Posted by: Emily Smoothy

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Private vs Public sector – how do HR professionals make the transition?

Career coach John Lees once said, “Only 9% of private sector HR Managers say that they have never recruited from the public sector.” He has previously spoken about the traditional stigma around public sector workers who enjoy short hours with no real deadlines or targets.

Here are our top tips for making a transition between the public and private sectors:

  1. Show employers you have the right attitude to work in the other sector. A lot of the time traditional assumptions stop people from trying to make the move. More often than not I meet with candidates from a public sector who say to me they “know” it is difficult to move into the private sector. My answer is always the same. Yes, it is more challenging than those already in it, but it is not impossible.

One of the biggest differences between the two sectors is leadership development, which is evident in the increasing number of private sector managers who are making the move into Public Sector organisations. They can offer a different approach to the business, they are typically commercially-driven and have a fresh outlook on the business. This can often be attractive to managers making the move, as it offers them a great challenge and ultimately a change project.

  1. Communication is key - talk to friends and family who work in the sector, or conduct some online research in order to find out exactly what it is like. This way you know how to align your transferrable skills to your CV and focus on what is important.
  2. Use different language! Ensure you read through your CV and get rid of typical sector terminology. A helpful way to achieve this is by reading job descriptions from the sector you are looking to move into. Make sure you highlight genuine statistics on your “legacy” - what you personally have done to improve things at your current role? This can be anything from exact cost savings to improved employee turnover.
  3. Prepare evidence! Give examples of times you have had to work under pressure, with what it was, how you succeeded and what you achieved.
  4. Show you have control - the private sector is all about focusing on measurable output, so show you can manage budgets and have the strong ability to focus on controlling costs.
  5. Commerciality is crucial - Private organisations are automatically referred to as “commercially-driven”, so in order to make the transition into one, you need to make sure that you can be too. Commerciality is all about understanding your organisation, knowing the business’ financial performance, understanding your customer needs, and ensuring you are up to date with the wider industry and your key competitors. Being commercial is all about not just working in HR, but being a “business-person” and knowing how HR can add value to a business.

Private sectors have a huge focus on being profit driven, therefore pressure is usually on when it comes to financial performance and productivity in an employee. A public sector worker will often find this a slight challenge, however the financial benefits do follow and it is important to show this is a challenge you are willing to take on and succeed in.

On the other hand, moving from the private sector can ultimately affect your potential earnings, due to it not being related to the profits of your employers and shareholders. The good news is that public sector businesses are aware of this, so are focusing on what else they can do to attract top talent. They are looking at the total package and the benefits they can add which won’t affect their direct profits. Benefits that offer people a better work-life balance are becoming increasingly popular and in demand, with one of the first questions candidates asking being around things like flexible working and holiday. This is something that public sector businesses can definitely do to attract this talent, making the move for private sector employees much more beneficial.

It is becoming increasingly normal for people to make the move across sectors, so it is important to forget the competition and what you might be up against. Focus on the way you present yourself both in person and on your CV, and what you can offer an employer.

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