It's generally considered that a single organisation can't expose the aspiring HR professional to all of the experiences needed to prepare for senior management or to work at director level. And, given the demands placed on the HR profession, it is becoming increasingly unlikely.
All three sectors have their own unique career challenges, priorities and attractions, some of which change over time while others remain constant.
In the private sector, the current high level of merger activity means HR can gain valuable merger and acquisition skills. Due to various modernisation initiatives, local government provides an unprecedented opportunity to re-invent the function and develop strategic vision from the ground up. And in the voluntary sector, where HR is sometimes described as making a late entry, personal reward and contribution can be at its greatest.
Traditionally, recruiters have looked for same sector experience and there is still a legacy of this. Linda Moore, HR manager with business advisory and accountancy firm Mazars, has worked across all sectors and says it is the more 'enlightened' HR directors who are willing to accept a serious application from other sectors.
But Moore, whose career history has included spells in local government, the police, the Fire Service, higher education, the BBC and Deloitte, urges others to have the confidence to make such moves. "An HR person has easily transferable skills and their different background and experiences can bring a fresh perspective on HR issues," she says.
Sector-hopping on the rise
There are signs that cross-sector traffic is increasing. And the public sector's current appetite for more commercial skills means that one of the most popular directions is from private to public. Helen Rosethorn, chief executive at recruitment agency Hodes, says that this has made the public and not-for-profit sectors among the busiest areas for recruitment. But she also issues a warning.
"Individuals who want to make this move need to be very clear about their motivations to do so and what they are bringing as a result," she says. "Putting something back is not what it is about."
Balvi Macleod, HR manager for culture change and diversity at Hammersmith and Fulham Council, is one HR professional who has made the switch. She previously held the post of learning and development officer at Vodafone.
"My first day was a huge culture shock," she says. "I