The Civil Service - Apprentice Style
When the job pack arrived on my doorstep I was elated.
I had come across information about the Civil Service Fast Track one Sunday when my parents insisted I start looking for work. I’ve always wanted to work in London and Human Resources was an area I was interested in. I clicked on the site and along with around 20,000 other hopefuls I took the first round of trial tests.
I nearly gave up at the first hurdle as the online questions were challenging and the added pressure of the time restraint made the whole experience quite daunting. They were only a practice and I decided that this exercise had to be completed when I was more alert rather than slightly hungover on a Sunday evening.
Once I had completed the initial test, I received an email telling me that I had got through to the second stage. I began to imagine what getting the job would mean and suddenly it became quite exciting.
Don't give up
The second round of online testing was even more stressful than the first with a variety of exercises, including an e-tray task, which can only be described as a complex and nuanced comprehension. By now I was totally invested in the process but had to wait almost two months until I heard the result.
In January the aforementioned pack dropped through my letter box. I had until March to prepare for the interview day. Alongside finishing my degree, I spent hours working through the preparation pack and materials.
I knew that I was going to be assessed against certain competencies and my ability to make decisions, see the bigger picture, lead, communicate, collaborate and deliver. I reflected that the whole process was like a 360 degree review of me and how I would fare in my working life. I had mock interviews with career advisors, my parents and anyone who might throw alternative questions at me.
Learning about yourself
The whole process helped to spring clean my attitudes and beliefs and I considered issues that had never crossed my mind before starting the process. It was fascinating and made for many lively discussions with family and friends.
On the day of my interview, I was due in the Assessment Centre at 8.45am and would not leave until 5pm that evening. I was nervous beforehand but once there I felt calm. Several other candidates streamed through the door and we were each handed our individual programme. As we all chatted, I noticed that the majority of the candidates were older than me and in a strange way this made me feel better. After the welcome and the usual Health and Safety reminders we were led into an assessment room.
Apprentice style testing
I was given notes in preparation for the first trial, the group exercise. I had to explore the ways in which to reduce unemployment amongst 18-25 year olds whilst not alienating older employees. I was tasked with arguing for one proposal and opposing another. I had to consider the pros and cons of my proposal and evaluate the other possibilities - in forty minutes. I was then taken into a room with a large table where 6 other candidates sat, each with their own agenda. It felt a lot like The Apprentice.
The discussion was fast paced and I was keenly aware that an assessor was in the corner taking notes throughout the whole process. Immediately after this I was sent to a room to complete a self-review form (which you had to complete after every exercise.) I realised that although I had stated my case, I allowed myself to be too easily swayed by others. I had that familiar feeling of why-didn’t-I-say-this or why-didn’t-I-stand-up-for-myself.
Time to reflect
After a welcome ten minute break I was led back into the room. We were all given a pack to prepare for the Leadership Exercise. I had to consider whether young pupils should make decisions on modules studied at school. In my pack was a synopsis of the imaginary proposal and team. I was given a clear outline of my teams strengths and weaknesses and then asked to assign them roles in the project.
The follow up to this was a mock-meeting with an assessor where I outlined my plans. His role was to evaluate my managerial qualities and how I fared against the necessary competencies. Like everyone in the process he was very fair and gave me the opportunity to put right anything I had omitted in my findings.
A word of advice
After lunch was the interview, the most important part. I felt confident in this one to one situation. That being said, it was the most intense interview I’d ever engaged in. The assessors are trained to really push you hard down avenues of thought in order to assess your competencies. I would advise anyone preparing for a similar interview to have a wide variety of examples across School, University and wider life so you’re well prepared for this section.
We then had a Policy Recommendation Exercise, the final test. We were given facts and figures and expected to write a recommendation based on them. I liked the topic, literacy intervention in primary schools and what age literacy intervention policies should be targeted.
I travelled home in a daze. I really couldn’t tell anyone how I had got on. It was all a blur of policies, documents, assessments and interviews.
I was understandably disappointed not to get in.
If I was to go through the process again, I would probably not have tried to combine my last hectic term at university with the application. Most of the other candidates were older with more experience to draw upon. I would be better off to try again a year or two after working in a full-time job, but it was most certainly a useful learning curve.
Alice Short is an Essex girl who spent her time at the University of East Anglia balancing nights in clubs with days working in the Library. She put her writing skills to good use, contributing to the University Writers Service, WRITE and Concrete, the student newspaper. A career in Marketing or Journalism beckons.