Public to Private: Can You Make the Transition?

The numbers are frightening. To date, nearly 400,000 public sector jobs have been lost since 2010, with more to come. Unless things change the total is set to rise to 700,000 by 2017. The Chancellor’s prediction that the private sector would create replacement jobs has proven to be fantasy. So what are public sector workers – particularly those over 45 – doing to secure work? Are they making a transition to the private sector?

So far, my research has led me to believe two things are going on:

  1. Many people are staying in the public sector and taking lower pay under fixed-term contracts.
  2. Some are starting businesses.

In the first case, Ray Anderson is someone who succeeded. His previous role at the London Development Agency was Project Appraisal Development Officer, testing project viability and designing business processes. After 18 months of hard searching (which included nine months of unemployment) he starts his new job in September as Business Analyst for Kingston Council. It’s a two year contract – now common with local authorities – and Ray will be earning 30 per cent less than he did in his previous position. He says, ‘I was prepared to take a cut, but I didn’t think it would be so large.’

The number is an average we reported in our book, Finding Work After 40. Older workers typically take home less pay after a mid-life redundancy. (Ray is 48.) Public sector budget cuts may also be a factor in his case.

I asked Ray if he had looked at the private sector. His reply: ‘I tried everything – public, private, third sector, you name it.’ He said he found the private sector to be more ageist that the public. One private sector firm rejected his application overnight, even though it was for a public sector contract and Ray was certain he met all of the criteria. But his age was apparent from his work experience and he believes it was the only reason he didn’t get an interview.

To succeed, Ray did the following:

  • Used the internet – a tried and true method with the public sector where all jobs are posted online;
  • Upgraded his skills by getting a Prince 2 qualification (paid for by the DWP through JobSeekers. Ray persuaded them to follow their own guidelines);
  • Read blogs to stay informed;
  • Updated his wardrobe to create a youthful appearance, and
  • Practised his interviewing technique.

Regarding LinkedIn, Ray thinks it’s important to be there as a point of reference but it didn’t offer any leads in his case. It’s well known that the private sector uses LinkedIn for recruitment and it’s also a valuable tool for networking, something that is crucial to obtain employment in the private sector where advertised jobs constitute only a small number of vacancies.

To transit to the private sector, public sector workers need to identify and describe their transferable skills (the two sectors speak a different language) and learn to write CVs that specify achievements rather than responsibilities (most public sector employers use application forms).

Private sector employers like people who are outcome-focussed, not process-focussed.  How can you add value to a company? If you can answer that question with confidence, backed up by numbers and percentages with stories that illustrate your case, then chances are you’ll be taken seriously and perhaps you’ll get the job.

Many public sector workers have skills the private sector needs, but are often not recognised, such as: large budget management; cost control; regulation compliance; risk management; personnel development and team-building; managing complex stakeholder relations; and knowledge of the inner workings of government organisations.  Private companies with government contracts understand this, while others do not.

Finding Work After 40 has more tips for public sector workers, with additional success stories.

Coming up next: New Businesses Started by Public Sector Workers.

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