Civil Service, name generally given to paid non-military service in non-elective office in the executive branch of government. The term does not apply properly to service in the legislative and judicial branches. In certain countries, notably Great Britain, the term civil service is used to denote only positions in the national government; in others, including France and the United States, the term is applied to governmental positions on all levels, from federal to municipal. Civil service employees in most modern countries are selected by competitive examination. Imperial China applied this system first and most effectively, and many of the characteristics of its civil service were deliberately adopted by other countries.
Until the second half of the 19th century, elected government officials in most European countries regarded appointive posts under their jurisdiction as political prizes to be distributed among influential or faithful supporters. The first significant departure from this practice occurred in Great Britain in 1855, when examinations were conducted by government order among selected candidates for certain minor positions. The categories of jobs filled in this fashion were gradually extended, and in 1870 a policy of open competitive examinations for most posts in the British civil service was adopted. This established the principle that the civil service was an apolitical branch of government providing the technical administrative expertise which elected official lacked. In practice, civil service advice affects political decisions, and not all countries observe the strict separation between politics and administration common in the Anglo-Saxon world. Ultimately, the civil service is most closely identified with democracies, where civil servants are servants of the people rather than tools of the state.