The Civil Service Fast Stream: An Inside Scoop

On the afternoon of the 30th of September, I caught up with Jack Taylor, a University of Nottingham English graduate, ex-Features Editor at Impact, and successful Civil Service Fast Stream applicant.

After weighing up his post-graduate options, Jack decided to apply for the Civil Service Fast Stream at the start of his final year in pursuit of his interest in politics. Out of 15 different schemes on offer, he opted for the Generalist scheme which lasts 3 years and is split into 3 one-year placements in different areas of the Civil Service.

Rachel West: Can you tell me a little bit about how you found your first posting?

Jack Taylor:  I worked within the Ministry of Housing and Communities in Local Government, a department which I admit, I had to Google beforehand to find out about, and was put on the Integration and Communities Policy Team. This team works towards strongly integrated communities where people from different backgrounds live, work, learn and socialize together.

The Fast Stream’s model is that most of the training will happen day to day in your job role, and so, on day one, I was given a project to lead straight away – the Integrated Communities Innovation Fund. This involved assessing hundreds of applications, working with external organizations like Sport England, publishing action plans and governmental responses to public consultations, as well as writing a Ministerial Statement so that a minister could then launch their ideas in Parliament. I was also responsible for writing an information pack that was trialled to provide new residents and migrants with essential information about their new area.

After that, I moved on to a new project that involved planning for a No-Deal Brexit – I had a vast amount of variables to consider on this project.

One of my final responsibilities was the spending review. Every few years the government does a review of how much money is distributed to each department, and I was in charge of making the case for my team. I had to argue why we should keep getting funding, or possibly merit more funding, what we were going to change and what we had learned from previous projects.

RW: Did you have any other responsibilities?

JT: I was also in charge of organising the office Christmas and Easter socials. Our 2018 Christmas social with the Home Office and DEFRA (the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) was Strictly Come Dancing themed!

RW: So what was your second posting?

“you have to be very reactive and have your eye on the ball”

JT: That was in the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) in Ministerial Private Office. In Private Office, you are essentially the link between a minister and the rest of the department, meaning that my role is the closest you can get to a minister within the Civil Service. I am responsible for managing the minister’s departmental time and all of the information that the rest of the department wants to give them. It’s a really interesting role- I have a minister on WhatsApp, I see him almost every day, I’ve been on visits with him, I give him advice… I’ll probably be going to Paris with him in a few weeks for a summit!

I’ve even had the privilege of going to number 10. However, for all the benefits, it is still a challenging and fast-paced role. Obviously, things change very quickly, so last week we thought was going to be really quiet with Parliament prorogued, and then Parliament got recalled, so you have to be very reactive and have your eye on the ball.

RW: And how much choice do you get in where you go?

JT: You do have the opportunity to express some preference while creating a unique Personal Development Plan. The idea is that you can kind of shape the policy area that you’re in and get some expertise in a certain area. Postings can be both inside and outside of London and most Fast Streamers tend to move around while on the scheme. The offices I’ve worked in have been really nice and have relaxed dress codes- to the extent that some people have even gone to brief a minister while in their cycling gear! And the attitude toward working hours is just as flexible, with a flexi-time system on offer that allows you to arrive between 8 and 10am in the mornings and take lunch whenever you want. It works so that you track your hours, so if you come in at 8am and finish at 6pm one day, then the next day or whenever you want you can claim the time back. The work-life balance is pretty good!

And, no need to panic, I didn’t finish the interview with Jack before getting his absolute top tips for the application procedure!

“The Civil Service are looking for people who are willing to argue their case, but who are also happy to admit when someone else may have a better idea”

  • ‘Front loading’ – strike while the iron is hot, while things are quiet at university, put your effort into careers stuff
  • For the online stages of the application, trust your instincts. You get multiple choice questions and you get asked to rank what the best response to a given situation is, so don’t overthink it!
  • There are also behavioural, work-style questionnaires and it’s important to remember that the Fast Stream is not looking for people who are perfect, so be honest about your own areas for development and your own strengths
  • Next is a video interview involving pre-recorded questions to answer. Try and familiarize yourself with it beforehand. It sounds cringey but sit in your room and speak into your webcam and get used to making eye contact with it!
  • The Civil Service loves the ‘STAR’ answer format, i.e. Situation, Task, Action Result.
  • Following the online stages is the assessment centre which is split into three subsequent steps. There’s a written analysis exercise where you have to present a case based on a booklet of information provided to you. Think clearly about your ideas, structure your response, prioritise information and leave yourself enough time to write
  • Finally, there’s a group exercise. The Civil Service are looking for people who are willing to argue their case, but who are also happy to admit when someone else may have a better idea. They would much rather you compromise and do what’s best for the team

Any final year students interested in applying should look out for Civil Service careers events on campus over the coming year. Applications to the Fast Stream will close on 24th October at 12pm. There is also a Summer Diversity Internship Programme aimed at penultimate and final year students, which is a paid internship of six to nine weeks where you can get real work experience, and, if successful, can skip the online application process for the Fast Stream scheme.

First years need not feel left out though! The Civil Service has you covered with their Early Diversity Internship Programme which lasts a week and offers you lots of advice and the opportunity to shadow a Fast Streamer and attend talks and events. Both are diversity programmes in an attempt for the Civil Service to increase their diversity.

Rachel West

Featured image courtesy of zenjazzygeek via Flickr. Image license found here. No changes were made to this image. 

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