The public sector is very broad and consists of: central and local government; civil service; public administration; the armed forces (Army, Navy, RAF); emergency services (fire service, police service, ambulance service); security and intelligence services (police force, prison service, MI5, MI6, GCHQ).
There is increasing overlap between the public and private sector as more work is outsourced to private companies due to cuts in public sector spending. The public sector is, however, a significant graduate recruiter offering graduate training schemes in most areas and the opportunity to make a real difference in the lives of others, either through policy work or supporting the safety and wellbeing of the community.
Public sector organisations, particularly in civil service and administration, are often very large and can therefore offer a diverse range of opportunities and career paths with strong scope for progression.
Where do I start?
Within the public sector you could be looking at a wide range of occupations. Prospects has a useful list of job profiles each containing relevant information about key responsibilities, skill requirements, starting salaries, entry requirements, career prospects with links to major employers and current graduate vacancies.
- Arts administrator
- Chartered public finance accountant
- Civil service administrator
- Civil service fast streamer
- Corporate treasurer
- Diplomatic services operational officer
- Education administrator
- Emergency planning/management officer
- Environmental health practitioner
- Equality, diversity and inclusion officer
- Facilities manager
- Government social research officer
- Health and safety adviser
- Health and safety inspector
- Health service manager
- Intelligence analyst
- Local government officer
- Community development worker
- Museum/gallery exhibitions officer
- Office manager
- Policy officer
- Politician's assistant
- Public affairs consultant
- Public librarian
- Senior tax professional/Tax inspector
- Social worker
- Town planner
- Trading standards officer
As part of your job-hunting strategy you will need to keep up to date on developments in this sector and keep track of any vacancies that are coming up. Below are some key resources to help you research opportunities available. The knowledge gained through your research may help you to target your applications and will help when preparing for interviews.
- Prospects – The Public Services overview provides a guide to jobs in this area with articles, news and features, as well as practical information on finding jobs.
- Prospects – A guide to Law Enforcement and Security job roles, entry and progression, future trends and useful resources.
- The Guardian – Guardian news for Public Sector careers.
- PSE – The online site for the Public Sector Executive magazine for local authorities, the civil service and government bodies providing news, blogs and comments.
- Government News and Communications – Access to all the latest government announcements and news.
The public sector is both competitive and broad which combines to make work experience a central part of your career planning. There are many opportunities available which will help you to identify which job roles would best suit your interests and skills, as well as making you stand out from the crowd as a proactive and rounded applicant.
Undertaking work experience is also invaluable in developing expertise and all-important transferable skills, which will help you demonstrate your ability and commitment for your chosen area of work.
Finding experience will take time and effort; employers receive many CVs every week so you will have to work hard to stand out from the crowd. You can find out more about how to create a targeted CV through the Careers and Employability website.
Work placements can provide you with an invaluable insight into working life and offer a unique opportunity to apply the sector knowledge you are learning as part of your studies.
Placements will also enable you to develop transferable skills in the workplace, such as communication, teamwork and time management, in addition to finding out more about a specific job role or industry, which will lead to more informed decisions upon graduating.
On some degrees work placements are part of the programme, whilst on others you can choose to complete a placement as one of your modules. Many courses at the University of Portsmouth enable you to complete a year’s work placement or self-employment placement should you choose to.
Your first point of contact to arrange this will be your placement office in your faculty. Find out how to contact your Placements Office by emailing the Careers and Employability Service at email@example.com.
An internship is usually a work experience opportunity that is offered for a fixed period or a limited amount of time.
Internships tend to be undertaken by students and graduates who are looking to gain more relevant/sector specific skills and experience in their particular field. These opportunities can be paid for a period of between one to four months and typically take place over the summer, with closing dates generally around January to March, but some can be earlier.
Finding placement and internship opportunities
There are many different specialisms in the public sector and many employers, including the Civil Service, local government, NHS management and the uniformed services. Structured work experience schemes are offered by some of these organisations, while others may respond with a one-off placement to a speculative application.
Some areas to consider when looking for work experience are:
- Working for a Member of Parliament (MP) - Working as a researcher or administrator for an MP can give you excellent exposure to how campaigns, legislation and government itself works in the UK, as well as giving you the opportunity to begin building a network of contacts. Opportunities may be advertised through an MP’s website or you may need to consider producing a speculative application to secure an opportunity.
The Working for an MP website is a resource for anyone working for a British Member of Parliament or with an interest in how Parliament works and promotes a range of voluntary opportunities.
- Local Government - Both political and non-political work experience positions are available within local government, particularly in the current climate of cuts to the sector. Contact the HR department to find out about short-term project research, internships or work-shadowing opportunities. You can find information about your local council through the GOV.UK website.
