Public To Private Sector Career Transition With A Buzz.

Job loss sucks no matter what sector or industry you work in.  Many people facing employment uncertainty are also facing a further challenge; moving from the public sector to the private sector. Much like the private sector, the public sector will take out the low hanging fruit first.  On the private side, this means hourly employees, administrative staff, non-managerial salaried associates, and those employees that are not interacting with the customer.  The folks making the cuts in all likelihood will view their positions as indispensable.  I would too.  The public sector is whacking away at teachers, police, fire, and other municipal services in much the same way.  He who crafts the budget will probably be the one who sweeps the floor, turns out the lights, and locks the door on the way out. Unless municipalities privatize some of these functions as Sandy Springs, Georgiadid, these folks will be out of work.  That said, here are some tactics to think through when transitioning from the public to private sector.  Through our outplacement company we are working with some of you, but I felt that getting some basic tips out to others might be helpful.

Look before you leap.

  • It is important to seek out those that have made the transition. Contact those in your network that have landed, as well as those that have not.  Simply ask them “what job search activities would you have done more of, less of, or kept about the same?”  Use both offline and online resources to seek out private sector professional associations, and join them. Think through your organization’s suppliers.  Some of them are probably private companies that have associates that may have previously been public sector employees.  Sign up for Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook.  Seek out folks that have made the transition, and connect with them.
  • Get calibrated regarding your salary and employee benefit expectations.  It will be helpful for you to begin thinking in terms of “total compensation” and not in terms of GS or length of service.  This includes your potential base salary, profit sharing, bonus, cost of vacation, holidays, 401k, and group life & health insurance plans.  That is how the private sector looks at investing in you.  Go here to get a feel for what you can expect.  In America, you’re still free to move about so go here for a “cost of living calculator” by city, state, and or zip-code.  Most find that when comparing public & private compensation that there is disparity; however, not as great as the alarmists on either side would lead you to believe.  Keep in mind your credited service will re-set in your new role so vacations schedules are likely to be less generous.  Your pension benefits in the private sector will be less, but your 401k will offset losses if you take advantage of it. Keep in mind that some private sector employees have had pay freezes as a result of the credit crunch and in some cases a reduction in pay in order to keep their jobs.

Define your value proposition.

  • Public & private sector terminology differ significantly.  Some functions such as HR, IT, and Project Management will be similar making it easier to define transferable skills.  Others, not so much.  Start with the process you’re responsible for, and then define your output.  Certainly you have improved the process over time, resulting in improved productivity, reduced cycle time, improved quality, etc.  Think about whom your internal customers are; those individuals that you provided a product or service to.  Have you enhanced their level of satisfaction? Have these process improvements reduced cost?  If the answer is yes, you have defined one component of your value proposition.  Repeat this process focusing in on significant processes or projects that you were responsible for.  The next step will be to capture your value proposition on your resume.  Defining the job title you have held in the public sector as a private sector job can be done by doing some research here.

Resume construction.

  • Think gross and write net.  Two pages, maximum. Reality is, those that don’t know you, don’t care about you, and the average resume reader will only spend 7-12 seconds on your resume.  They’ll look for name & address to figure out if you can be applied to a diversity initiative, and whether or not relocation or transportation will come into play.  Top center in where it should go.  Put your personal email to the left, and one number (preferably cell) on the right.  Center your “Summary of Qualifications” beneath those.  Don’t be “fluffy” in the summary. Customize your summary to the position you are seeking.  In some cases, this summary can serve as your cover letter.  Keep the body of your resume in a reverse chronological format utilizing bullet points to demonstrate value based accomplishments.   I graduated from Arizona State in 1971, and do not list each and every responsibility.  I could show you a preferred template, but you can just as easily go to Google Images and search “Resume Templates.”
  • Adjust the job titles you put on your resume.  They may not have the same meaning in the private sector?  Stress a more function based title. Recruiters often scan resumes for keywords, similar to conducting a ‘Google’ search. If your skills are hidden behind a complicated title you won’t be found!


  • Register & upload your resume on all the appropriate job boards such as Monster, CareerBuilder.  Update your profiles on relevant social networks such as LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter. Network as much as possible. Both through your own contacts and various formal networking groups. Register with appropriate search firms, and recruiters.  Spread your net wide!  Let people in your offline network know as well.  Church, youth activities, neighbors, extended family, professional associations, etc.
  • Focus on organizations where your skills might be most useful to. For example, which private sector companies provide services to the public sector.   Would your skills and knowledge be valuable to any of these companies? Target these first. Companies who have taken on public sector outsourcing programs may have previously hired public sector employees.


  • Team based-Behavioral based interviewing is what you will face.  Usually no less than two, and no more than four people interviewing you at the same time.  Past performance is normally an indicator of future success in employment.  You will be asked questions that are designed to have you provide examples of how you managed certain situations in the workplace. For example. Can you tell us about a time when you had to manage towards an individual goal that was in conflict with a departmental goal?” Or perhaps “Can you tell us about a time when you had to challenge a superior on a moral, ethical or legal issue?” Think of examples of your work which show you have taken on a new challenges or initiatives and succeeded. Emphasize the scenarios which would be similar to those faced by a commercial organization. Focus on your ability to be flexible, and to deal well with ambiguity.  Justified or not, the knock on public sector employees is that they are rigid.  It is what is, and you need to take it off the table relative to yourself or the perception may remain unchanged.

You can go here to read up on different job search strategies and tactics such as “Leveraging LinkedIn,” “Smart Phone Job Search,” “Managing Poor Interview Questions,” “Negotiating Salary,” and many more.  Best of luck to you and your family.

Buzz Smith is SR Curmudgeon & VP Consulting Services OPI National Outplacement.  OPI National Outplacement and Career Transition Services Located in Knoxville, Tennessee.  Buzz can be reached at 865.531.9154.


About Buzz Smith

Welcome. My name is Charles “Buzz” Smith and I’m the SR Curmudgeon of Consulting Services at OPI National Outplacement. My role, in addition to agitating our sales personnel, and consultants is to take the lead on delivering outplacement and career transition services that are effective. I blog about career stuff when my wife of 40 years, Linda banishes to the garden.

Posted on June 7, 2011, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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