In this post Joe, a Modern Languages graduate from the University of Birmingham shares his tips on applying to the Civil Service Fast Stream:

Application (made early in Autumn term)

The initial application only constitutes 3 sections:

  • Personal information: name, address etc. Some schemes such as the Diplomatic Stream are stricter on nationality and residence due to the nature of the employment.
  • Options: you can choose as many streams of the Fast Stream as you want to apply for and put these in order of choice. Specialist strands include Languages or Digital, whilst there is also the Generalist stream.
  • Situational judgement and behavioural test: online and remotely, not timed and you choose ‘least effective’ and ‘most effective’ options to work-based scenarios.

Joe’s tips: You can find practice questions online and reflect upon how you have acted in previous experiences/work experience in your responses but answer them as naturally as possible; they are not trying to catch you out, just looking for your honest response! The Student Room tends to have a forum which offers a supportive space throughout the process.

Joe heard back about a week later.

  1. E-tray exercise
  • This is timed, and lasts 80 minutes from when you start. You can’t pause it once begun, and you do it online and remotely. You have 7 days to take the test after being notified.
  • During the task you are presented with a mock situation in which you are a civil servant managing the response to a situation.
  • You are given a set of detailed documents to read through, which relate to your role, relationship with other stakeholders and team members, and any relevant background knowledge.
  • After reading the text, you then have to response to around 30 emails asking you to make decisions. You then need to choose the ‘least effective’ and ‘most effective’ reply for each email out of several options (rather than writing replies).

Joe’s tips: keep on top of the time – e.g. work out how you will apportion your reading and answering of emails to make sure you can complete the task within the time limit. Do it somewhere quiet and without distractions – e.g. the library on a Sunday evening.

Joe heard back about a fortnight later.

  1. Video interview

This is 30 minutes in length and you respond via webcam to automated interview questions onscreen – again online and remotely. You are asked around 10 questions and have time to think, and then have 2 minutes to reply, for each of them. The questions are competency and strengths based e.g. ‘Give us an example of a time when you had to be innovative’ or ‘What are your main strengths?’ .

Joe’s tips: Read the ‘Civil Service Competency Framework’ (which you can find online) beforehand and highlight the competencies required for the Fast stream at level 3.  Once listed, think up examples of how you have demonstrated these ahead of the interview. Use the STAR (Situation, Task, Action, Result) method in your responses. Use ‘Interview Stream’ through UoB to practice answering questions on screen. If in doubt, speak to Careers Network for a mock interview or just general interview advice.

Joe heard back about two months later.

  1. Assessment Centre

These take place from around January – April in Newcastle and London (more locations may be added next year). Expenses such as travel, food and overnight accommodation, are all covered. The day lasts around 6 hours, typically 8-12 noon or 12 noon – 6pm, and there are around 30 candidates at each of these. The day comprises of 3 tests and beforehand you are provided with a guidance pack with examples of the type of tasks you will take part in.

Joe’s tips: Get a good night’s sleep, and allow enough time for things to go wrong on getting to the Assessment Centre. I got on the wrong Newcastle Metro line when I first arrived!

Written task (split into 2 parts) which lasts around 80 minutes.

  • You are given a fictitious scenario as a civil servant, in which you are provided with detailed reports with data. You need to analyse the data and build recommendations for action.
  • You need to analyse trends in the data, which include graphs, percentages and tables. You will be given a calculator.

Joe’s tips: look over percentages, and how to read graphs/tables ahead of time as this task tests your numerical capability. Make sure you manage your time carefully! Keep in mind the competencies of Strategic approach to objectives, Analysis and decision making and Leading and Communicating.

Group exercise with around 4/5 candidates and an assessor observing each candidate; this lasts around an hour. You have 30 minutes to prepare beforehand.

 The task is set up like a cross-government meeting in which each candidate has an agenda to champion and one agenda which they need to avoid (given out beforehand)

  • You have 30 minutes to discuss/agree solutions out of the options in the group taking into consideration things like impact, cost, timeline…

Joe’s tips:  Keep a track of the time so you all come to a conclusion within the time limit, make sure you determine the criteria for the solution you need to reach and find out what each person’s agenda is so you know what you are all working towards and keep the discussion on track. Again, always keep the Civil Service competencies of Analysis and Decision Making, Building Productive Relationships and developing capability and Leading and Communicating in the back of your head

  • Leadership exercise

You are given 25 minutes preparation time and the exercise lasts around 30 minutes. It is similar to the e-tray exercise, as you are briefed on a scenario as a civil servant leading on a project.

  • You need to read through the detailed documents which provide info on aspects such as the team, stakeholders and project
  • You give a 10 minute one on one oral briefing on how you would manage the project to an assessor
  • You are then questioned by the assessor, for around 20 minutes, on your choices and any points you have missed
  • You will then be asked to fill out a short self-review form, reviewing your performance at the assessment centre

Joe’s tips: Read the book ‘How to be a civil servant’ to give you an idea of how Civil Servants would do similar activities in real life and keep the Civil Service competencies of Strategic Approach to objectives, Building productive relationships and developing capability, and Leading and Communicating in mind. Assessors tend to be either current or retired civil servants.

Joe heard back two months late, with a full report on how he performed and the excellent news that he had been offered a position on the Generalist stream which lasts 4 years.

For those successful candidates who had selected specialist streams, they were invited to do a Final Selection Board, which could include face to face interviews, additional application forms or tests, depending on the Stream.