Career Guidance

Applying for a public sector job

Written byJess Littlewood
14 June 2024

So you are a built environment professional with private sector experience looking to secure a job in the public sector? Great, you have come to the right place!

This guide will help you with some general information on how to find a job and what to expect from the application process. It's worth noting that each Authority may have a slightly different approach to recruiting staff, so this guide is meant to provide general guidance rather than specific advice.

Public vs Private Sector

Applying for a role in the Public Sector will typically be a more structured and formal process than roles you may have applied for in the private sector. Public sector recruitment processes tend to involve standardised application forms and specific eligibility criteria. For example:

  • You may not be required to submit your portfolios or work samples until a later stage, if at all.
  • There can also be more flexibility in qualifications; for example, to work in the public sector, being a qualified architect is not required (part 3 status and on the ARB register). However, most public sector organisations do ask for a relevant degree or equivalent experience in this field, which could be anything from a bachelor's degree (part 1 status) and above.
  • There is a focus on equal opportunities, diversity and inclusion in the hiring process, so your network or referrals will have less significance than in the private sector.
  • You may find that many public sector organisations anonymise applications and ask you to remove names or identifying information that could lead to bias in the hiring process.

Finding a Job

Look on the local authorities' websites near you or spread your search further if you are willing to commute or relocate. Remember that many Authorities have flexible working schedules, so a longer commute for 1-3 days a week may be more manageable for you.

Either use a search engine to type the local authorities name and “job”, or you can often quickly find the jobs section by scrolling down to the Authority homepage footer and finding a link for ”jobs” or “careers”. This will take you to all the open vacancies in the Authority.

Scroll through or use the filter function to find roles you’re interested in and match your skills and experience level. There can often be many jobs listed here, so use the filter function and have a read of the job descriptions, even if they don't immediately sound like a match to you. For example, after reading the job details, you may find that a Principal Planning role is well suited to an architect or engineer. Depending on the council, the careers/job section may also contain useful articles, including what to expect from the application process, staff benefits, and information about the team.

A good thing about public sector job advertisements is that there is often greater transparency around salary and benefits, so you know what is on offer upfront.

However, there can be less space to negotiate on salary, so we do not recommend applying to a role where the salary band sits below your minimum salary expectations.


If you are specifically looking for senior roles (£60k+) you can also sign-up to our Jobs Board Alerts and regularly check our own curated Jobs Board on this website too.

Review the Job Description

Review the role carefully and read the job description to understand its responsibilities and requirements. Coming from the private sector, you may have more experience in some of the required background or skills areas and less or none in others. You may not match all the skills requirements listed, but you have other skills you can bring to the role. The local authority may have provided contact details in the job description, feel free to contact the hiring manager with any questions you may have.

Many public sector roles include a 'Person Specification' document or 'Competency Framework' for the role, and keep these in mind when making your application. These are what you will be assessed against throughout the recruitment process. Some examples of competencies you may see are:

  • Teamwork and Collaboration
  • Project Management
  • Strategic Decision-Making

Submit an Application

The application process and length will differ depending on the organisation, type of role and seniority. We always suggest submitting a couple of days before the deadline, as the process may be longer than you initially think, and you want to allow yourself enough time to tailor your answers appropriately.

Applications to the public sector tend to be made via an application form, and you are often required to set up an account first, before accessing the form. Common information collected on an application form includes:

  • Personal details such as ethnicity, disability, religion, and sexual orientation (there should always be an option to select “prefer not to say” to these questions)
  • Supporting Statement addressing how you believe your qualifications, skills, knowledge, and experience match the job description
  • Previous employment and education history - which can often require input into the form directly or by uploading a CV.
  • Application Questions - looking to assess your skills, competencies and knowledge, these will be marked and used to determine which applicants are shortlisted.
  • Professional Reference contact details

You may be asked to upload a CV document or input this information directly into the application form. It's good practice to keep a copy so you can copy and paste the details across. This means you can check for spelling errors, too.

Your CV should NOT include:

  • date of birth
  • Your address
  • a photo of yourself
  • Personal details such as ethnicity, disability, religion, marital status and sexual orientation

This information can allow for bias in the recruitment process and is not necessary.

What to include

Professional Summary/Supporting Statement

This is an initial glimpse into your CV. It should offer a concise overview of your career and skills. Align this summary with the role you are applying to and demonstrate your interest in the position and your passion for joining the public sector. Focus on relevant experience and skills that can convey how your abilities align with the job's criteria. We suggest you write this in the first person.

Work Experience

List all relevant work experience in a consistent format, including role, dates, organisation, location and responsibilities, starting with the most recent work at the top of the list. Remember, a job title may mean different things in different sectors, so highlight your key responsibilities for each role and be specific about your skills and experience. You can also tailor these to the role you are applying for to ensure you're demonstrating where you have experience and skills that matche the role requirements. Here's an example:

Architectural Assistant

June 2017- August 2018

Public Practice, London

  • Oversaw the feasibility, design, and construction of a project.
  • Led an internal team of Architects and Architectural Assistants to meet the project deadlines.
  • Designed and specified the building through the various RIBA work stages.
  • Worked closely with the client, stakeholders, and local community to understand the requirements for the project.
  • Led the design team as Lead Designer and coordinated the design with the team of consultants, including Structural Engineers, M&E Engineers, Acoustic Engineers, Fire Consultants, Access Consultants, Theatre Consultants, and Landscape Architect.

Education

List all your education and training background with relevant achievements and awards. Starting with the most recent qualification at the top of the list. Here's an example:

Architecture Postgraduate Diploma in Professional Practice (Part III)

September 2018 - September 2019

The University of xxxx

Professional Memberships & Other Key Achievements

Name of any professional memberships with registration numbers, if relevant. If you have won awards, scholarships, published articles, can speak additional languages, volunteered or been involved in other relevant projects outside of your professional experience, you can list these here too.

Use our CV template

  • View the Google Doc

  • Download the Word Doc

    Download

Initial Screening and Shortlisting

The HR team or hiring manager will review the submitted applications and ensure they meet the basic requirements. If you don't meet these requirements, you may be screened out at this point. For example, the Right to Work in the UK or if the role requires a specific qualification, only applicants with this qualification will progress.

After the initial screening, applications will be scored and shortlisted based on their answers to the application form. Those successfully shortlisted will be informed and invited to the next stage of the recruitment process, which may be an in-person or online interview or an assessment that evaluates your knowledge, skills, and competencies to determine whether you are a suitable candidate.

Key Takeaways

  • Applications often use standardised forms and specific eligibility criteria

  • Do your research

  • Don't be afraid to contact the hiring contact for more information

  • Tailor your answers and CVs to the job description

Written by

Jess Littlewood

Programmes Manager

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