What's it really like?
Robert (the Civil Servant’s name has been changed for reasons of confidentiality) is a Civil Servant currently working for HM Revenue and Customs, which was formed from the merger of the Inland Revenue and Customs. Robert holds the title of ‘Customer Relationship Manager’ and has the rank of ‘Assistant Secretary’. He is a member of the Senior Civil Service which comprises Assistant, Under and Permanent Secretaries.Robert works with the largest companies in Britain to ensure that they pay the correct amount of tax at the right time. He is also responsible for ensuring that resources are deployed against those companies which choose to pay less than the appropriate amount. He spends a lot of time working with policy and technical colleagues in order to introduce new legislation which aims to combat tax avoidance.
He has been a Civil Servant for over thirty years and has been dealing with large companies for ten years. A typical day at work for Robert involves checking e-mails before holding team meetings. In these meetings, Robert and the other members of his team discuss any issues and consider any draft letters prior to issue. He may then have contact with the large companies via telephone, post, e-mail, or face-to-face contact.
During this interaction, Robert may discuss significant transactions or perhaps articles that have appeared in the press. He helps the companies to create certainty on major issues which may be affecting them. Internally, Robert is also responsible for reporting new data trends and he also provides defensive briefings about press articles.
Robert enjoys several parts of his job, including the relative freedom afforded to someone in his position and the numerous opportunities to form professional relationships with external directors of tax and his own staff. The sense of responsibility that Robert has managed to develop during his time as a Civil Servant is also a positive. Furthermore, the chance to travel abroad and across the United Kingdom in previous roles has also been appreciated by him.
However, as with all jobs, there are less positive aspects. Robert believes that these include the bureaucracy associated with reports and related computer systems. Having said this, Robert does not think that such factors should dissuade individuals from applying to the Civil Service. He does, however, believe that individuals wishing to apply should be prepared to develop a thick skin, since the Civil Service is often vilified in the press and the government often seems unwilling to defend itself. Robert also stated that a great mathematical ability is not necessary (although some numerical facility is needed) and people in the department hold degrees in all kinds of disciplines.
Robert discussed the Civil Service Fast Stream but he pointed out that there are other ways to enter the profession. Robert joined the Civil Service straight from school after achieving three A Levels. He joined as an Executive Officer and worked gradually through the ranks until he reached the position of Senior Civil Servant. This is quite an unusual way to reach such a senior position but if, like Robert, individuals consistently prove that they have the right attitude and the intellectual aptitude to progress in the Civil Service, opportunities will usually arise.
With regards to career progression, Robert has been offered the chance of holding a purely managerial position but he prefers to continue working on operational matters.
A Civil Servant is an individual who works in the Civil Service, which is the name given to numerous departments and agencies which provide services directly to the public and to the government.
The various departments and agencies of the Civil Service work with the government to create and implement policies which will impact directly upon the lives of people living in the United Kingdom. The particular roles of each department vary greatly and Civil Servants often specialise in a specific area, for example individuals may work for HM Revenue and Customs and specialise in tax, or work in DEFRA specialising in providing advice about agriculture and food.
The gender ratio in the Civil Service is fairly equal and many women hold senior positions. Furthermore, the Civil Service has publicly committed to increasing the diversity of its workforce.
The salary will vary depending upon which department an individual chooses to work in and where the office is located. However, as a typical guide, individuals starting in a clerical role in the Civil Service can expect to earn around £13,000. Entry level salaries for graduates, however, are between £19,000 and £22,000. After a few years in the job, and following promotion, graduates can expect their salaries to rise to approximately £40,000. Senior Civil Servants can expect to earn in the region of £80,000 per year. Those working in offices in London can expect higher salaries than those outside.
As a more specific guide, graduates starting work for HM Revenue and Customs can expect to earn approximately £24,000. After a few years in the job, salaries can rise to between £40,000 and £45,000. Senior figures in HM Revenue and Customs may be able to earn a salary of £80,000 with a few earning more.
All the above figures need to be adjusted in the context of the excellent non-contributory pension scheme which is probably worth another 20% of pay.
The tasks performed by a senior Civil Servant will differ depending upon which department is employing the individual. However, typical activities may include:
- Formulating policies and overseeing the implementation of them in practice
- Interpreting complex written information
- Interpreting complex statistical data
- Analysing the application of written information and data to specific policies and procedures
- Managing resources
- Keeping up to date with political issues and the economy
- Producing reports with appropriate accompanying diagrams
- Presenting these reports to other people including Ministers
- Researching areas of economic relevance and analysing them as appropriate
- Producing letters
- Contacting large companies
- Attending training courses and training others
More junior staff will inevitably have more routine functions.
Graduate entrants tend to have a diverse range of degrees but those in particular disciplines may be useful. These degrees include economics and business studies. However, degrees in disciplines including English may be viewed positively, since these will show competence and the ability to produce written work of a high quality. However, it is possible to enter the Civil Service without holding a degree, although this would be confined to the clerical grades.
After an initial application to a department in the Civil Service, you will probably need, as a graduate entrant, to undergo a relatively long selection process. Paying attention to detail whilst keeping a broad and open mind will be invaluable when answering the questions asked during these tests, whether they be written or verbal.
If you are considering applying for a job in the Civil Service, you should think about trying for the Civil Service Fast Stream. If you are successful in this scheme (which is very competitive and for graduates only) you will be placed in different departments to give you an opportunity to experience different roles and ultimately choose your preferred career path.
The skills required to become a successful Civil Servant include:
- Good organisational skills
- The ability to manage both resources and a tight budget
- A hunger for improving knowledge and reading around different subjects
- Excellent communication skills
- The ability to work both as part of a team and on an individual basis
- The ability to read complex information and summarise it in an easy-to-understand manner
- The ability to motivate other members of the team
- A responsible attitude
- The ability to keep certain information confidential at all times
Most Civil Servants work in an office environment but this obviously depends upon which department an individual is employed in. For example, some Civil Servants will work at airports or at ferry terminals. The large majority of civil servants manage to work to a nine to five timetable but some roles will demand longer hours. Flexible working hours are also available subject to departmental needs.
Weekends are usually kept free and part-time work is often available for those who desire it. Opportunities to travel overseas are common in some departments and individuals will be expected to attend regular training courses. The job can be stressful at times, particularly when deadlines are looming.
Previous experience is not required for application to the Civil Service. However, as with many jobs, it is always viewed positively. Some individuals applying for a degree may decide to choose one which offers a sandwich placement in an appropriate office environment. Work experience during university vacations is offered by many Civil Service departments and you could write to HR personnel to ask for the opportunity to shadow senior departmental members.
If you are unable to gain official experience, you could try to make your CV more attractive by showing involvement in your local community.
- The Home Office
- The Foreign Office
- The Cabinet Office
- HM Revenue and Customs
- The Department for Children, Schools and Families
Most Civil Servants stay in the same department throughout their careers but some senior civil servants are able to switch between departments relatively easily. Promotions are likely if individuals show competence and a responsible attitude. A career in the Civil Service will automatically provide individuals with skills which will be useful in a variety of careers in the private sector.