Moving into the Civil Service: Insights and Opportunities

26th February 2024
Caitlin Tickell
Principal Consultant

Within the recently published Civil Service People Plan 2024-2027, a clear theme was a continued commitment to recruiting talent from a diverse range of backgrounds and experience. For those outside of the Civil Service considering a move into central government and its arm’s-length bodies, there are a few key questions to ask. Our Principal Consultant in Central Government, Caitlin Tickell, answers these to give a sense of what you could expect from a transition.

What will this do for my career development?

This is clearly a vital question no matter the sector or organisation you’re considering a move into. Government offers a scale and complexity which rivals the UK’s largest private companies. The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) for example employs nearly 90,000 individuals and £10.88 billion in resource spend last year, and the Department for Work and Pensions has over 85,000 employees and is responsible for welfare, pensions, child maintenance policy and a range of working age, disability, and ill health benefits for around 20 million people.

The breadth of remit from policy development, through to implementation and delivery across the Civil Service as well as the variety of focus means that there are genuine opportunities for career development whether you’re an established or emerging leader. The scale of the Civil Service provides additional benefits through internal transfers and clear progression within professions (whether these be Department-specific, or cross-departmental professions such as Policy, Digital, Data and Technology or Delivery). There is also significant opportunity to build strong relationships within your Profession as well as Department, and the pan-institutional Staff Networks offer further support and community to those from under-represented backgrounds.

There is no denying that the UK Government is a complex landscape, with the potential for steep learning curves due to the need for consultation and discussion across the greater stakeholder network than would be seen in the private sector. However, as well as providing the opportunity to develop and showcase these skills, the access and relationships developed through this work are significant. Furthermore, these processes are a result of the scale of the impact that government can and does have at a national scale. One of our placed candidates reflected that whilst “it’s at scale you don’t want to fail”, government is able to trial new innovative approaches to service delivery in a way they hadn’t anticipated prior to joining.

The other piece of the puzzle beyond building skills on your CV is the sense of purpose which drives many to lead careers within the public sector. In the most recent Civil Service People Survey, over 82% of civil servants felt that their work clearly contributed to the organisation’s objectives and over 88% felt interested in their work. From our work with government, a consistent theme from those we appoint is how important it is to them to make a significant difference to people’s lives, and work in a role where the rewards are personal rather than purely financial.

What would my life look like as a Senior Civil Servant?

Beyond working to address major societal issues, the Civil Service is recognised as being a supportive and flexible employer. The Places for Growth strategy aims to ensure that the Civil Service is representative of the communities it serves by placing more senior leaders outside of London. With the creation of hubs in aligned locations, such as the Manchester hub’s focus on science and technology with DSIT, GCHQ, UK Biobank and others working alongside each other, there is real

potential to continue developing strong cross-Departmental relationships and progress in your career without a need to be based in central London.

Within the Civil Service, pay bands and grades are well-defined, and unlike other sectors there is little room for negotiation of the advertised salary. However, if you’re currently within the private sector, the opportunity to work in regional hubs and with a good degree of flexibility may support with the difference in salary between commercial organisations and the public sector. It is also worth noting that the Civil Service offers a very generous defined benefit pension scheme with an employer contribution of 27% of your pay on average.

Are my skills relevant?

Given the breadth of roles within the Civil Service, the answer is likely yes. How you would apply them in role might be different but there is certainly appetite in government to consider those from outside of the Civil Service for positions and support those new to the public sector in transitioning into Whitehall. With colleagues in Odgers Berndtson, we have recently run a “Switching Sectors” series where senior leaders give advice on how to best move into government from their own personal experience, and the Consultant leading on a particular appointment will spend the time with you to support you in understanding whether your experience to date is relevant to that brief.

If you’re interested in exploring leadership roles in government more broadly, reach out to Caitlin Tickell or Jonathan Clark for a conversation.

Categories: Central Government, Local Government