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A simple guide to applying for a job at the GDS

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: GDS team

If we want to carry on doing amazing things here at GDS then we need to carry on building up the world-class digital talent in Government. We already have some excellent people in the team and there’s more on the way, but we know some of you find our application process a bit daunting.  So we’ve put together this simple guide to making a great application to GDS. It applies equally well to all our jobs, although right now it’s especially relevant for software developers.

The first thing to know is that we have a fair and open process that’s designed to help us recruit really good people and that these people are selected on merit.  What it comes down to is that there’s a job description for each role, which tells you what we’re looking for, and the application form which we use to assess applicant’s suitability using some simple criteria.  Once we’ve sifted the applications, we’ll call some people for interview; everyone who gets through to the interview stage gets asked a consistent set of questions for that role.  The interviews are pretty searching, but we find that the really good candidates tell us they’re also quite enjoyable.

Finding the job description and the application form

You'll need to head over to the Civil Service jobs page. From the Department section, pick "Cabinet Office excl agencies". Then, click the Search button. However here is a link to a pre-filtered list of Cabinet Office jobs: here

Screenshot of the Civil Service jobs page-click for Cabinet Office jobs

Now you’ll see a page listing all the Cabinet Office vacancies. Click on the one you’re interested in, and you’ll see a summary of the job location, the financial package, and so on. Now scroll all the way down and you’ll see some links to the “supporting files” at the bottom of the page (it’s the red text). Click on these links to download the files.

Screenshot of Civil Service Jobs site- showing files to be downloaded for application

How to write a good application

The Person Spec file is where you’ll find details of the requirements we’re looking for which you need to provide evidence for in the application form, and that’s the key to a great application.

Screen shot of a person specification

The text shown above is from a post we recently advertised, showing the essential requirements for that role in the category of Leading and Teamworking. (In the Civil Service, these categories are known as competencies.)  When we read your application form, we want to see specific example(s) for each category of how you personally have met the requirements we’re looking for. Some people like to structure their answers into Context, Actions and Results (CAR). We need to see clear evidence that you meet the requirements listed as “essential” for each category; if you can also show how you meet the “desirable” requirements then it will help you to stand out against other applicants.  This isn’t the time to be shy - tell us what you did, not what your team or your company did, and make sure you’ve given us clear evidence that you meet the requirements for each category.

Pay particular attention to the Specialist Skills category.  Most of the roles GDS is recruiting for are “specialist roles”, which means that when we’re marking the applications we assign extra points to really good specialist skills. The rules of the application process are that we don’t get the opportunity to see your CV, so the specialist skills section is your chance to prove that your experience is better than the other applications we'll receive.  If you just list your skills or the technologies you’ve worked on, without examples of what you’ve actually done or how you contributed to specific products or projects, then your chances of getting an interview will drop significantly.

When you’re done, run it through the spell checker and then ask a friend to read it through carefully. They need to check whether you’ve given clear evidence of how you meet the requirements in each category. Make any changes needed, read it again once more, and then email it to the address given at the end of the Person Specification. Make sure you get it in before the closing date!

What happens next

When the job advert reaches closing date we will be sent all the applications for that role. We don't have access to your application before then, nor do we process any of them before the closing date.  We’ll sift all the applications and then get in touch to let you know whether or not you’ve got an interview. We’ll aim to get interviews done within two to three weeks of the application deadline - some roles include a written assessment or a presentation, and if you’re called to interview then you’ll get more information about what to expect well in advance.

If you’ve got any questions, please post a comment and we’ll do our best to reply. Best of luck with your application to GDS!

Key files to download and read

Person Spec: Tells you the application deadline, what we’re looking for in each category (the essential requirements), who to email if you have any questions about the role, and how to return your completed application.
Application Form: to be completed by all applicants, this is where you provide examples demonstrating your suitability for the role.
Diversity Form: to be completed by all applicants, this is part of our equal opportunities policy. We won’t use this information to assess any applications.
Guaranteed Interview Scheme (GIS) Form: This is important to you if you are disabled and wish to apply for a role. Under the Civil Service GIS, the Civil Service guarantees to interview anyone with a disability whose application meets the minimum criteria for the post.
Information Pack: GDS is part of the Cabinet Office, and this file has general information you may find useful about working for the Cabinet Office.

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  1. Comment by Web Design Darwen posted on

    What are the qualification requirements and where do i find information on curren vacancies??

  2. Comment by Mike posted on

    So 'total package' includes pension contributions?

    Very naughty, even the private sector wouldn't advertise a job in such a way. Puts me off straight away...

  3. Comment by Removals Hounslow posted on

    i'd love to work from home, but there isn't anything suitable

  4. Comment by GOV.UK beta | posted on

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  5. Comment by Etienne Pollard posted on


    Thanks for the comments and questions. Some of the feedback we got suggested that people found the application process a little onerous or unusual (especially for software developer roles) so we are trying to be helpful by clarifying the application process as much as we can, and providing some practical reminders for the things that even great applicants sometimes overlook at the last minute (e.g. final run through with the spell checker).

    stukershaw - unfortunately we don't have any roles open for people to work from home - we're based in central London, and we need people who are able to come into the office most days. Some of our staff do work from home occasionally, but it's predominantly office-based.

    Chris - the grade we're recruiting for is actually called Band A - we're part of the Cabinet Office, which doesn't have separate Grade 6 and Grade 7 jobs, just a single Band A. The roles are, however, being advertised at the moment as both Grade 6 and Grade 7 because of a technical problem with the central civil service jobs website. It doesn't matter whether you apply for the Grade 6 or the Grade 7 role - they're both the same. The financial value of the package is calculated as base salary + employer's contribution towards civil service pension scheme.

    Finally, on the "desirable" vs "essential" competencies - we don't require managerial experience, but we do want people who can work as part of an agile team. This means we want developers who can interact confidently with end users and non-technical colleagues, as well as being really great software developers, hence some of the less obvious competencies that are listed.

    Hope that helps. If you've got any more questions, please let us know in the comments.

    Etienne Pollard
    Deputy Director, GDS Business Proposition

  6. Comment by Chris posted on

    Hi James, Thanks for this. Not sure I understand the comments above. These are surely just a few pointers to try to help people and to stop them wasting their time. If they don't need the help, great, but why come on here to complain about the guidance?

    Anyway, I do have a couple of questions.

    1) The developer jobs are at grade 6 and 7 but both have the rather vague "Total package of up to £73,000 per annum" which presumably isn't true for both grades, or is it? Is it possible to get more specific information on pay?

    2) A lot of the "essential" and "desirable" skills seem to be more to do with management than development and these seem, if not directly at odds with the job description, at least unnecessary. How much managerial experience is necessary for these roles? And if not specifically required, why the heavy weighting on these skills?


  7. Comment by Louise posted on

    Jeez, do you really need to tell people to run their application through a spell check? They must be really amazing people! And 'competencies' are used nearly everywhere, not just in the civil service. If this is the tone of voice you're taking on the website, I know of many users that will find it extremely patronising.

  8. Comment by Bob Wachovski posted on

    An excellent person will, by definition, not got through this ludicrous process (no doubt the first of many insane life-wasting processes that characterise modern UK government).

    It's a perfect filter, showing exactly who should be on the Golgfricham 'B' Ark. As Arthur Dent put it, you're all bloody useless.

  9. Comment by stukershaw posted on

    Well I suppose this is progress. Are there any jobs that I can do working from home? As I care full time for my disabled son, it would be impossible for me to work from anywhere else, what with the complete lack of specialist childcare in my area etc.