The Civil Service delivers two diversity internship schemes:
- Early diversity internship programme – provides first-year students from diverse backgrounds (with an expected minimum 2.2 degree in any subject) with a one-week placement in a government department. This involves shadowing a fast streamer.
- Summer diversity internship programme – open to applicants in the final two years of their undergraduate degree or who are undertaking postgraduate study with an expected or gained minimum 2.2 degree in any subject.
To be eligible for either of these programmes, you must be from a BAME (black, Asian and minority ethnic) background, or disabled, or socially or economically disadvantaged. If you have a positive appraisal during the internship, the Civil Service will fast track you to the initial online stages of the Civil Service Fast Stream process.
Some Civil Service departments also offer structured work experience in the form of summer internships or 12-month sandwich placements. Examples include the Government Economic Service (GES) for economics students, GCHQ for STEM students and the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) for those interested in a career in international relations.
- The European Commission (EC) - also offers five-month traineeships in areas including law, human resources (HR) and environmental policy. Any degree is accepted, but you must have a strong knowledge of English, French or German, plus a second European Union (EU) language.
Other examples of internship programmes in the public sector
- Financial Conduct Authority (FCA): ten-week summer internships open to students from any background in their penultimate year of study.
Employers within the public sector will consider an interest in public issues to be essential - therefore keeping track of developments in the news and issues affecting the public service will be important. Most workers in the sector are also very community minded and therefore engaging in volunteering in a third sector or public sector organisation will help to demonstrate your commitment.
Getting involved in volunteering also gives you the opportunity to develop employability skills and experience a variety of working environments to assist you in discovering the right career path for you. It also provides the chance to network, meet new friends and boost your confidence.
Volunteering enables you to gain practical experience and working examples to support your graduate applications. If you choose to commit a significant amount of time and impress the organisation during your volunteering, they may also provide you with a professional reference.
Volunteer to gain practical experience
Being a student at the University of Portsmouth provides you with access to numerous student groups, clubs and societies at the Students’ Union, with the opportunity to offer your skills in a committee position or to just get involved in the range of activities available.
There are a number of political groups and community-interest groups that you are able to sign-up to.
Alternatively, you could approach local organisations, charities or community groups who would benefit from your skills. The transferable skills gained from such experience will be invaluable and enhance any speculative applications you make for further work experience.
The Careers and Employability Service offers current students and graduates access to a Virtual Volunteering Bank, which provides local opportunities to undertake alongside your studies. Similarly, you can access these opportunities through the paper-based bank located in the Careers and Employability Centre.
Examples of potentially relevant roles that the Volunteering Team have previously advertised and recruited to include:
- Constituency Campaign Volunteer with Oxfam – an opportunity to become involved in the Constituency Campaigner Programme and to develop political campaigning skills to influence local politicians and other decision makers on issues related to domestic and global poverty such as inequality, tax reform, refugees and family reunion.
- Research and Campaigns Volunteer with Citizens Advice Gosport – coordinating, promoting and becoming involved in all research and campaign activities. Suitable for anyone with an interest in law, legal and welfare systems; human rights and discrimination; and social and community issues.
- Student Watch Volunteer with Hampshire Constabulary – acting as a representative of Hampshire Constabulary to deliver information to fellow students and members of the community. Aiming to tackle local issues or concerns and working towards making Portsmouth a safer city with greater community cohesion.
- Transport Policy Support Volunteer with Portsmouth City Council - supporting the transport planning, policy and public transport sections of the team to assist with data collection and analysis, research tasks, and preparing and analysing consultations.
These opportunities will provide you with invaluable experience and an opportunity to develop and enhance multiple transferable skills that you will be able to discuss as part of future applications.
If you have any questions regarding the volunteering opportunities available to you in Portsmouth then please contact the Volunteering Team on email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tips for success when looking for experience
Make sure you carry out thorough research
Explore the various areas within the public sector before you apply for work experience; knowing what you want to specialise in will help you focus your research and ensure you gain the relevant skills. As a starting point take a look at the job profiles included on the Prospects website to consider the type of work experience recommended and the skills you will need to develop to enhance graduate applications for specific roles.
Use your networks
Utilise your personal networks to find out if anyone you already know working in different sectors can offer a work experience opportunity. When you are studying at university your network also extends to your tutors and other members of Faculty staff who may be researching in the areas that interest you. They may have opportunities or contacts they are willing to share with you.
Use your initiative and make direct contact with organisations that interest you and apply speculatively - send a targeted CV and a covering letter focused on why you are interested in them and why they should be interested in you.
Create a positive online presence
Create a LinkedIn profile to network with sector employers - see our ‘Networking with Social Media’ section for further guidance.
