How to Make the Transition from Public to Private Sector

With monthly employment figures continuing to show a drop in public sector employment and a rise in private sector jobs, it’s clear that many former public sector employees will need to look for work in the private sector…not always the easiest move.

We asked experienced career consultant Simon North to look at the best way to make this transition…

“If you’ve never worked in the private sector before, it can be difficult to find a way in, but it’s not impossible. If you can gain a profound understanding of the corporate world by seeking to understand the key issues affecting it, you’ll give yourself more of an edge when coming into contact with employers from that world. It also helps to take a good look at yourself, who you are, what you want and how you’re going about finding a job. Below, I cover a few of the issues you need to be aware of and some of the things you can do to give yourself a better chance of a successful transition.

  1. Why do these barriers between the two sectors exist? Look at why the private sector has a different image and culture to the public sector, which is quite often not perceived so well. It usually comes down to a misunderstanding of the difference in values between the two sectors. The private sector is typically driven by the need to create products that make a profit and are produced with the lowest possible cost, whereas it’s efficiency and effectiveness of service that the public sector is concerned with. These two different motivations are a not million miles away from one another, but they do need to be understood as separate by people looking to successfully switch sectors.
  2. What is the private sector and what do we mean by this difference between profit and service? There’s something that needs to be understood in order to answer to those questions. The private sector is enormous. The public sector is too, but in a different way. You can cluster different branches of the public sector into several categories, but in the private sector this is harder to do because there are so many different segments within it.
  3. Perform a deep analysis of your own experience to guide you towards suitable roles to apply for. What sort of work have you done in the past? What were you good at and what interested you? To determine what you were good at, think about the types of task that your boss or your colleagues always asked you to do. The reason you were in such high demand for these particular duties is because you were good at them. If you can’t immediately recall what work you enjoyed doing, think about the times when you’ve been the most energetic and alert at work. What were you doing during those times? It’s when we’re doing something that we’re passionate about that we feel the most energized.
  4. You need to be very specific about what it is you want to do and which segment of the private sector you want to move to. Your intentions and how you express them will have a strong influence on how potential employers perceive you. Develop a targeting plan so you can be clear about which industry, employers and role you’re targeting. To decide what it is you want to target, think about what criteria is important to you. For example, do you want to work for a small or large company? Do you want to join a globally famous brand or one that’s still building its reputation? How far are you willing to commute?
  5. The more interest you show in the private sector, the more interest the private sector will show in you. Read up on the industry you’re interested in joining, both online and by going to the library. Start following your target companies on social media and communicate with them regularly. Look at their website and Google press stories on them before job interviews. Follow up with a thank you note or email after the interview.
  6. Gain an understanding of the recruitment process and current market. Who are the private sector recruiting at the moment and who are recruiters working for? What kind of track record does each recruitment agency have in terms of taking people like you from the public sector to the corporate world?
  7. Build up your network. Although, as a public sector worker, you’re currently surrounded by other public sector people, you may already have met key individuals in the private sector in your past. For example, look up people from university with whom you’ve stayed in touch. Do any of them hold positions in the business arena that would allow them to introduce you the right people or invite you to the right events? These are the kind of people it’s worth drawing closer into your network.
  8. Presenting yourself well is critical. Pay attention to how you look and feel. People in the public sector sometimes dress slightly differently to those in the private sector. Understanding how a corporate employee dresses is important if you want to become one. What you wear helps create in others an impression of your intellect.
  9. Where you can, identify private sector sponsors who will champion and mentor you towards the job you want. These people will be quite influential within your field of choice. For example they may have some connection to someone high up within your target organization.”

Simon North is the Founder of Position Ignition, one of the UK’s leading career consultancy companies which created the Career Ignition Club, a leading-edge online careers support and learning platform. Follow him @PosIgnition