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Read more about working in Public Sector ↓

The Public Sector is an umbrella term for jobs providing government services. It includes the Department of Education, Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs, the Food Standards Agency, the Ministry of Justice, the UK Border Agency, and more.

Austerity measures have led to cutbacks in the Public Sector, but that should not deter graduates. These departments are often essential to the proper running of the country, and a mixture of enthusiasm, skills and appropriate qualifications will enable graduates to flourish.

How to get a job in the Public Sector

With such a wide degree of departments and services, jobs in the Public Sector can require a variety of skills and backgrounds - which makes it difficult to offer specific advice to graduates considering a position in the Public Sector.

Graduates may want to pursue a career in:

  • Government

    The Public Sector includes many governmental roles locally, in county and on Whitehall. Many of these positions are office-based, so Computing and IT skills would be an advantage, as well as proficiency in Microsoft Office programs such as Word, Excel and PowerPoint.

    Working in local government may require candidates to be extremely knowledgeable about the geographical location. An understanding of an area's trades and main employers can be vital.

    Unsurprisingly, graduates wanting to work in Government will also need to display an in-depth understanding of how governments function. Degrees in Politics are beneficial to applicants going for these types of jobs, however degrees in fields such as History, English or Sociology can also put graduates in a good position.

  • Services

    Public Sector Services range from Government Communications Headquarters (GSHQ) to the Financial Services Authority (FSA). Graduates pursuing these types of roles should be able to display skills in customer service. Candidates must be able to talk to customers, and help and direct people over the phone or in person, skills which graduates can show by demonstrating previous experience working in hospitality or retail.

    Another key skill, which is closely linked to customer service, is excellent communication. Candidates must be able to communicate effectively and clearly to a range of people and personalities. Graduates should display good written and oral communication skills throughout the application process, and provide examples of when their skills have been put to the test.

  • Safety and Security

    The Public Sector has many opportunities in Safety and Security. These include policing and security, research into cybercrime and national security. Many of these opportunities require varying skills, but a knowledge of security threats and concerns should be at the forefront of any applicant's mind.

    Some roles in Safety and Security will require an excellent knowledge of computing and IT systems. Degrees in Computer Science or Computer Forensics will serve candidates well, as will a portfolio of projects providing examples of a candidate's technical skill.

    Other Safety and Security roles may require candidates to posses exemplary people skills. Positions in policing or other emergency services involve handling and communicating with people in difficult and sometimes traumatic situations. Graduates may demonstrate such an ability by describing a time in a service job when they have had to deal with a drunk or disgruntled customer.

Public sector Case Studies

Rob Senior Sarah Drysdale
We're looking for people who are excited about our work and who have the 'get up and go' to achieve results in a highly professional and challenging environment.

The Employer - Rob Senior (Resourcing Specialist & HR Service Centre Manager - National Audit Office)

Rob Senior

Name: Rob Senior
Job Title: Resourcing Specialist & HR Service Centre Manager - National Audit Office
University: University of Sheffield
Course: French and German

What competencies do you like to see in candidates?

There is certainly no such thing as a typical NAO Graduate Trainee. Successful candidates come from a diverse range of backgrounds and may have any degree subject. There are however, some key competencies that we look for which are explained in detail on our website. Essentially though, we're looking for people who are excited about our work and who have the 'get up and go' to achieve results in a highly professional and challenging environment. We look for analytical skills combined with the ability to work well with others and to present our work with influence and passion.

Can you talk us through the application process?

You'll first need to complete an on-line application which includes a number of competency based questions. You'll then be invited to complete an on-line numerical reasoning test. Candidates who pass the application form and test stage are then invite to attend a competency based preliminary interview which is also an opportunity to ask questions about the scheme. If you are successful at interview then you will be invited to attend an assessment centre which will include a number of individual and group exercises as well as an interview with a Director, all assessed against the NAO's graduate competencies. You will also have the opportunity to speak to some of our current trainees and others who have qualified recently.

