Public sector careers: Change society

Look beyond the stereotypes for a rewarding career in the public sector, says Kate Hilpern

If you think a graduate career in the public sector is bureaucratic, unglamorous and dull, think again. While some of the outdated myths linger, the reality is that this sector offers a huge range of careers with early responsibility, excellent work/life balance, a healthy dose of autonomy and the opportunity to bring about genuine change in society. According to latest figures from the Association of Graduate Recruiters (AGR), the pay isn't bad either. Graduate salaries have risen 9.5 per cent during the last year alone, compared to a 2.3 per cent average across all graduate jobs.

"Graduates might well be surprised just how good public sector career opportunities are when they get beyond the stereotypes," says Carl Gilleard, chief executive, who points out that some of the best quality graduate fast-track schemes exist in this sector.

Beth Child, 29 is currently on the Civil Service's Fast Stream programme. She says the variety involved in her day-to-day job is "phenomenal". "I move into a completely different - and always stimulating - role every year, and there's the opportunity for secondments too," she says.

You have to be ready to take the reigns almost as soon as you take on a new assignment, Child says, but support is there if you need it. Her first role involved helping to set up a waste implementation programme for DEFRA "to change behaviour at a public, local authority and industry level. There are some pretty nasty landfill waste targets that we have to meet, so it's a massive programme." Child is now working on a national climate change programme. "You feel that you're involved in progressing things that will make a big difference to our future," she adds.

Sue Nixon, deputy head of marketing for Fast Stream says you'd be pushed to find an employer that offers as many jobs as the Civil Service, which is why they welcome a range of degrees (2.2 or above) and the scheme is divided into four strands. "Besides the general one, there are three specialist programmes - for economists, statisticians and those wanting to work in the Government Communications Headquarters," she says.

A strong social conscience and a thirst for a challenge attracts people to the National Graduate Development Programme within Local Government, says Eleanor Gasse, who is responsible for the scheme. "One of our trainees is about to work full-time on the Olympics team in a local authority in East London," she says.

The award-winning mentoring scheme and the bespoke postgraduate diploma that all trainees complete in local government management are also a big pull for university leavers, she adds. "The opportunity to do more academic learning that's funded and of immediate use in day-to-day work does seem to attract people."

All degree disciplines are welcome in this scheme too, although you will need a minimum of a 2.1 and some experience of working in the voluntary, charity or public sector.

The Graduate Development Programme at the Financial Services Authority (FSA) also accepts any degree discipline. Chris Grix, 26, joined the scheme in 2002. He says, "My priority was to join a good graduate scheme where I could actually use what I'd learned academically and I am doing just that."

Like other graduates, he was keen to embark on an ethical career. "Because of the FSA's strategic role - and the fact that the nature of the work is moral because we're concerned with protecting consumers - it was much more appealing," he says.

What he hadn't anticipated, however, was how much fun he'd have. "There's a great atmosphere here and there is a really good social scene," he says.

Even if you don't get onto a graduate programme, there are plenty of opportunities to progress quickly in the public sector. Terry Jones of AGCAS (Association of Graduate Recruitment Advisory Services) says, "If graduates go into a relatively low-level position, they are increasingly finding that if they show potential, they are moving through the ranks at speed."

Neil Seabridge, head of the Metropolitan Police Careers Team, says: "we have two schemes open to anyone with high potential and we are finding a correlation between educational performance and success at getting on them. We're a very progressive organisation and we need people of adaptability, intelligence and commitment who can take a long-term view into on how to improve the way the police organises itself."

'The biggest reward is the lifestyle'


I always assumed I'd end up working as a City lawyer, but I got an eight-week internship at HM Revenue and Customs in the summer of my second year at university and they offered me a job at the end. I had really enjoyed my time there, which was in International Policy, so I accepted. I liked the fact that I was left alone to manage and organise my own workload, in the knowledge that the help was there if I wanted it. I got to liaise with assistant directors, plan my own meetings and write my own reports. I also liked that the stuff I was coming up with was used, not just filed away in a cupboard.

I started on the graduate scheme in September 2004. In the first year, I worked on other people's cases and this year, I've been running my own investigations.

The biggest reward is the lifestyle. There isn't the pressure of working hours that exists in the private sector. It's also interesting to have a different challenge every day. We never quite know what we'll have on our desk in the morning. I like the variety.

A lot of people think that if you work here, you must be a tax collector, but when you work here you soon realise that careers are a lot wider than that. I'd like to go into tax policy, particularly on an international level.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Student

Recruitment Genius: Project Assistant

£18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: If you are a recent psychology graduate ...

Recruitment Genius: Junior / Graduate Graphic Designer

£17000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Largest Independent Motor D...

Ashdown Group: Training Programme Manager - City, London

£40000 - £45000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: Training Programme Manag...

Guru Careers: Graduate Sales Executive

£18 - 24k OTE + Uncapped Commission: Guru Careers: A Graduate Sales Executive ...

Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Where the spooks get their coffee fix: The busiest Starbucks in the US is also the most secretive

The secret CIA Starbucks

The coffee shop is deep inside the agency's forested Virginia compound
Revealed: How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Loch Ness Monster 'sighting'

How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Nessie 'sighting'

The Natural History Museum's chief scientist was dismissed for declaring he had found the monster
One million Britons using food banks, according to Trussell Trust

One million Britons using food banks

Huge surge in number of families dependent on emergency food aid
Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths 2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths trove
The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey, 25 years on

The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey 25 years on

The space telescope was seen as a costly flop on its first release
Did Conservative peer Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

Did Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

A document seen by The Independent shows that a week after he resigned from the Lords he sold 350,000 shares in an American company - netting him $11.2m
Apple's ethnic emojis are being used to make racist comments on social media

Ethnic emojis used in racist comments

They were intended to promote harmony, but have achieved the opposite
Sir Kenneth Branagh interview: 'My bones are in the theatre'

Sir Kenneth Branagh: 'My bones are in the theatre'

The actor-turned-director’s new company will stage five plays from October – including works by Shakespeare and John Osborne
The sloth is now the face (and furry body) of three big advertising campaigns

The sloth is the face of three ad campaigns

Priya Elan discovers why slow and sleepy wins the race for brands in need of a new image
How to run a restaurant: As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food

How to run a restaurant

As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food
Record Store Day: Remembering an era when buying and selling discs were labours of love

Record Store Day: The vinyl countdown

For Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Usher, Mary J Blige and to give free concert as part of the Global Poverty Project

Mary J Blige and to give free concert

The concert in Washington is part of the Global Citizen project, which aims to encourage young people to donate to charity
10 best tote bags

Accessorise with a stylish shopper this spring: 10 best tote bags

We find carriers with room for all your essentials (and a bit more)
Paul Scholes column: I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England

Paul Scholes column

I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England
Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

The heptathlete has gone from the toast of the nation to being a sleep-deprived mum - but she’s ready to compete again. She just doesn't know how well she'll do...