How to make the switch from the public to the private sector?

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This topic contains 4 replies, has 3 voices, and was last updated by  Wendi Pomerance Brick 7 years, 5 months ago.

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  • #132757

    Stephanie Slade

    While the majority of GovLoopers are employed by government at some level, I know we also have a lot of contractors, consultants, non-profiteers and industry members here. And many of you probably have probably worked on both sides of the aisle at some point in your lives.

    So my question is, How do you go about transferring from the public to the private sector?

    For those who have done it, what are your tips? For those who only have private-side experience, what do you (or your boss) look for in an applicant, and what are the advantages and disadvantages of job seekers who come from government backgrounds?

  • #132765

    Oh boy, I could write a book on this! After almost 20 years in the public sector, working my way from Student Intern to Department Director, it was a difficult transition.

    Best advice – join organizations, reach out, ask questions. Engage your network. Remember what you know and identify what you don’t. If it’s job to job, it’s just like changing any other sector. Everyone has purchasing, you just need to know the new rules.

    In my case, I started a business. HUGE learning curve. Once again, remember what you know and quickly identify what you don’t. Then learn like you were back in school! No one’s going to do it for you. Sink or swim – start swimming!

  • #132763


    I’ve worked in both. Basically, there’s a lot in common between public & private. Private side has its bureaucracy & red tape too, especially if it’s a SOX-compliant business, ISO certified place, or a business subject to a lot of regulation. There’s always going to be the internal traditional processes to figure out and the unofficial VIPs to discover. There’s outrageous egos and incompetents hanging on only because they must have compromising pictures of somebody important with a goat. Every office has their “Milton” with the red stapler. Everybody has the managers that nobody can understand how anyone could have considered them the least bit qualified, otherwise the movie 9 to 5 wouldn’t have been so popular, or the movie Office Space. These are universal to the work environment.

    My experience working in both is that in private, it’s more about results & outcomes than process. The mandatory or regulatory processes are there, and have to be honored in as much as anybody thinks an auditor will dig in. But again, profitable outcomes are more important. Sometimes the business is willing to pay the fine for non compliance because it’s an acceptable cost trade-off. I have to contrast that with some time I spent in a government area where it was as if outcomes were not even on the radar. Architecting a self-perpetuating bureaucratic ecosystem was the main goal. I would ask about effective results and people would look at me like I had two heads and was speaking Martian.

    I have a friend in private who called me to ask if I knew someone applying for a job in her organization. (Thankfully I did not know that person!) She wanted to know if as a current government employee, if he would actually work. Would he expect to walk out at 5:00 because it’s 5:00? They often worked long unplanned overtime. 40 hours was almost part time in that office. I told her to be very clear about expectations, because it might not be obvious. He could be willing and just unaware of the norm there, when the norm in the government office was to shut it down at 5:00 and go home.

    I would tell anyone switching from government to private industry to emphasize your ability to deliver, committment to customer service (internal and external), and balance process with results. Educate yourself on that industry or business’s metrics model and how they determine productivity. An awful lot of people expect government employees to be just unmotivated, clock-watching, improvement-averse procedure wonks who have no goals other than avoid effort, clock out, & collect retirement. Like Ron Swanson in Parks & Rec, or Roz the clerk in Monsters Inc. Being aware of the stereotype going in will help you disprove it.

  • #132761

    Stephanie Slade

    These are great answers. Thank you both.

  • #132759

    Stephanie Slade

    I know there have to be more than two people on GovLoop who’ve made this transition. Any other feedback? What should be the first steps for a person who wants to switch from government to the private sector?

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