The list includes Alan Bishop, who until earlier this year was the chairman of Saatchi & Saatchi International; Raoul Pinnell, the vice-president, global brands and communications at Shell International, and Simon MacDowall, the director of communications at the Department of Work and Pensions.
MacDowall, who previously held a senior post at Nato, is the only Whitehall candidate to make the final shortlist. However, Cabinet Office ministers are keen to hire someone with private sector experience.
The three men are expected to undergo psychometric tests. Final interviews take place next Tuesday with a panel including Mike Granatt, the head of the Government Information and Communications Service, and Dick Emery, the chairman of the Advisory Committee on Advertising, which monitors COI.