Myths, prejudice and practical strategies for dealing with them

A recent survey of 500 companies in the UK carried out by Barclays Corporation and the Financial Times (February 2011) found that 57% are not interested in hiring people who have lost their jobs in the public sector because they are not equipped for the private sector.

Now I don’t believe this is true.  OK I guess I would say that as I am a former civil servant myself.  My belief though stems not just from my own background.  I have worked at the crossroads between the sectors for twelve years through my association with The Whitehall & Industry Group (a not-for-profit membership organisation which exists to improve understanding and co-operation between the sectors).  And I have coached many exceptional senior and middle managers from the public sector, as well as those from the private sector, and have facilitated small cross-sector groups of leaders for many years.

Based on all this experience I know that there are fewer differences than you might expect between the sectors, at least in large organisations.  But despite this, the Barclays/FT Survey reveals a certain prejudice towards the public sector.  Others too have recognised this prejudice.   In a recent article in HR Magazine, Jane Sunley, CEO of talent management consultancy, Lean Purple, says..

“..Having conducted a straw poll myself, it seems there is some reluctance in recruiting from the public sector because it is believed these individuals are less likely to put in the hours, more likely to take time off sick and less likely to be flexible when it comes to doing what it takes to reach the goals.  As a private sector employer, I firmly believe that talent is talent and there are high performers and low performers in both private and public sectors and at every level.  The all-important factors are cultural fit and willingness to adapt.”

I couldn’t agree more.  But even if you have done your homework, found an organisation which you believe will be a good cultural fit for you and feel ready to adapt to a new organisation and sector, you might still encounter resistance.  So what can you do?  I suggest you follow these three steps:

1.      Get under the skin of your target company– find out everything you can about the company or companies that interest you.  What are they proud of?  What are their values?  What do their customers say about them?  How do their businesses work?  Find out about the backgrounds of their senior teams.  Do any of them have public sector experience?  Does the organisation provide goods or services to the public sector?  Does the company have a Public Affairs Department?  Can you find evidence of the company valuing contact with the public sector?  Private sector organisations that are active members of The Whitehall & Industry Group (WIG) for instance will be well aware of the high calibre of many public sector managers.  (An up-to-date list of WIG’s members can be found at

2.      Map across your skills and experience. Another survey in 2010 by the recruitment company Hays found that 87% of the 348 private sector employers surveyed  believed that candidates from the public sector needed to better identify and convey their skills to potential employers.  So how can you do this?  First, record all your major achievements over say, the past 10 years.  Not your job titles or responsibilities in each job but the outcomes you achieved.  How did your intervention make an impact on the organisation and its goals?

Now step back and think.  How can the knowledge you tapped into, the skills you used, and the outcomes you achieved in your public sector career, be mapped across to the private sector organisation(s) you are targeting?  For example you may have experience of partnership working with organisations with very different cultures and agendas e.g. Police, NHS, local councils, Whitehall policy departments.  Stakeholder management is important in the private sector too so draw out how you can use the same influencing, negotiating, chairing skills etc with a different range of stakeholders.  Or show how, for example, you cut costs; improved customer satisfaction or reduced complaints in your public sector roles.  How have you demonstrated innovative thinking in making a little go a long way?   If a former organisation has a reputation for being slow moving and bureaucratic, show how you achieved measurable results in your part of the organisation despite the bureaucracy.

Now translate this into a concise and jargon-free CV.  Translate any abbreviations, jargon, even job titles, into words and phrases that will mean something to a private sector organisation.  See my article on Five of the Biggest CV Errors for more on CVs.

3.      Get visible, get networking, get ready!  Now it’s time to put your head above the parapet and raise your visibility.  Improve your online LinkedIn profile.  Register with online job sites, recruitment agencies and headhunters.  Use your existing network to help with your job search and to introduce you to other useful contacts.  Find out about networking events in your local area and try out lots of them until you find the ones that work for you.  Build visibility and credibility by looking for opportunities to speak at conferences or to write articles.   Keep your continuing professional development up to speed and consider whether you need to enhance your skills or qualifications.

Finally, if you need support along the way do consider if you should hire a career coach.  I regularly work with people who are considering a move between the sectors or other major career or life transitions.  To arrange a free informal chat call me on 0118 9612715 or complete my enquiry form.