Careers advice: How to move from the public to the private sector

Written by: Ruth Allanson
Published on: 21 Mar 2014

With the public sector recently suffering from job cuts, pay freezes and limited recruitment and progression opportunities, there are a large number of candidates in the public sector looking to make the sometimes tricky transition over to the private sector.

For some individuals, this transition can be extremely challenging due to the different working environments between commercially-driven organisations and public sector institutions.

Others will relish this change in environment and fit in very well, but how do you overcome the stereotype that the two sectors are just too different when looking to make the move?

Tailor your CV. The first place to start is with your CV. Try to avoid using public sector terminology or focussing on areas that are not as relevant to a planning role in consultancy or a client-side role. For example, if you have been working for a council doing a mix of development management and enforcement work, private sector organisations will be attracted to your knowledge of the application process, but not so much the pure enforcement side, so try to reflect this by drawing their attention to these skills. Research the company you are targeting and look at the type of schemes they have been working on. If they do a lot of work in the residential sector, mention specific residential applications you have worked on, particularly if they are of a complex nature. Training is also usually very good in the public sector, so do emphasise this in your CV and show that you are up to date with CPD and include any relevant training courses you have completed.

Use your contacts. A lot of roles will of course be advertised, but organisations often recruit on the basis of seeing a good CV presented to them at an opportune time. As a public sector planner you may have had dealings with the firms you will want to be targeting for your job search. Use these contacts to your advantage when you are job hunting and have a confidential discussion about any opportunities coming up.

Demonstrate commercial acumen. At an interview be aware that private sector organisations are not only looking for relevant experience and a competent planner, but they are also looking for candidates with a commercial attitude, client facing qualities, good contacts and business development potential. With all this in mind, answer any concerns they have in these areas with pro-active answers. For example, as a public sector planner you will have had limited opportunities to win new business, but you will have good contacts in the industry who you could try develop into a client for your prospective employer. Before the interview, research the clients that your potential employer has and mention dealings you’ve had with them, as well as with clients you think they would want to develop.

Think about better positioning yourself for a move into the private sector. The gap between the public and private sector is actually a lot closer than many think, and the proliferation of public-private partnership has closed the gap further. These partnerships are also often a good bridge environment for those looking to have more of a private sector steer on their CVs.

Ruth Allanson is associate director at recruitment consultancy Beach Baker.