Swapping between sectors is one of the most demanding career moves that anyone can undergo. It often requires a change in mindset along with the ability to fit into a new working culture. But get it right and it can be an extremely rewarding experience.
To help you get to grip with changing over to the private sector, here’s a quick guide to get you moving in the right direction.
Make a plan
No campaign has ever been successful without setting out clear goals and objectives first. So get yourself focused. Having a plan gives you more control over your performance and allows you to stay on target. The first part of this is to sit down and work out your skills.
If you are struggling with this, get together with a friend and go through everything you’ve done inside and outside work and come up with examples of how these highlight your strengths in key skills areas such as leadership, communication, business acumen, ability to influence others and problem solving. This will give you an excellent basis from which to start.
Decide what job you want
A good place to start is to look around the people you know that work in the private sector and consider the jobs they do. Talk to them about their companies and look at what roles suit your skill set the best.
You may be lucky enough to know exactly what you want to do, and have the necessary skills to shift across to the private sector. It may simply be a case of making sure those skills are brought to life in your CV, but you may also find that there are personal skills gaps that you need to fill. If this is the case some sort of retraining may be necessary.
Find yourself a good recruiter
A good recruiter can be worth their weight in gold. These people make a living from helping jobseekers to find their footing on the next step up the career ladder… so don’t be afraid to use their experience.
"A good recruiter should be able to advise on tailoring your CV to a specific job and should be able to interview a candidate in order to identify the skills they have attained in previous jobs, as well as what level those skills are at. They can then apply these to jobs within the private sector," says Judith Aramatage, director of professional development at the REC (Recruitment and Employment Confederation). "Additionally, a good recruiter should be able to sell the USPs of a candidate to any potential employer. Many recruitment consultancies offer support in interview practice and guidance on appropriate dress (suitable for that employer)."
Build the perfect CV and covering letter
"When it comes to your CV and covering letter, using the right kind of language is vital," says John Lees, career coach and author of How To Get A Job You’ll Love and The Interview Expert. "On top of this, don’t over-burden decision makers: your CV should not be longer than three pages, with all the key messages on page one. Think about what conclusion a busy HR manager would draw from the first half page of your CV. Be clear, concise and provide both claims and evidence in your CV and covering letter."
The trick for anyone looking to make the switch between sectors is being able to fulfil the requirements of a person specification. And the emphasis is on having the skills to do the job. One of the main problems is that candidates do not realise that the experience they have gained in the public sector is transferable to the private sector.
The advice? Lees sets out some clear guidelines: "You get three main chances to communicate your skills:
(1) In your CV
(2) In conversations with people who can help you
(3) In a job interview
But remember it’s not what you have done, but how you sell your experience – so use active language like ‘led, organised, built’. Avoid just making claims about your skills (I am a team player) but give clear evidence – times you used your skills, and what happened as a result. This way the first page of your CV, and the material you have in mind for interviews, is actually about achievements. So, for every skill you hold, learn at least one short story about what you achieved."
Lees concludes by listing six common areas where candidates crossing the public/private divide tend to slip up:
- 1. Showing a poor understanding of the private sector
- 2. Not being flexible enough
- 3. Failing to show the right attitude or motivation
- 4. Failing to show evidence of achievement against standards or targets
- 5. Using the wrong kind of language
- 6. Not being hungry for the job