Moving from the private sector to the public service

You have decided to make a career move from the private sector to a government job. You’ve spotted a job that looks just right – comparable pay, relevant skills, experience, subject matter, and it’s a topic you are interested in.

What do you need to take into account when contemplating such a move? Here are some of the issues that you need to think about.

  • Salary level. While moving horizontally on a salary scale may work, there could also be some traps. These traps may have more to do with what goes on in the mental pantry of selection panel members (ie what they are thinking and assuming about you). For example, if you’ve held a middle to senior management role you may think an Executive Level 2 role in the APS would be a suitable entry point. This may well be the case. You will however, possibly have to convince a panel of this, particularly if they are of a mind that one should ‘do time’ before being elevated to this level of seniority.
  • Are you aware of the similarities and differences between the public and private sector? Being accountable for spending public money (ie taxes) on behalf of the Government is a different game to providing products and services in order to make a profit.
  • Are your skills transferable to the public service? This is relatively easy to establish for professionals in areas like finance, accounting, IT, HR. For other areas, like policy or program delivery, there may be more of a stretch needed.
  • Are you prepared for a different workplace? You may find that the number of layers, the time it takes to make a decision, and the need to check with those who have delegated authority, contribute to what can be a frustrating workplace compared with the private sector. Be prepared for questions about whether you will fit in and adjust.
  • What assumptions are you making about the public service? Do you see it as a ‘bit of a bludge’, with cushy conditions, security and boring work? If so, you are working on out of date ideas. Many public servant work long hours, have too much to do, and regularly experience changes to priorities, work programs, managers. While there is routine work in the public service, this also exists in the private sector. There is a vast range of interesting and challenging work available.

So what can you do about these matters?

  • Do your homework. Gain an understanding of how Government, Parliament and the public service works and how this differs from the private sector.
  • Make a convincing case for why you should be considered for the level of job you are pitching for, based on the relevance and transferability of your skills and experience.
  • Be mindful of what you think the public service is like. Confirm the accuracy of your thinking. Assess whether you will fit in.
Dr Ann Villiers, career coach, writer and author, is Australia’s only Mental Nutritionist specialising in mind and language practices that help people build flexible thinking, confident speaking and quality connections with people.