Moving to the private sector?

First published in Latest Job News

With the government cutting 270,000 public sector jobs last year, more people than ever are looking to the commercial world for employment. If you're one of them, here's what to expect and how to make the most of your transferable skills.

While the commercial world is expected to provide jobs and lead the country into growth, how easy is it in practise to move from public to private sector? According to the recent Barclays Job Creation Survey 2012, it may not be easy at all. The report, which questioned 670 executives of UK businesses, found that more than one third of companies would not consider employing ex-state sector workers, while another 23 per cent were 'not very interested' in employing those who had lost government jobs. It also revealed that a similar proportion of executives considered those from the state sector 'not very well equipped' for the business world -- and the survey identified a "persistent element of mistrust" of public sector workers among private sector employers.

So you may have to work harder to convince an employer of your suitability -- but that doesn't mean it can't be done. "Do your homework and there's no reason why you can't make the move," says Richard Maun, career coach and author of Job Hunting 3.0.

What are the main cultural differences?

While the government sector focuses primarily on delivering services, the private sector is concerned with profitability -- and this results-driven culture makes success and failure easier to measure, both at the corporate and individual level. The success of someone working in local authority, transport or the NHS may be measured against the overall delivery of a department, but in a company, employees are more likely to be judged on individual achievements.

"Job hunters in the commercial world find it easier to put a number on their achievements and demonstrate where they've added value by making or saving the company money. In the public sector, those figures aren't so readily available," says Maun. "Say, for example, you've improved processes and procedures -- that has no value to an interviewer unless you can put a number on it. Did the changes you made result in a 20 per cent reduction in the need for overtime staff? How much did that save the department per quarter?"

The private sector also moves more quickly than the state -- so expect more short-term goals and projects, as well as roles and contracts. "In the public sector it's more likely you'll stay with one department, doing a similar role, for many years," says Maun. "Commercial companies have to respond to new challenges and competition -- and they're looking for candidates who cope well with change and can show a degree of mental agility."

Recognising transferable skills

As well as the usual transferable skills of communication, leadership, problem solving and ability to influence, you may have gained abilities to bring to a private company.

"Many public sector managers handle complex projects with lots of different stake holders, juggling politics, dealing with a number of senior managers and managing a busy diary. You don't always get that kind of complexity in smaller companies, but it can be a useful skill to have," adds Maun.

How to approach your CV

When it comes to writing your CV, Maun suggests keeping it to two pages. "Be clear about why you fit the job in the opening profile. You may have been a good all-round general manager in the NHS, but if the role is for a project manager, focus on that."

The state sector can be prone to jargon and acronyms so take care not to get bogged down in terminology. Instead, look carefully at the language the employer has used in the job description and translate your skills using the same key phrases.

"Don't say 'I trained people' if you can say 'I trained 300 people,'" says Maun. "If you have commercially useful skills, such as Prince 2, mention it. If you've been working with large teams, significant budgets and private sector suppliers, make that clear, too."

At the interview

Expect to be up against some strong candidates and to be asked some searching questions. "Commercial companies tend to use critical incident questions," Maun explains, "which means you have to come prepared with stories and know them well. For example, they may ask 'Tell me about a time when you dealt with change, overcame resistance, etc.'"

Not sure which stories to tell? Maun suggests including one that shows you're adept at dealing with change.

Don't be afraid to challenge the myths

"There's a common myth amongst private sector hiring managers that public sector workers haven't had to change over the last 20 years -- and don't know how to. The truth is that many public sector organisations have seen massive change over the last few years and have been forced to become more commercial.

"Hospitals have had to prove their worth and fight in order to stay open... workers may have had to change offices two or three times, cope with changing government targets and implement whole new rafts of procedures. Don't be afraid to challenge the myths."

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