GCHQ: good employer, poor recruiter?

16 Mar 2012
Posted by matt

I recently applied for a job at GCHQ in Cheltenham. I didn't get it, so disclosing this publicly should be safe ;-). I won't say anything here about the position, other than it involved research that was potentially very interesting to me. However, I will note a few of the points which made it such a one-sided experience.


Working for GCHQ involves first obtaining security clearance, so prior to attending an interview candidates are asked to complete a package of forms covering all kinds of minutiae. A little paperwork is a necessary evil, but this was not a little paperwork. The array of forms (over 40 pages) is surprisingly time consuming to complete, requiring you to look up various figures, dates, addresses, etc. So I would suggest it is perhaps not entirely reasonable to expect candidates to complete these in less than a week, although my real issue lies with the existence of such a requirement at this stage.

The only good argument for requiring all candidates to complete these forms is that it speeds up the appointment process. Forms can then be checked over at the assessment event, and processing can begin as soon as a decision has been made. However, it is not uncommon to take six months to acquire security clearance, so a week or twos head start becomes fairly insignificant. Therefore, I am left wondering if it is purely for the marginal convenience of the recruiter at the notable inconvenience of 80% of candidates? Other requirements were to provide a set of four passport sized photographs and a credit report obtained from Experian. Both of these were at the candidates expense with no reimbursement, which brings me to the second point.


GCHQ pay for travel and accommodation expenses for candidates to attend their premises for the interview (i.e. a fairly standard arrangement). Provided you supply receipts, this covers a standard class train ticket and one night in a hotel (up to £55). In my case it was more convenient and much cheaper to travel by private car and stay with family some 13 miles from their premises. However, in return for reducing their costs, I was not entitled to have my costs covered.

Whilst it is customary for mileage allowance to include some component for wear/maintenance, GCHQ offer only 15 pence per mile, so you will need to average over 40mpg just to cover petrol. As it happens, I sometimes get that efficiency, but the extra mileage to stay overnight for free with family got amended on my claim. I was only reimbursed for the minimum mileage between my home address and their premises according to Google Maps. So I guess I should have booked a hotel in Cheltenham.


It is understandable that applying to an organisation such as this is likely to be an unusually one-sided experience. Without security clearance, the recruiters are unable to talk to you in detail about the work you would be doing in the role, or indeed what the organisation actually does. Therefore, I had hoped some efforts to counter this imbalance might have been evident, whereas in reality the experience seemed to accentuate it. Even my email requests for feedback from the day were completely ignored, without even a note to politely inform me that this is not available.

Closing remarks: I appreciate this might read like a rant because I wasn't offered a job, but really, I think they can do better.