Moving sectors - from Private to Public

Published: 11 December 2013

Senior candidates moving from commercial organisations to public sector ones have long caused excitement in senior recruitment.  Individuals who bring a range of skills and experience from organisations that are culturally very different are often seen as being the salve to many a problem.  On account of our broad networks, Berwick Partners are often tasked with attracting a field of candidates that has significant representation from outside of the client’s sector.  

Clearly we are happy to support in this regard.  However, it is worth considering that there are many factors that contribute towards a successful appointment in this context.

Firstly, the application process.  It is all very well for us to go out into the market and engage with candidates who might have diverse backgrounds and the requisite skills.  However, we need to be able to appropriately present these candidates to the appointment panel.  Public sector recruitment is evidence based, therefore the content of the application must assure the client that the individual concerned does have the experience required. 

This can be done in a number of ways. The easiest one is perhaps to ensure that your CV is sufficiently clear.  Unless you work for a fairly recognisable brand, it is probable that the panel will know relatively little about your employer.  If in doubt- spell it out. 

You also need to think carefully about what your responsibilities mean in the context of a public organisation.  For example, the fact that you have delivered a certain profit margin might have significant meaning to you, however, the panel will most likely want to understand that from a volume perspective and comprehend the operational context of that level of success. 

Related to this is the need for detail in the application.  It is worth spending time on a covering letter as this will be read in detail and considered to be integral to the application itself.  As laborious as it sounds, you must address the person specification; preferably point by point.  In addition to making it easier for the panel to assess your experience, it will also help you to understand your particular strengths for a role. 

Supposing you are successful through the application process and first stage interview, then you may well face a panel interview.  Although there might be one to ones, assessments and stakeholder meet and greets, it is most likely that the panel interview will be the formal, decision making element of the process.  Here, careful preparation will be critical. 

There are a number of points worth considering:

Do your research.  This may be an obvious statement yet the depth of research required is often under-estimated.  It is not enough to know about the past performance and future ambitions of your prospective employer.  You need to understand the political agenda that is guiding policy development in the sector and what the organisation’s outlook is, relative to their peers.  You also need to understand how that fits with your skills and experience. 

Expect a different approach.  Panel interviews are conducted in a way that ensures that each candidate experiences the same approach.  There will often be a set of questions, asked in the same order by the same people, which will be marked numerically by a set of common standards.  This leaves little room for supplementary questions.  Therefore, it is important that you understand in advance how your skills will fit with the role.  Perhaps also try to anticipate where they feel your learning curve will be and ensure that you weave in reassurance about that throughout your questions.  That said, it is clear that there will be a learning curve in the role.  Self awareness pays dividends at interviews so don’t fear to highlight where you think the growth trajectory lies.

One stop shop. As mentioned before, the panel interview is likely to be the decision making element of the process.  As such, it would be unusual for the client to undertake further interviews prior to making a decision.  The upshot of this is that you have a single opportunity to make an impact.  Your response to every single question will count.

Finally, there is the question of salary.  When working with a third party, like Berwick Partners, negotiations can be easier.  However, we would always counsel that candidates and clients need to consider packages from a holistic perspective.  Although commercial candidates might be trading in their bonus, they could perhaps make back that compensation via pension or holiday provision.  Similarly, clients must understand that there is not always parity between commercial and public sector wages.  Sometimes, talent from outside of the sector can cost more. 

In conclusion, we understand very well the pace and complexity of senior roles in the public sector and we have significant experience of attracting talent across from commercial organisations.  We know that the process can sometimes be somewhat alien and we hope that this blog helps bridge the divide. 

Elizabeth James is a Consultant in the Education practice at Berwick Partners

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