Making the most of your experience
Once you have secured your experience, it will be important to recognise that you will be working in a professional environment - your appearance and attitude will need to reflect this. Importantly, let your enthusiasm for the opportunity shine through and aim to get involved - a positive, ‘can do’ attitude will help you to stand out.
Many of the professional roles in the public sector will require you to demonstrate an interest in and a commitment to public issues. Therefore, take the time and opportunity to reflect upon your experience. You could keep a reflective log and address the following questions:
- What did I learn from the experience?
- What went well?
- What could I have done differently?
- What are the longer-term implications of my experience?
- Has this helped me to explore my options?
- What are my next steps?
By keeping this log you will also start to build an evidence bank of examples – implementing particular skills and showing knowledge – which can be used in future applications and/or interviews.
Before you leave your work experience
- Ask if the organisation/your manager will write you a reference to use for future applications.
- Ensure you have the contact details of colleagues who may act as mentors, sources of advice or may even help with finding employment opportunities in the future.
- Ask for feedback on your performance – this may include seeking your manager’s or colleagues’ perspective on what you need to do to further enhance your employability in order to be successful in your chosen area of work.
Make sure you have clearly identified what you have gained from the work experience in terms of skills, experience and personal development. You could complete our Key Skills Audit to help you think about the different skill sets you have developed, for example, when you have worked with others, problem solving skills and work ready skills.
Finding a job
There are many different areas within the public sector and work can be varied. You could get involved in central or local government in an administration, research or management role, law enforcement, security services, emergency services or healthcare, so some thought as to which area(s) you are particularly interested in will help you to target your job search.
It is also important to remember, that whilst applying to central government through the Civil Service Fast Stream can be attractive, there will be opportunities offered via direct application to the government department - either at national or local level. Please see the range of potential employers below:
Local Government departments
- Environmental health
- Social services
- Town planning
- Trading Standards
Civil Service departments, agencies or public bodies
- Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO)
- Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ)
- Government Economic Service (GES)
- Government Legal Profession (GLP)
- Government Operational Research Office (GORS)
- Government Social Research Profession (GSRP)
- Government Statistical Service (GSS)
- HM Revenues and Customs (HMRC)
- HM Treasury
- College of Policing
- HM Prison Service
- The Secret Intelligence Service (MI6)
- The Security Service (MI5)
Useful websites to help you start your job search
Local and Central Government, Civil Service and Public Administration
- MyCareer – Access the Careers and Employability Service's online jobs board to search the latest vacancies, save jobs and set up vacancy alerts.
- jobsgopublic – You can set up a candidate profile, keep track of your applications and create email alerts.
- Civil Service Fast Stream – The Civil Service Fast Stream is an accelerated training and development graduate programme for people who have the potential to become future leaders in the Civil Service.
- Civil Service Jobs – The Civil Service job site provides a searchable listing of all the civil service opportunities available.
- Parliament - Information, advice and details of current vacancies in parliament including working for an MP, the House of Commons and the House of Lords.
- jobs.ac.uk – UK and International jobs in academic, science, research and administrative employment including a category for politics and government.
- TotalJobs - public sector jobs – UK job search and recruitment for jobs in the public sector.
- Government Organisations – Lists central government departments, executive agencies and non-departmental public bodies.
- Local Councils – Find principal local councils throughout the UK. Browse the A to Z lists, or browse by region or county. Includes county, city, borough and district councils and unitary authorities.
Armed Forces, Emergency and Security Services
- Army – Army recruitment
- Royal Navy – Navy recruitment
- RAF – RAF recruitment
- Fire Service – Fire-fighter recruitment
- NHS Careers – Paramedic recruitment
- College of Policing – Police officer recruitment
- HM Prison Service – Prison officer recruitment
Tips for finding a job
- Keep up to date with public sector news and trends by following the professional bodies on Twitter, this information might help you identify opportunities to network and tap into the hidden job market.
- Keep your online job search flexible as some employers might use different titles to describe the same job role.
- If you are keen to focus on a specific area within the public sector then check out the private sector equivalent too as you can gain good experience and insight.
- Most organisations have a Twitter and/or Facebook account, register with them as this is often a place where new opportunities are posted, and where you can keep in touch with their current activities.
Social media feeds to follow
Check out the following Twitter and Facebook feeds for news and information about current projects and to tap into the hidden jobs market.
The Careers and Employability Service offers support to students throughout their studies and provision for graduates up to five years after graduation, with advice and guidance on:
- Career options
- Further study
- CV and covering letters
- Application forms
- Job search
We have an online jobs board advertising a variety of graduate jobs across different sectors and locations. We also have a dedicated in-house Graduate Recruitment Consultancy that delivers a personalised job matching service.
You can also access our services by calling or emailing us:
Email us: email@example.com
Phone us: +44 (0)2392 842684