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What it’s like to work in the civil service

Kayleigh works in the civil service and shares how her constant learning and determination has led her to climb the ladder quickly.

When I was at school, I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to do when I ‘grew up’.  I don’t remember what my answer was when someone would ask me what I wanted to be.

I enjoyed dancing, acting and writing so when I went to college I decided to do dance, performing arts and English language and literature at A-Level. But I quickly realised that higher education was not for me and although I completed college and got reasonable grades. 

Starting work in the civil service

I worked in retail until I was 23 when I’d realised I enjoyed management and project work. I saw a job advertised at a local government department as part of the civil service, which promised good benefits and progression opportunities. So I applied and was successful at the interview and even got moved up one grade before I’d started!

I started off as an administration assistant, learning the ropes and how things worked but I always made sure to make it clear to my manager that I was interested in taking on work that was above my grade to be able to gain experience.

Read more: Why it doesn’t matter if you don’t know what you want to do 

I’m lucky that I’m a fast learner and within six months of joining I began to deputise for my manager when she was on holiday. This gave me experience in how to deal with people and gave me confidence in dealing with complaints from customers and coming up with quick fixes and long-term solutions. 

Getting promoted

I moved to different departments to broaden my experience and knowledge which enabled me to deal with different types of stakeholders and customers. I also volunteered for working groups, attending problem-solving events and leading some workshops where I had a good knowledge of the work. This enabled me to get my name out there in the wider department, which I found was key when coming to apply for promotions as internal interviewers knew me and the work I had produced.

After being an admin assistant for three years I gained promotion to line manager and moved departments to manage a team of 15 people in a busy and high-pressured environment. There was a huge change coming to the service as the work was moving into the 21st century and digital working methods were being brought in. This was a huge eye-opener for me as I didn’t know anyone in this department, I didn’t know the work or the people in my team. Here I was coming in as a 27-year-old to tell these people who had been doing their jobs for 20 years how to do their jobs!

Always developing

Dealing with bringing change into the workplace gave me skills in project working, which I began to really enjoy. From this, I decided to get more involved in the project-side of the management role, which gave me really good competencies when it came to applying for promotion again. 

This time it was a temporary promotion to be a delivery manager, overseeing the running of a whole department, managing line managers, ensuring targets were met, coming up with working methods to improve our statistics, reporting to my senior manager, attending meetings with external stakeholders, reporting to senior members of the civil service, overseeing building management works and issues and much more.

Challenging myself

This was a massive step up from line managing and was a baptism of fire. I experienced many challenges in this role, one of them being seen as an ‘outsider’ as I was working in a rival city to my own and had to work harder to gain trust in my staff, which I eventually managed to do with Friday quizzes which had prizes involved. I also made sure to recognise my staff for their good work.

Due to the nature of this role, unfortunately, there was no likelihood of a permanent position, so applied for a few permanent roles within operations. One I was successful at interview but turned down due to the travelling and one I wasn’t successful.

The next step

When I saw an advert on the civil service internal jobs website for a permanent role at my grade but in a completely different area I decided to apply.

This would involve moving from operations into a role in headquarters, working as a project support and ‘business as usual’ support. I had learnt a lot during my 18 months as a delivery manager and I felt I had the competencies to meet the job criteria.

I managed to get an interview for this and travelled to London. After the interview, I had a feeling I hadn’t done very well as I wasn’t prepared for the nature of the questions being so different from interviews I was used to in the operations environment. My hunch was correct and I wasn’t successful at that point. 

Giving it another shot

I made sure to gain feedback from the interview panel to ensure that if a role were to come up in future, that I would nail it next time. Luckily, six months later the same position came up, I applied and gained an interview. I used the feedback from the previous interview, and this time I also did an interview practice with an old colleague of mine who had already moved into operations. He was also able to give me some hints and tips. This time I was successful! 

Now, I’m working in development, still in the civil service, based in London. I travel to London once a week to meet with my team but other than that, I can work from home or from a local government building.

I am involved in several projects, which is very rewarding and will directly affect the changes being brought in across the civil service to modernise the way we work with the public. It’s been a huge learning curve and year on, I’m still learning every day.  

Do you want to work in the civil service?

For anyone who is thinking about a career in the civil service I would say research which area you’d like to join as you want to be interested in your line of work. The civil service offers really good progression if you want it, but you need to put the work in and make those in charge know you want it. Be open to change as the civil service is always looking for ways to improve services and customer experience.

Looking back now, I’d probably tell my teenage self not to worry about the future and that everything will work out well. Hard work and dedication does pay off.

To find out more about working in the civil service, click here.

Bex Bastable
Bex Bastable
Bex is a journalist and the co-founder of The Women's Work Collective.


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