Civil Service Fast Stream – careers adviser application process insights

With thanks to my colleague Louise Honey.
Wanting a job where your input has a real impact on life in the UK is one of the many reasons that a position within the Civil Service is appealing to so many people. The highly competitive and rigourous application process, results in placements to various government departments from the Ministry of Defence to the Department for Work and Pensions .

The application process before you even get to the assessment centre is intense!

Self Assessment (Online)

•Numerical and Verbal Reasoning and Feedback
You would take this test as an initial interest to see if your own skills/understanding of the role is in line with the role in reality.

Practice (Online)

•Numerical and Verbal Reasoning
This is voluntary and you would take this to help prepare for the actual test.

1st Sifting Stage (Online)

•Competency Questionnaire
•Numerical and Verbal Reasoning
This is where the first cut is made. The competency questionnaire is based on the Fast Stream competencies, and consists of 80 behavioural statements in sets of four – you rate the level to which you agree with the statements. There is no time limit for this section.

2nd Sifting Stage (Test Centre)

•E-tray Job Simulation
•Numerical and Verbal Reasoning Tests
This stage is done in a test centre (based around UK). The E-tray exercise simulates civil service work and you need to organise, prioritise and take action in relation to the emails received, each of which is based on a fast stream competency. Numerical and Verbal reasoning are taken again to ensure validity. Around 3000 candidates make it to this stage.

Final Stage Assessment Centre (FSAC)

If you have been successful in all of these above stages then you will be invited to the assessment centre. I went along on Wednesday and here is what I found out;

The processes were all very open and the assessors were all very encouraging and try to get the best out of each candidate.

They test six competencies and each have an equal weighting;

Constructive Thinking (creative problem solving, be radical and original)

Decision Making (what’s important and not, make decisions even when not an expert)

Communicating with Impact (written and verbal)

Learning and Improving (committed to self-development, aware of strengths and weaknesses)

Drive for Results (focus on delivery, overcome difficulties, proactive)

Building Productive Relationships (ability to work with others)

Each competency is marked out of 4 and is tested in at least two of the activities on the day. Scoring less than 2 anywhere is an automatic fail!

The Policy Recommendation Exercise.

A written exercise, part one (15 mins) assesses constructive thinking. Candidates need to come up with a lot of ideas/proposals based on the information given. The amount of ideas and their quality is assessed.

Part two (90 mins) assesses decision making and communicating with impact. From the information given the candidate will choose one option out of three to write a briefing for a minister. There is no right/wrong answer but their proposal should be balanced.

There is a lot of information to get through and it is very time pressured.

You should use the statistics given to back up your ideas.

Should only use information given, do not bring in outside knowledge.

Group Exercise

Candidates are given information and a brief. The information will involve the need to discuss certain topics and come up with one idea to put forward that everyone agrees on.

Candidates brief will state what ideas they support and oppose. Some ideas will have no comment next to them.

You must contribute when ALL ideas are being discussed, even when their brief has not stated an opinion. Use common sense to discuss the other ideas and help move the group forward.

You should not bring in outside knowledge. Even if you personally disagree with the idea that the brief is asking you to support – you still need to support it!

A self-assessment questionnaire is completed afterwards on the candidates own performance and another group member that they think performed well. This assesses learning and improving. Candidates score well when they can show insight into the areas they need to improve.

The Briefing Exercise

30 mins prep. Candidates choose one area out of three to focus on and need to prepare a 10 minute presentation (informal, no ppt.) of their initiatives to the assessor. No prior knowledge is needed, just a creative mind to come up with solutions to a particular area. Not a lot of information is provided so it is more of a jumping off point – candidates need to think outside of the box.

Candidates are assessed on constructive thinking (the ideas they come up with), drive for results (how they would plan to put their ideas into practice), communicating with impact (are they persuasive, open to suggestions etc.).

You should present more than one idea – as stated in the instructions!

Ideas should be radical! Candidates always play it too safe.

There is a Q&A after where your ideas will be challenged.

You should be open to suggestions from the assessor and respond in a balanced way (if you do not agree with the suggestions then say so and give reasons why)

This is followed by a further self-assessment questionnaire which assesses learning &improving.

Competency Based Interview

This is a one-to-one interview lasting 40 minutes, testing the competencies of building relationships and learning and improving.

Questions are very standard and can be pre-empted based on the competencies.

Assessors are extremely clear on what competency they are asking about.

This is the only part of the process where you actually get to talk about yourself!

You cannot take in written notes.

If you are interested in applying for the Civil Service, applications can be made in your final year. Their website is very informative and explains each of the processes in good detail as well as taking you through questions to decide which stream may be right for you.

Do come in and ask Careers & Employability for any help if you are applying for this or any other graduate scheme or job. Good luck!