Wanted: work in the public sector

by 11 Jun 2009

Q I’m a HR generalist and I’ve always worked in the private sector. However, my organisation is going to restructure and I’m looking at the public sector for potentially better and safer job prospects. What advice can you offer on successfully making this transition and attaining a public sector role?

A First, sorry to hear your job will be affected by a restructure. The current market is a challenging one for job-seekers, but don’t let the proliferation of doom and gloom news make you think any hope of employment success is lost, because this simply isn’t the case.

However, it must be said, you are not alone in turning to the pub lic sector for better and safer job prospects. In particular, high-level HR generalists and recruitment specialists are turning to public sec tor roles. This isn’t surprising given the economic turbulence of recent months and the public sector’s reputation for job security.

The good news is that the public sector values a diverse workforce made up from a range of different work experiences. So while your lack of public sector experience won’t dismiss you from considera tion, you will have to work hard to differentiate yourself from an in creased number of candidates who are also applying for public sec tor roles and who have only private sector experience.

You’ll also be competing against candidates with public sector ex perience, so make sure you demonstrate commitment to the public sector in your job application. Many public sector employers will ap proach with caution a candidate who has never sought a public sec tor role but suddenly does so now. They will question your long-term commitment to remain in the sector once the economy stabilises and private sector opportunities are again plentiful.

So determine what you want to gain from the particular public sec tor role you seek (above and beyond job security) and emphasise these elements in your application. For example, is it the type of work that is your motivating factor, such as big projects or opportunities that only the public sector can offer?

Apart from this, the same rules apply as have always applied to public sector applications. The recruitment process is often lengthy and complex and the merit principle will determine your success. This means you’ll very likely need to write a document addressing the se lection criteria and if you are the best match based on the criteria you’ll be successful. Your CV alone is not enough. To help in this process, read the information pack thoroughly, make sure you follow all in structions and address every selection criteria.

The selection criteria are divided into essential and desirable cat egories. You’ll need to meet all essential components to be a serious contender for the position, and if you also meet all the desirable com ponents you’re in with a good chance.

If you receive an interview, it will be with a panel, and all candidates will be asked the same questions. Don’t forget the basics: research the department as you would a private sector company and use this information when answering interview questions to demonstrate you are familiar with the role and department. Dress appropriately, prepare answers to common questions and arrive early.

Don’t ignore temporary and contract opportunities either. They can be a highly accessible entry point for a public sector career.

Once you land a public sector role, be prepared to overturn the stereotypes. Many public servants work long hours with demanding schedules, so don’t expect undemanding work. But, just as the re cruitment process is longer, be prepared for any decision to take longer than it may do in the private sector.

By Emma Egan, manager, Hays Human Resources. 02 8226 9797. emma.egan@hays.com.au. www.hays.com.au