What is the most common mistake you see in an application, which leads to candidates being rejected?

The most common mistake is not providing specific examples to answer the competency questions; either not being clear on what you actually did or providing hypothetical answers. Take the time to think about what examples you have, what your contribution was and how that answers the question. Other reasons for rejection include too many spelling mistakes and not demonstrating the motivation to study for the ACA and to work for our organisation.

What is the main piece of advice you would give a graduate starting your scheme?

It's difficult to give a single piece of advice as there is no such thing as a typical public sector organisation. The public sector offers a wide range of opportunities for talented graduates; you just need to give serious thought to where your skills and potential will best flourish. The public sector is full of bright and talented people who are motivated to make a real difference in whatever area they work. It can be a challenging environment but extremely rewarding to see the tangible difference you are often able to make.

What's the main challenge graduates face when they start?

Without doubt the main challenge our graduates face is balancing a full-time roll with studying for the ACA qualification. It's certainly challenging but we do everything we can to support our trainees through block release, paid study leave and a supportive professional training team. This is reflected in our exam pass rates which are often above the national average.

How do you see your organisation changing in the future?

The public bodies that we audit are more stretched than ever before - both by financial pressures and by reform. This has exposed substantial skills gaps across government in areas that we have or will develop expertise in, which could be applied to good effect. The NAO is transforming so that we can dramatically increase the impact of our work. This requires us to understand those we audit more comprehensively and to have deeper expertise to deploy. We will also produce a wider, more flexible range of outputs that are responsive to the needs of the bodies we audit and of Parliament. Our work has never been more relevant and it's certainly an exciting time to join us.

If you weren't a Resourcing Specialist, what would you be?

I'd have been a professional footballer. I had everything apart from the ability!

The Employee - Sarah Drysdale (Assistant Auditor - National Audit Office)

Sarah Drysdale

Name: Sarah Drysdale
Job Title: Assistant Auditor - National Audit Office
University: University of Sheffield
Course: Maths and Physics
Graduation Year: 2010

How did you find your graduate job in Public Sector?

I visited the NAO's stand at a career fair in Birmingham and realised this was the organisation I wanted to join - it allowed me to work in finance whilst contributing something to society. I made my online application and was subsequently invited to an interview and then an assessment day. The phone rang a few days later and I was really pleased to be offered the job.

Why do you think you were successful at the National Audit Office?

I had a genuine passion to join the NAO and I think that must have shown. I had read their annual report in detail which really helped me to show a good understanding of the organisation at the interview.

What do you actually do?

My time is divided between financial audit work and value for money work, although I'm looking forward to getting involved in some of the other outputs we are developing for clients. I spend several weeks at a time working on the same audit or study, before moving on to something else. Financial audit involves carrying out testing on the items in financial statements. This really means reviewing evidence (like invoices or HR records), talking to clients and assessing whether the correct accounting treatment has been applied. Value for money work includes things like data analysis, online research and attending interviews with stakeholders. You might have seen some of our reports hit the headlines.

What skills do you need?

You need to have a questioning mind, be confident talking to clients and be motivated to study for the professional accountancy exams!

What is the best thing about your job?

I really enjoy interviewing financial audit clients to really understand their business and processes. Also being part of such a large graduate intake is great for making friends and having a support network to get you through the exams.

And what is the worst thing about your job?

Like the accountancy firms, the Office requires trainees to pass a certain number of exams at the first attempt. This can pile on the pressure, but if you put the work in, you are likely to pass.

Where do you see yourself in ten years?

In my third year as a trainee, I will lead my first audit. I think this will help inform me of the direction I wish my career to take.

What advice would you give to graduates applying to the National Audit Office?

Go and talk to our careers fair representatives to find out more about what it's like here.

If you want to find out more about graduate jobs with National Audit Office, please take a look at their company profile.