Moving to the public sector: HR career issues

Q. I have always worked in private sector HR but want to move to the public sector. How should I go about it?

The HR view

There is no such thing as the public sector. Government agencies, the Civil Service, local or regional government, NHS, higher and further education, the voluntary sectors are very different, in terms of independence; governance, management, culture and values, customer base and sources of income. England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are also very different. This affects the approach to and challenges for HR management.

Why do you want to move into the public service sector? What career added value will you get from it and what will it enable you to give back? What type of employer, job and career experience do you want? Universities have significant autonomy as they are separate legal entities. They operate in the public service but also have very exciting commercial operations and challenges for HR management. The NHS and Civil Service/central/local government are all subject to political direction. Do you value working in organisations that can decide their own destiny? Consider what part of the public service sector you have a real personal ‘affinity’ with and why? Talk to someone whose judgement you value and who has worked in these environments. And ask the obvious HR question: ‘How do they demonstrate they value people?’

David Briggs, HR director, Robert Gordon University

The recruiter’s view

If you are moving sectors only because you need a job, chances are that you will be found out at interview or that you won’t find the environment right for you. But if you are set on a move, then the trick is first to identify where you would be interested in working.

The public sector is a hugely diverse environment and you can find that working for a city council, for example, would be hugely different from working in a rural NHS Trust. This is where a decent recruitment consultant should be able to advise. Once you have identified the area, then you need to look at relevant vacancies. It is then the usual matter of fulfilling the person specification and the selection process. This will be based around best practice and normally include a weighty application form, and then interviews and assessments.

All this may sound rather protracted, but if you’re not put off, then it’s worth remembering that HR skills are particularly transferable, more so than many other fields, so it is worth persevering. By the interview stage, you must understand the environment your chosen organisation operates within. And remember that salaries tend to be non-negotiable due to nationwide salary scales.

Angela Newman, associate director, Morgan Law

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