Corinne Mills speaks to CIPD on transferring your skills from the public to the private sector

Transferring your skills from the public sector to the private sector

The widespread cuts in public sector jobs have led to increasing numbers of staff seeking to make a transition into the private sector. Public sector workers, especially those with little or no private sector experience, can face significant challenges in convincing employers that their skills and experience are transferable to a more commercial environment. This factsheet aims to outline some of the practical techniques which will help you market yourself to private sector employers more effectively.

In this factsheet

  • Identifying transferable skills and experience
  • Where are the jobs?
  • Demonstrating commercial savviness
  • Resources to help

Identifying transferable skills and experience

Human Resources is a very portable profession with opportunities in every employment sector. However, the reality is, that employers can often be risk-averse, and prefer candidates already experienced in working with organisations similar to their own.

Despite this, if you are a public sector worker seeking to change sector, you can help to overcome this reluctance by focusing on roles and organisations where you can show a direct relevance between your previous job(s) and the one for which you are applying.

For instance, if you were working in an organisation specialising in Housing, then you could consider applying for HR roles within housing related private sector organisations such as property development or rental companies. If you have substantial experience working with a particular staff group eg research staff, then this could be of direct relevance to commercial companies with large R&D functions.

Consider any corporate customers, suppliers or private sector bodies with whom you worked whilst within your job. Approach them and similar organisations emphasising your previous dealings with them and your insight into how their company works or the nature of their product or service.

Avoid a scattergun approach where you apply haphazardly for jobs that are advertised. You are much more likely to be successful if you can show that in addition to your HR expertise, you have knowledge and experience that is of specific relevance to that type of organisation.

Where are the jobs?

In the private sector, advertised jobs only constitute a small proportion of the total number of job vacancies. This means that while it is sensible to keep an eye on advertisements and recruitment job websites and post your CV online, there are a number of other job search strategies you should use.

Personal networking is especially important. While no-one will give you a job just because they know you, a well developed networking grapevine will mean that you are much more likely to hear about job opportunities, many of which will not be advertised. Your networking connections should include both business and personal contacts. Remember that CIPD local Branch events are an excellent way to network with others in your local HR community.

Advertising yourself on-line via sites such as LinkedIn is essential if you wish to be accessible to recruiters who use key word searches to trawl through the site looking for potential candidates. You must therefore ensure that full details of your background, experience and areas of specialism are included, along with an appropriate photo. Actively seek to connect with people you know and seek recommendations to accompany your profile.

You can enhance your visibility in the job market even further by participating in online forums such as the CIPD’s community discussion groups, publishing a blog or using twitter to connect and communicate with others in your specific field.

Making direct approaches to companies can also be a highly effective way to source your next job opportunity. This involves targeting companies that are likely to require someone with your specific skills and expertise. Ideally you will have a contact whose name you can use to help introduce yourself to the company in the first instance. The success of this approach depends on making a persuasive approach that keys into a particular need they have at that time. While it may not work on every occasion, this can be a highly effective way to find your next job. The employer is impressed by your resourcefulness, there is often relatively little competition and the recruitment costs to the employer are minimal.

Commercial Savviness

Many candidates, not just those in the public sector, make the mistake of focusing their CV and interview answers on descriptions of their responsibilities rather than the positive outcomes they helped to achieve for their organisations.

If you wish to be seen as comfortable working in a commercial environment, then you will need to show good examples of how you have added value to the organisations you have worked with. You may have introduced a new absence policy which reduced sickness rates or negotiated a favourable contract with a new supplier. Examples might include talking about your work on a departmental restructure which improved efficiency and reduced staff costs. Include numbers and percentages wherever you can to give the examples substance eg £25k cost savings. Any examples where you have helped your organisation increase profits, save costs, improved quality or reduced risks will be of interest.

Some private sector employers may have preconceptions regarding the public sector’s approach to people management. For instance they may believe, rightly or wrongly, that there are different expectations regarding performance, pace of change or flexibility. Proactively tackle these potential concerns wherever possible by providing examples that show the opposite to be true eg fast-track HR projects completed to tough deadlines, radical job redesigns.

Presenting yourself as commercially savvy and comfortable with business-focused people management processes will be essential if you are to convince employers of your suitability.

Resources to help

There are many resources that can assist you in your career transition. Other online CIPD resources include Facing Redundancy, Preparing for Interview and Transferring from the Public to Private Sector. Websites such as Monster, Guardian Careers, Reed and Personal Career Management offer a wide range of free career and job-search related articles and information. You can also find a number of articles on our free career tips section.