Expert’s view: Moving from the public to private sector

As the scale and focus of the budget cuts starts to become clear, many people will be considering their future and looking at how they can prepare in case they are made redundant. It is imperative that they understand the differences between the public and private sectors if thinking about switching because they will be faced with tough competition and will need to sell themselves to a prospective employer.

Some jobseekers may have been working within the public sector for some time and will have an even greater (but still surmountable) mountain to climb. Identifying what your skills are, what options are open to you and where the opportunities lie will be an important starting point. With your experience should you be considering interim or permanent jobs? How competitive is it for jobs in your field and location? And, importantly, what is a realistic salary? You may also need to consider whether you need to undertake new qualifications. For example, CIPFA-qualified (Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy) accountants might need to invest in a CIMA (Chartered Institute of Management Accountants) or ACCA (Association of Chartered Certified Accountants) qualification, to show their expertise extends into the private sector.

According to recent research from Hays, 22% of employees fear their public sector background will put them at a distinct disadvantage in the private sector. More than 90% of employers say that public sector experience is “not very important” or “not important at all” when hiring, and 87% told us that candidates from the public sector need to better identify and convey their skills. Both sides clearly have preconceptions about the other, which jobseekers need to overcome.

Despite this, there are similarities between the sectors and roles in each and jobseekers need to be able to demonstrate what these are. For example, at a senior level the candidate may well have been working with large teams, significant budgets and similar challenges, and this needs to be clearly identifiable in their CV. They may have also been working with private sector suppliers, so need to tap into any insight they already have.

As with any CV, it is important that the employer can relate to your experience and identify how it suits the role. When moving from the public sector it can be difficult when the job title doesn’t easily translate. For example, there are hundreds of executive officers working in the public sector but the role itself is varied and can have a different meaning in different departments. In the private sector these people might be project managers, sales support executives or even training coordinators. If jobseekers fall into this category they should outline what experience they have, why it is relevant and convey it in business terminology rather than sticking to public sector jargon.

It is important to make sure the hard work follows through to interview preparation. Hays research shows that 29% of candidates expect interviews in the private sector to be harder and more structured. And they’re right. The private sector is known for using the latest interview techniques, such as competency-based interviewing, which determines how relevant a candidate’s competencies are to a role by asking for examples of their behaviours in work-related, real-life situations. They tend to be very systematic with each question having a specific aim in mind and jobseekers perform much better if they have a raft of examples they can call on. Equally, the interview may be slightly less formal, involving fewer interviewers and they will need to adapt to this.

Some may also have missed the importance of online networking to a job search. It’s worth thinking about your online profile and whether your future employer will like what they see. Private sector employers check candidates’ profiles online and it can be a strong networking tool, yet it remains rarely used by the public sector.

Every jobseeker needs to invest time in finding a new job, but when making the transition from one sector to another it is requires an even greater investment. Jobseekers must take ownership for making sure they can demonstrate how they can add value to the company’s bottom line. Those who find it easiest will have support. Public sector employers have a responsibility to help prepare those people they make redundant.

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