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Civil Service

How to break through in the Civil Service: our top tips

Images of work discussion

Colleagues from the Department for International Trade’s Digital, Data and Technology team share their tips for career progression and promotion

Are you stuck in a career cul-de-sac? If so, don’t worry, you’re not alone. Our Diversity and Inclusion group recently found that most civil servants in the Digital, Data and Technology team wanted to know more about how to progress at work and advance their career. As a result, the group started several projects such as a mentor network and inspiring career events. 

Amy Tsang
Author Amy Tsang

Along with my colleagues Elle Panes and Rachael Robinson, we created a workshop inviting people from all grades and professions to join. We wanted to host an open, frank discussion about promotions, interviews and applications and invited our colleagues to speak freely about their experiences.

Below, our speakers give their professional take on how to win your next promotion.

Sian Thomas, Chief Data Officer

I am hugely fortunate to have had fabulous line managers and mentors who supported me throughout my career journey. 

That’s why I am passionate about building talent pipelines, particularly where these include people from under-represented groups. Some of my top work moments include achieving success through the great people whose talent I have had the honour and privilege of nurturing. There is huge reward in seeing great people succeed. 

I encourage people to take time to think about what they want, and to make decisions based on this. I urge my teams to make full use of all the opportunities that present themselves, including temporary promotions, secondments and job shadowing. 

Arthi Vish, Talent Acquisition Lead

You might think that as long as you keep doing your job, promotion to a higher grade will come naturally. Unfortunately, this doesn’t happen automatically within the Civil Service. You really do have to actively apply for roles advertised both internally and externally – and don’t just apply for one role.

Use every opportunity to go the extra mile, demonstrate your commitment and remember to:

◼︎Communicate your career goals and actively seek opportunities that will help you plan and fulfil them.

◼︎Gain experience through lateral moves to gain varied experience

◼︎Demonstrate behaviours such as continuous learning, collating regular feedback and showing passion for your work by seeking 'stretch' roles.

To prepare your application (including a cover letter), read the job advert thoroughly to highlight and consider the essential skills, experience and behaviours required for the role.

Image of an interviewDuring interviews, be prepared to discuss Success Profiles and how you fulfil them. You will need to give examples of essential skills, experience and behaviours demonstrated in your current and previous roles. Don’t forget to sell yourself and your individual achievements and goals - right from the application stage of the process.

Baljit Rakhra, Senior Delivery Manager

I have been a civil servant for the last seven years. I’ve worked as an EO, HEO, SEO, Fast Streamer, Grade 7 and I am currently working as an interim Grade 6 within the Department of International Trade.

Some of the key lessons I have learnt in my time as a civil servant are to build up the necessary knowledge needed to excel in your role and in the department. Be proactive in your current role and ask for additional responsibilities to stand out from the crowd. Always maintain good relationships with colleagues in the wider organisation and across the Civil Service. This may help you in identifying new roles which you can then discuss with colleagues. 

Remember, you’re the only person who can make a decision about your readiness for the new role. Don’t depend on other people to let you know when you are ready. Take control with your own hands.

Anais Reding, Chief Engagement and Design Officer

I was asked to talk about my experience of moving from Grade 6 to the Senior Civil Service. I was recently promoted to SCS1 in the Digital, Data and Technology Directorate, having started my career in policy and joining government a few years in at HEO level. Some promotions were easier than others for me, and I wanted to encourage colleagues with some insight I was given.

Did you know that at the more senior levels, it’s not uncommon for people to submit 30+ applications before being successful? When you work towards that number, overcoming rejection becomes normal and you recognise part of it is being in the right place at the right time. And when you think retirement comes in your sixties, we all have plenty of opportunities to progress in our careers.

Careers, not jobs 

This workshop has kickstarted many insightful conversations about making the move up into a new grade. I believe this is an important subject to approach. I was personally surprised at the open and honest conversations about career progression at the Department of International Trade. 

This encourages me to think about my long-term career goals at DIT as well as inspire colleagues around me to progress, not just in their current jobs but in their long-term careers.

◼︎ Find out more about the DDaT DIT team by visiting their Digital Trade blog.

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  1. Comment by Rachel Wood posted on

    How about some advice for those of us interested in joining the Civil service- I am an army spouse and as such move every 2 years .
    I have a wealth of knowledge and skills but find myself struggling more as I get older to find even bottom feeder jobs .

  2. Comment by Reeta Sood posted on

    A positive blog surely, and at the same time, you have mentioned the challenge faced by the under-represented even if they take onus of their career development upon themselves and access mentors.

    Reasons of slow progression can be different for each individual but a positive thing is that CS departments are stirring up matters to bridge the gap in near future.

    Opportunities are being created for coaching, etc. One needs to seek these and reach out to grab or create these as these do not get offered by others. We can make a difference where we are by contributing to people strategy, asking leaders, networks, L&D, etc.

  3. Comment by Michael Bedford posted on

    Thank you for sharing this post and your reflections. What's missing for me, and a golden thread across the Civil Service, when it comes to supporting career development and progression, is the lack of awareness, investment and accessibility of coaching. Career development cannot be left to happenchance, people need to be coached to unlock their true potential and to help overcome some of the cultural and other barriers faced by colleagues, for example, under represented groups - who we know make up far less of a % of the G7+ category.

  4. Comment by Rajitha Ratnam posted on

    It would be really helpful if DDaT had a range of learning options for people in these types of roles. For example, the Government Communications Service has a curriculum that separates out learning across different grades so you have an indication of what to focus on at each stage of your career.