What is Civil Service?

Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum

Civil service is a term that is commonly used in identifying governmental functions in many different types of government around the world. The term is utilized in two similar but distinct manners. Just about every nation in the world today has at least one department of civil service as part of the overall structure.

Sanitation workers employed by a municipality are considered civil servants.
Sanitation workers employed by a municipality are considered civil servants.

One common usage of the term “civil service” has to do with the specific arm or branch of government service that oversees the hiring process. In this application, a specific department will set employment standards that are observed by the other departments that make up the government administrative arm. It is not unusual for the this department to develop and administer all examinations related to potential employment with the government in question. At the same time, the department may also define and oversee the criteria for merit raises and other employee benefits.

The second use of civil service is as a more general term. When this is the case, the phrase may refer to any of the many departments that make up a government. In most instances, this will be a sweeping application that will include all departments except the military arms of the government. However, there is some variance in just how broad the application will be. In some nations, civil service is defined as applying to any and all government entities, while in others the term is understood to mainly focus on departments concerned with clerical or administrative functions.

Persons who are employed in the field of civil service are often referred to as civil servants. The civil servant may be an employee of any federal, state, or local government. Traditions vary on this point. For example, it is not uncommon for employees of local municipalities in the United States to be referred to as civil servants. In the United Kingdom, the term is limited to government employees who are considered Crown employees, thus excluding city or county employees.

Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum

After many years in the teleconferencing industry, Michael decided to embrace his passion for trivia, research, and writing by becoming a full-time freelance writer. Since then, he has contributed articles to a variety of print and online publications, including wiseGEEK, and his work has also appeared in poetry collections, devotional anthologies, and several newspapers. Malcolm’s other interests include collecting vinyl records, minor league baseball, and cycling.

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Civil service has to go through reform like everything else, though. Two big civil service reforms in the US were the Pendleton Civil Service Reform Act of 1883 and the Hatch Act of 1939.. The Pendleton Civil Service reform enforced that appointments be made based on merit rather than in support of a political party. And the Hatch Act forbade civil servants from engaging in political activities.


I would really love to learn about how Civil Service works in other countries. I know in United States, Federal Civil Service employees work in Washington DC or other locations in the US in a collaborative effort with Foreign Service employees abroad, under the Department of State. US civil servants work on a wide range of issues such as improving trade opportunities for US businesses or monitoring human rights issues. The civil service selection process takes place through an online automated hiring system and civil servant benefits include healthcare, educational and personal development programs.

So how does it work in your country, what do civil servants do?


Some common types of civil service jobs include teachers, museum curators, and government workers. You could also be considered a civil servant if you are a doctor, lawyer, or childcare provider who does these things as part of a government program, such as a free health clinic, or are employed by the state, such as a district attorney.

These definitions can matter sometimes more than you might expect, because many college graduates are now searching for "civil servant" jobs that will forgive some of their loans while they work there.

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