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!

Jobs in EU Institutions

On 16th March 2010, the European Personnel Selection Office will launch a procedure to select graduates to work in the EU Institutions.  This selection procedure will comprise the fields of European Public Administration, Law, Audit, Economics, and Information and Communication Technology.  

 A career in the EU Institutions offers a lifetime of different jobs doing interesting and challenging work that makes a real difference for Europe, in an environment where staff are encouraged to learn new skills and languages, and have opportunities to work and travel abroad.  You will find more information on EU careers and the selection procedure in two leaflets, now available as downloads from the AGCAS website – Further information can be found on our website –

It is also worth noting that, from 2010, the EU Careers selection procedure no longer includes the detailed EU knowledge test. Instead we are moving to an entirely competence based model which many British students and graduates will be familiar with.

You’ll also find on the AGCAS website a copy of the advertisement which will be appearing in a number of online and printed media throughout Europe over the next couple of weeks. 

Jane Pedder
EPSO.04 – Communication
European Personnel Selection Office
Tel. +32 229 68064

Social Entrepreneurship Money

Just a note to flag up that Unltd have 190 grants (of up to £5000 each) available in 2010 for any member of staff or student from a HEFCE funded organisation wishing to launch a social enterprise. The main criterion for getting a grant is that you can demonstrate your project will bring positive social change. (Good opportunity for SIFE students – for those of you working with them.)

If you or one of your students is interested, there’s more info at

Unltd also has a smaller number of development grants (up to £15k) for social enterprises which are off the ground but need financial support to grow.

NHS Research Role

Project Officer

Chelsea & Westminster Hospital NHS Foundation Trust

Project Officer


The NIHR Collaboration for Leadership in Applied Health Research and Care (CLAHRC) for northwest London seeks to recruit recent graduates who are forward thinking, self motivated and willing to work in a fast moving, multi-disciplinary team to deliver change. This post will be a critical support role to the delivery of diverse innovation and health improvement projects.

You will be expected to undertake the role flexibly. It is expected that you will have formal training or experience to degree level or equivalent and have the relevant and necessary computer software aptitude. You will assist clinical and non-clinical programme staff in daily activities, projects and deadlines.

Within the core team there are 14 members to support with additional support for clinical projects across northwest London. You will have the opportunity to develop further work according to your personal interest and experience.

You will be expected to show potential and develop skills in leadership, be quick thinking and responsive, motivated, proactive and innovative in problem solving with a can-do attitude.

For an informal discussion regarding this post please contact Julie Reed on 020 8746 8148 or Ganesh Sathyamoorthy on 020 3315 3067.

For more information on the CLAHRC see our website: 

To apply for this position, please visit quoting reference: 289-SE-003952.