Alasdair Hamilton, 25, is one of the fortunate ones, landing his dream job upon graduating from university. "Government touches almost every aspect of life and the idea of being a part of that and having an impact on someone’s life appealed to me. And it appealed far more than working to improve somebody else’s bottom line did – or does today," he says.
He’s part of the team in charge of the Glasgow bid for the 2014 Commonwealth Games for the Education Department of the Scottish Executive. "I’m lucky as I’m into sport and the politics surrounding the bidding process so I actually love this job," he says.
Alasdair graduated from the University of Strathclyde in 2004 with a 2:2 in International Business and Modern Languages and started on the FastStream programme the year after. His first placement was spent working on bathing water policy and ensuring EU directives were complied with.
"Once you’ve passed the assessment board, you fill in a form asking where you’d like to work and that’s matched against the needs of the Civil Service.
"I said I wanted to work in Scottish Affairs and had a particular interest in environment and was lucky enough to end up there but it doesn’t always work that way."
Alasdair spent a year working in his students’ union and thinks this helped him develop the skills needed to be successful during the selection process. Recruiters want to see candidates demonstrate versatility, decisiveness, the ability to think quickly and build productive relationships.
"My year as a sabbatical officer gave me the chance to get some experience outside of study, and allowed me to demon–strate some of these skills. I think any opportunity you get to develop these soft skills is a real advantage and should be grabbed with both hands," he says. "The job doesn’t need specific qualifications or experience although many of the people on the programme have been involved with charities and volunteering, which helps because they’re looking for rounded people."
Within a week of starting his second placement Alasdair had to brief two ministers face–to–face with little background knowledge. "It was challenging," he recalls.
"It takes a lot of reading, although I had the support of a couple of staff members who’d been there a while."
It’s Alasdair’s job to resolve problems with the bid when they arise. "I’m in a co–ordination role so if it’s a general problem then it’s my job to get in there, get to the bottom of it, see what can be done to resolve it and if nec–essary, present the options to ministers and recommend a course of action."
Alasdair thinks one of the greatest things about the Civil Service is the diversity of the jobs on offer: "This is particularly true of the Scottish Executive, where the range of devolved –matters means that in the space of a few years you could be involved in planning huge investment in road networks, work in the Prison Service, be responsible for taking environmental–protection legislation through parliament, become a HR officer, or even to be working on a bid to host the next Commonwealth Games."
CIVIL SERVICE: BACKGROUND
The Civil Service receives 12,000 applications a year for 300 places
on its Fast–Stream programme. This allows for "top talent from universities to be brought in at the end of each academic year," says Sue Nickson, deputy head of marketing.
Specialist Fast–Stream programmes
– Economist, Statistician, GCHQ (Government Communications Headquarters) and the new Technology in Business programme (for graduates with IT skills) recruit a further 200 people.
The programme is highly structured and fast–moving. Participants move every 12 to 18 months into a different career group – corporate services, operational delivery or policy delivery. Academic ability is important, minimum entry requirements is a 2:2
in any degree discipline, but the development of soft skills like constructive thinking, communicating with impact and driving for results matter more.
"The whole application process is solely focused on assessing candidates through the Fast–Track competency framework," says Sue, who explains that the trained assessors don’t have any background knowledge of candidates.
"This makes for a very fair system for the applicants," she says.