exhilarating places to work in when you see the results of your work come to fruition. These could include the following: - seeing the culture of an organisation change because of new guidance/processes you have drafted being implemented - attending big events with your minister - sitting in the officials’ box in the Commons and the Lords during the passage of a Bill - listening to a minister reading out the lines that you have drafted, in response to an oral parliamentary question - being listed as a headline speaker at an event where you are representing the Government - being grilled by sceptical and hostile stakeholders in a particularly controversial policy area - engaging with members of the public and explaining to them how they can make the system work for their communities - going drinking with your workmates – and sometimes ministers, and hearing some of the amazing and hilarious stories that go around (and finding out what they REALLY think) - wanting to take journalists to task for deliberately misquoting you or misinterpreting the policy or projects that you are working on - travelling across the country to meet people from other public sector organisations, business and the third (charities/communities) sector - attending smart receptions in Whitehall and Parliament - attending seminars on subjects with some of the wisest and eminent speakers in the country, if not the world - delivering workshops at events - delivering seminars to representatives of friendly foreign governments - laughing at hapless newspapers and publications who have hopelessly misunderstood a particular policy - asked awkward questions to eminent speakers – the type that they know will get asked but perhaps would rather not answer - watching a bad idea being torpedoed because you provided the evidence that demonstrated that this was a bad idea - made a short film - had my photograph taken on many occasions (I’m vain) - been complimented on my dress sense (for a civil servant!!!)

In the space of a few years, I have done all of the above.


Position applied for: Communications Administrator 
Year of Application: 2004
Region: East Anglia 
Educational Background: BA (Hons) Economics + PGDip History 

What were your experiences of the application process?
The process was very straight forward and was as follows:

  • Followed up advert in the local newspaper requesting an application form
  • Submitted application form
  • Shortlisted for interview
  • Informed of success
  • Appointed to new post
  • 9 months after, I was confirmed as an established permanent civil servant, having passed the probationary period

What is it like working for the Civil Service?
It varies on a variety of factors, including

  • Your relationship with your line manager
  • Your relationship with your team
  • The “difference” that your work makes to people in general
  • Your disposition/suitability to the role that you are doing
  • Your place of work

How has it compared to your expectations?
It has exceeded them amazingly in some areas, and has been a complete letdown in others. Being designated as “surplus” in a demoralised regional office and not having a suitable role to do was a very soul-destroying moment. Yet seven months later I was promoted two grades onto the in-service Fast Stream with a 70% pay rise, attending conferences with ministers and living a very exciting life in London.

Where do you see yourself in 5 years time?
In Europe on secondment, Whitehall or in local government.

Finally, any advice you would give to potential applicants?

  1. The world of work operates using a different set of rules. Now that you’ve graduated from university, you no longer need to worry about what grades you’re going to get, so can throw out all the “I didn’t get in! I’m a failure!” type of thoughts out of the window. This means that for would-be Fast Stream applicants, the same applies.
  2. If you have been very successful at school, college and university and have had a fairly affluent life up until now, I recommend doing some voluntary work with people in run down communities to see how people who have not had the opportunities and support that you have had, cope. My 3 months with the Prince’s Trust with a group of young adults who had left school with next to nothing was infinitely harder than my three years at university.
  3. If the idea of #2 horrifies you, the civil service might not be for you. The public service doesn’t have the luxury to discriminate against those worse off than you in the way a country club might. How can you improve the delivery of public services if you don’t have any idea of those who are likely to be your most frequent users?
  4. If your reaction to unsuccessfully applying for the civil service – Fast Stream or otherwise is “I didn’t get in! I’m a failure”, then you have failed to manage your expectations. One of the competencies that is growing in its regard is how well people cope with failure.
  5. If you understand that our creator gave us two ears and one mouth in those proportions for a reason (i.e. are a good listener), the civil service might be for you.

If you want:

  • to make the world a better place and are not too worried about salary levels beyond what’s needed to make a living…
  • to have experience working in a variety of different roles and work areas but within a framework within the public services…
  • to learn and broaden your knowledge…
  • flexibility within a safe structure
  • to work with a group of people who are not constantly in competition with you but are working with you…
  • to understand how the system REALLY works…
  • to work with people who are not in it for the money…

…the civil service might be for you.

If you want:

  • it all and want it now…
  • to work very long hours for lots of money…
  • to fight the competition…
  • to get one over the boss…
  • to become active in a political party…
  • to fight against the progressive values of the civil service…
  • to leak confidential information and break confidences…
  • to spend most of the day outdoors…
  • to avoid London at all costs…
  • to have nothing to do with politics…
  • to share your successes with no one unless they can afford it…
  • to have nothing to do with making society a better place…

…the civil service is unlikely to be for you.


Position applied for:
Year of Application:
Educational Background:

What were your experiences of the application process?

What is it like working for the Civil Service?

How has it compared to your expectations?

Where do you see yourself in 5 years time?

Finally, any advice you would give to potential applicants?