Meeting business needs through workforce planning
A Foreign & Commonwealth Office case study

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Page 3: Recruitment

It is important that the FCO attracts and retains talented staff.

The recruitment process starts by attracting candidates to apply for vacancies. In the past, the FCO was seen as an organisation that only recruited people from a narrow academic background. This was a barrier and stopped many talented people from applying for posts.

Today, in order to get the best people, the FCO seeks to reach a wide audience. It advertises vacancies in newspapers and through its website. It wants to attract a diverse range of candidates. This enables the FCO to be inclusive. It also helps to change public perceptions of the organisation. This helps the FCO to deliver the best possible service.

There are three different levels for recruiting generalist staff. The entry qualifications vary, reflecting the different nature and type of roles within the FCO.

  • Administrative Assistants at this level, candidates need a minimum of two GCSEs, plus IT and office skills, as well as interpersonal and communication skills.
  • Executive Assistants requires a minimum of five GCSEs, plus team working skills, the ability to manage workloads and handle conflicting priorities.
  • Policy Entrants this level requires a degree. Competition for places is very tough and successful candidates will be expected to progress to jobs with a high level of responsibility.


The FCO wants to recruit people interested in international affairs. They must be interested in serving the interests of the UK. However, they could come from any background or community. Applicants for the FCO have to undergo a vetting process. It is important that candidates can meet the strict security requirements.

Elisha joined the FCO in January 2007 as an administrative assistant after completing a degree in public administration with managerial studies at De Montfort University, Leicester. 'As an administrative assistant you are a small but vital cog in the grand machine of the FCO. There are loads of learning and development opportunities at this grade, as well as time to think about where you are and how you want to develop within the FCO.'


The FCO uses a competency framework to assess its staffing needs. Competences help to describe the knowledge and skills that the organisation needs at each level. They provide a framework that helps to identify what actions and behaviours might be expected from individuals within the workplace.

FCO then creates job descriptions.  These highlight the key roles and responsibilities for each post. For example, these are skills and experience needed for the position of Legalisation Officer:

  • experience of working with members of the public
  • experience of administrative work
  • experience of organising and prioritising workloads
  • ability to communicate clearly and concisely, both orally and in writing
  • ability to follow set procedures and established guidelines
  • ability to produce accurate work to tight deadlines under pressure
  • good numeracy skills
  • knowledge of Word, Excel, Outlook and databases.

Foreign & Commonwealth Office | Meeting business needs through workforce planning