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I think I have been offered a job in the Civil Service (in the UK), but my communication with the in-house recruiter is akin to being catfished. What's happening?

The recruiter has never suggested the role is uncertain -- but contact is sparse, his phone is almost always off or busy, email responses take over a week, and this whole process has taken nearly half a year?

I've asked on 5 separate occasions for contact details of my new team. The recruiter always enthusiastically agrees, but no details given to date.

Timeline:

  • August: applied
  • September: interviewed
  • October: provisional offer
  • November: security/reference checks
  • December (early): DBS (criminal background) check complete
  • December (mid): asked about start date (Feb. 1st)

I was told I would receive my employment contract immediately after security checks were completed 5 weeks ago -- nothing to date. The recruiter says "HR and SSCL [third-party employment processor] are finalising details".

I want the job -- the organisation as a whole has a good culture, and the role is a fantastic opportunity for me, but...

Without a contract, details of my new manager or team, or any starting information, I don't feel safe giving notice and resigning from my current job.

  • Is there some sensible threshold, even without a contract, that it would make sense to give notice for this new role (e.g., an email from my new line manager)?
  • Why would it be so difficult for the recruiter to simply tell me who my line manager is and introduce us?
  • Why wouldn't the manager herself be interested in contacting me?
  • Any advice for securing this role while minimising risk to staying employed?

Update:

I received my contract today. The UK Civil Service uses a third party to do employment checks and create contracts. Answers here spurred me to contact this third party directly, and I learned that the Civil Service had not followed the rules when submitting my application -- my Civil Service recruiter didn't know this. Once I explained this to my recruiter, he made corrections, and the process continued.

I also received contact from my new line manager. The lack of this communication is exactly for all the reasons described in the answers below. My case was particularly exacerbated by an over-extended recruiter who could rarely respond, and who was not connected enough to stay in sync with problems with the hiring process. I can absolutely commend all the advice given here:

The UK Civil Service is large, slow-moving, under-resourced, and internal communication breaks down -- have patience, and proactively keep communication going to ensure the hiring process keeps moving!

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    Have you tried directly reaching out to the company? – sf02 Jan 11 at 15:24
  • I'm open to direct communication -- but it's a very large government organisation (one of the ministries), and I don't know the appropriate contact -- or the appropriate etiquette? Surely if someone there wanted to fill this role, he or she would be interested in reaching out? – American Gromit Jan 11 at 15:26
  • In my experience, recruiters level in the range of good/helpful/skilled to lazy/unmotivated/lacking in talent. The scale is anywhere in between, and it sounds like you've found someone on the lower end of the scale. – Kaizerwolf Jan 11 at 16:34
  • Have you actually had an interview or are you gotten an offer without any contact except for this recruiter? Also, please add country because, of course, we don't call government orgs in the US ministries. – pboss3010 Jan 11 at 19:12
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    I had been chasing the recruiter for an update -- about once a week. Everyone who has commented and answered here has provided useful and correct feedback, even if just to form my question better. In fact, I wish I could good give the early answers more credit, as they helped me shape a better question which lead to the accepted answer. – American Gromit Jan 22 at 19:20
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I worked for the UK Civil Service, and others of my relatives do still. What you are experiencing is not unusual.

Recruiting in the Civil Service is very bureaucratic, from the point of view of both applicant and hirer. Individual applications can be, and often are, delayed for seemingly inconsequential reasons - changes in funding, department reorganisations, HR reorganisations, changes in management etc. Civil Service HR are also a bit reluctant to communicate details of what is going on because those details are often boringly bureaucratic. Hence they appear uncommunicative. Several months between being told they want to hire you and getting a formal offer are far from unusual.

The good news is that this delay doesn't mean you are going to be rejected. Most, but not all, people who are told "we want to make you an offer" will get an offer made. However don't give notice to your current job until you have a formal offer. Make it clear to the recruiter how much notice you have to give, and tell them you can't start until that long after you have the formal offer. Don't worry that they might object to this, they are used to it.

Your recruiter may not know for sure who your line manager is going to be, and even if they do the civil service culture is not let things like that be known until they are certain. Again, don't see it as a problem. There are "procedures" in the civil services that make it more difficult for your potential manager to contact you, and if they did they couldn't tell you much because they are bound by laws of secrecy. (Yes, even if you are going to be working for an obscure and unimportant department).

Plenty of people go through this wave of bureaucracy and get hired, going to to happy and productive careers. My niece's application took easily as long as yours to process - so long that she interviewed and turned down several jobs and spent a couple of months stacking shelves at Waitrose while she waited. But she has never regretted it. Civil service recruiters are used to the process, and most are adept in navigating through the structural and bureaucratic changes to get the people they want.

In general assuming that your recruiter is receiving your emails addressed to the official domain name for the organization they are not catfishing you. If you want to check, phone the official number of the place you will be working and ask to speak to the recruiter by name. Even if you don't get to speak to them you can leave a message, and then check the person in the emails knows what is in it.

In normal times your interview would have been in person at a civil service establishment, and the possibility of catfishing can be eliminated.

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To answer all your questions: There is no way for any of us to know any of this.

In addition to Snow's excellent advise, I would suggest that going forward to never stop looking\interviewing for opportunities until you actually start the new job.

Don't assume the job is yours until it is. Keep the job search/interviewing process going until the end.

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  • This answer caused me to rephrase the original question, leading to even more useful answers! – American Gromit Jan 22 at 19:23
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You may need to be patient a little while longer.

As you're aware, this process is reaching it's end at the end of the year when people typically take more time off. People are tending to take more than usual time off this year because of the whole pandemic thing going on (many people have cancelled their usual summer vacation because they have nowhere to vacation to).

So there's a likelihood that many people in the relevant department/teams have been absent or are busy covering for the people who are on vacation (on a "use or or lose it" basis that the end of the vacation year).

Basically, keep trying and you'll get through eventually.

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  • This was a large factor in my situation -- the time of year + the pandemic + mass holiday-taking lead to huge slow downs. – American Gromit Jan 22 at 19:24
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Some organizations and recruiters are super slow. That's sad, but it's their prerogative.

What that doesn't mean however is that you should take an inordinate risk. You simply tell them "look, I have to give X amount of notice at my current job. I will give that notice the minute I have a contract in hand and have spoken to the manager I'll be working for, and then I'll be able to start with you Y amount later." If they need to take longer it can't put you in a bind - they slip the date getting you stuff it slips your notice date and your start date. That's on them not on you and it's fair to make that clear as it's a fundamental professional expectation.

And then you just keep reminding them to keep the process moving, try to get on interactive discussions (calls etc) instead of just sending emails, follow up about 2x/week (more is overly needy unless it's a crisis and less will generate worse results).

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    This answer spurred me to wait for the contract, and also to proactively chase the third party organisation that my new employer was using to create/process my contract -- by pursuing them, I learned why and where the large bureaucracy had dropped the ball. – American Gromit Jan 22 at 19:26

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