James: Civil Service Fast Stream

James is a People Performance Project Lead on the Civil Service Fast Stream. He graduated from The University of Manchester in 2020 with a degree in Theological Studies in Philosophy and Ethics.

Did you always know you wanted to work in this sector?

It’s strange - before 2019 I had no idea and then that year, I was torn between teaching and going into the public sector (I had previously done internships in both). In the end the breadth of opportunities in the Civil Service appealed to me as there’s so much on offer and some really cool roles.

What is the structure of the scheme?

So there are a couple of “streams” you can choose on the Fast Stream, including Generalist, Diplomatic, HR, Finance, Economics, Communications, Engineering and many more. Generally the scheme is is three or four years and you will have placements in different departments, giving you exposure to different types of roles.

What does a normal day look like in your current role / placement?

A normal day is spent collaborating with colleagues on work-related projects as well as meetings to provide advice to colleagues on how to implement our new performance management across the department. Much of my interactions are with Communications and Capability colleagues, as well HR Business Partners.

Would you recommend this graduate scheme for current students / recent graduates?

I would recommend this scheme to people who are not quite sure where they want to focus their careers as chances are in the Civil Service, through networking and keeping an eye out for opportunities, there will be something for you. There are also opportunities to study alongside your role for professional qualifications and good chances to progress early on. It’s also a chance to meet lots of good people too!

What was the application and assessment process like?

Since I did the Civil Service Summer Diversity Internship Programme (SDIP) I skipped the online assessment stage and went straight to the assessment centre. If you have the chance I’d suggest applying for the SDIP so you get that exposure and can build contacts within departments.

When you are applying, I would recommend talking to people who have gone through the process in terms of what to expect. There are also lots of helpful organisations who give free advice on the online assessments and the assessment centres. This is what I did, through Rare, but I know there are organisations like UpReach who do the same.

The assessment centre is split into three parts: written, leadership, and group. I practiced my report writing but didn’t over-prepare and tried to trust the natural aptitude I felt I had for the leadership exercise and group exercises. If you have the mindset to try and enjoy it, I think that improves your performance too!

What are your plans for the future?

Right now it’s to make the most of the opportunities that come my way and to keep connecting with interesting people doing interesting things. I aim to finish my HR qualification and progress to grade seven within the Civil Service and work from there!

I don’t currently have a grand 10 year plan but through mentorship and the support on offer I’m trying to work out what I like, what I’m good at, and where I can make the most impact.