Recruitment and Promotion

The Civil Service Code says that civil servants must be appointed on merit on the basis of fair and open competition.  This note provides additional practical advice in this area.

The Basic Rules

It is fairly straightforward to arrange a level transfer (i.e. without a significant pay rise) of an official from one job to another. But the need to avoid nepotism and favouritism means that you need to take great care when appointing someone from outside the civil service, or promoting someone from within it. The basic rules for these appointments are as follows.

  • All such appointments must be made on the basis of fair and open competition.
  • All prospective applicants must be given equal and reasonable access to adequate information about the job and its requirements, and about the selection process.
  • All applicants must be considered equally on merit at each stage of the selection process.
  • Selection must be based on relevant criteria applied consistently to all the candidates.
  • Selection techniques must be reliable and guard against bias.

You cannot therefore appoint someone to a job without an advertisement and competition, even if you believe them to be ideally or uniquely suitable. There are limited exceptions, such as for temporary appointments and inward secondees, but you should take a close look at the relevant guidance, and consult your HR team, before attempting to make use of such exceptions.

How to Choose the Right Person

This is the most difficult bit, partly because we are often reluctant to spell out exactly what attributes we don't want, as well as what we do want.  There is, for instance, plenty of room for shy, retiring, academic individuals in some parts of the civil service, but many Whitehall and other jobs require staff to be friendly, self-starting, clear communicators and so on.  These attributes need to be spelt out and appraised, or else you will end up appointing an unemployable genius - great at completing crosswords but quite incapable of making decisions or managing fellow humans with all their faults and frailties. 

Some more detailed thoughts are here.

You also need to make it clear if a job is particularly demanding and/or stressful.  The civil service is generally large enough to be able to support someone who falls ill, at least for some months, but some of the more senior jobs, or jobs which bring staff into contact with Ministers or difficult members of the public, must be filled by robust characters with strong constitutions.  It is most unfair to clients, as well as to appointees, to appoint gentler characters to such demanding positions, for they are bound to fail.


And don’t forget the need for high quality induction to follow any recruitment process.  This is too often neglected, especially in the case of senior appointments; this is one of the reasons why I developed this website. 

It is particularly important that new entrants to the profession are introduced to the Civil Service Code, and come to understand its importance and implications.  There should be no question of local mission statements or departmental core values overriding the provisions of the code.


Martin Stanley

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