The process to get on the Civil Service Fast Stream is long and drawn out, but there are some things applicants can do to increase their chance of success. The following tips may help this year’s hopefuls get through the process.*
1. You don’t have to be committed to start applying to the Fast Stream, but you have to be committed, jobless or patient to finish the whole process
From starting the online tests to your first day in the job the application process can take over a year. Only the committed, the very patient or those without anything else to do stick it out.
2. Talk to current Fast Streamers; find out what makes them tick and how they present themselves
Fast Streamers are a breed: you can spot them a mile off (seriously. It’s very easy to tell who’s a Fast Streamer in the Civil Service). The Civil Service is diverse and treats everyone fairly and equally, but there is a certain set of skills and attributes that most Fast Streamers will have (e.g. being pro-active, good at communication, professional, etc.). There’s lots of Fast Streamers; most of them will be more than happy to talk to you. See ‘3’ for how to contact us.
3. If you have any questions about the Fast Stream or the application process go to the Student Room forum
Over the last few years the Student Room Fast Stream threads have had over 6,000 posts and more than 120,000 views. If you have a question, this is where it’ll get answered quickest and by people actually on the Fast Stream (quick shout out to TiBFS and Prince Rhyus– the Fast Streamers who do a sterling job overseeing the forum in their own time). If you have any personal questions about your application (or want an “official” answer) the Fast Stream application process’s online messaging system is good.
4. Take on board all guidance sent out by the Cabinet Office
Read all the guidance the Cabinet Office gives about the application process (e.g. the timings, what to expect at each stage, etc.). They’re not trying to trick you and will give a very good overview of what will happen. The guide sent out before the assessment centre is particularly useful- familiarise yourself with the tasks it describes and practice what you would do for each.
5. Apply for multiple strands of the Fast Stream
You can apply for as many or as few strands as you want without them affecting each other. The pass marks can be different for each one so apply for more to increase your chance of getting through. Don’t assume that you’re excluded from some of them because of your degree; the Technology in Business Fast Stream, for example, doesn’t require you to have an IT degree (in fact most people on it don’t have a techy background).
6. Practice. It does help, and most people will be doing it- despite what they say
You won’t learn much from buying books on how to pass the Fast Stream or paying websites to access to practice tests. The best (and free) way to practice the numeracy and literacy tests is to apply to other graduate scheme and do their online tests. They’re very similar, and you can always pull out of the application process later.
Brush up on your interview skills before the assessment centre. Think about what you’ve achieved, how you describe problems/ solutions, how you interact with others, etc. Some people will fluke it; most, however, will be well prepared.
7. Be open minded about all the strands; don’t just set your sites on the FCO and Europe
The other streams/ departments also offer fantastic opportunities. If you’re that desperate to get in to the FCO/ Europe you’ll make it there from within other Civil Service departments. Once you’re in, it’s easier to move across or do secondments (just don’t expect to be able to do it straight away- you’ll probably have to “do some time” first).
8. Have options: apply for other jobs at the same time
Even if you don’t want any job except the Fast Stream, apply to other jobs to get the practice. The literacy/ numeracy tests are very similar for most graduate schemes, and interview/ assessment centre practice is always useful. And if you don’t get through to the Fast Stream you’ll then have other options… and if you want to apply to the Fast Stream the next year then the application and work experience will be very useful.
9. The Fast Stream isn’t the only way in to government jobs, even with a recruitment freeze
Some government departments recruit graduates separately. You may want to consider applying to the Local Government graduate scheme and GCHQ/ MI5/ MI6 jobs
There are also Civil Service (non-graduate specific) jobs which are advertised through the Civil Service portal
The Graduate Talent Pool offers (usually paid) short term internships to recent graduates. These can be a good way to get relevant work experience and decide if the Civil Service is really for you.
10. If you don’t get through don’t stress about it, and take all the feedback on board
A lot of people– over 15,000 for 600 jobs in 2009- apply to the Fast Stream, probably partly due to stats like this (which, as an aside, you shouldn’t take much notice of; talk to people actually doing the job to get the real picture). If you don’t get on to the Fast Stream there really are many other jobs that will be equally good if not much better; the Fast Stream isn’t the be all and end all (yes, very easy to say from this side of the fence, but it’s true).
If you want to apply again the next year, make sure you learn from the process you’ve just been through:
– If you failed the numerical/ verbal reasoning, practice them more
– If you got to the assessment centre the feedback is some of the best you will get from any job application. Take it on board, learn from it, and use it in applications for other jobs and the Fast Stream the following year
– And if you failed the competency questionnaire… well there’s not much you can do except try again the next year.
11. Have luck on your side
In every application process (however “fair and equal”) you need to have a bit of luck to get through.
None of these tips are ground breaking, but they could just give you the edge to get through.
Ready? Apply here, good luck, and let the waiting game begin!
*With thanks to TiBFS for sanity checking this post.