Navigating a career leap across private and public sectors

Are you are a professional or executive in the private sector and keen to move across to the public sector?  Or perhaps you have been in the public sector for some time and keen to experience a new career in the private sector?   In this blog I look at navigating a career leap across both sectors.

In both  cases you must apply a lens of understanding on how perceptions may impact job applications. Truth is that both sectors hold some negative perceptions towards and through each other which need to be navigated. 

To land interviews you must give comfort to the hiring teams that you will be an easy and successful fit with low risk.

Trust across different sectors, professions and governments fluctuate widely and perceptions can be reality.  You want to ensure there is little misunderstandings and incorrect assumptions.

I have helped many public sector clients who sought a career change into the private sector. And vice versa, private sector executives who transitioned into public sector successfully.

After all there are many benefits on both sides of the fence.  And in my own employment days I also did a few stints in the public sector and government media.

It’s also worth noting that women working in the Commonwealth public sector experience lower gender pay gaps than private sector workers, according to new insights released today by the Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA).

There are different cultures, benefits and opportunities in both public and private sectors that need an informed and personal reflection.

🌟 How beliefs & perceptions originate

Beliefs and perceptions originate from several sources. Formed from direct experiences, relayed second-hand opinions and experiences, populist hearsay and media narratives, often they are a mishmash tethered  by conscious and/or unconscious biases.

It’s also an understatement that in recent years, the level of mis-information and dangerous social media rhetoric has not done any industry or profession many favours.

But are those opinions fair and logical? Often they are not, but perceptions are taken as reality and suppositions and biases must be challenged and reframed.

So what are the market perceptions across the sectors?

🌟 Research on perceptions, ethics & trust

Understanding what is at play is critical as knowledge is power to reframe.

Research findings from The Governance Institute of Australia’s Ethics Index 2023 Report is fascinating and important reading.

The chart below ranks ethical behaviours and perception of broad sectors.  It demonstrates clearly t there may be a range of factors to address when moving across from the public and private sectors.

And for those in one of the 3 levels of the public sector (local, state, commonwealth) there can also be bias and mis-information when applying for roles across the tiers.

For more information on navigating across the 3 tiers of government, read my media piece Controlling your personal career brand is essential in the public sector

It’s worth noting also that The Governance Institute reported that the 3 top elements people assigned to trust across all sectors were Accountability, Transparency, Whistle-blower Protection.

Roy Morgan’s latest Image of Professions Survey in 2021 found only 27% of Australians rate public servants as having high levels of trust and ethics. As this chart from Roy Morgan reveals, other sectors also face considerable image challenges.

No matter which sector you sit, you need to appreciate that the ‘blanket judgements may be at play.   Akin to calling out the elephant in the room if you will.

In summing up perceptions, the 2022 Edelmen Trust Barometer global report provides an interesting statistic on how trust and distrust is factored. It was found that:

59% of respondents had DISTRUST as their default (tendency to distrust until evidence that something is trustworthy)


41% with TRUST as their default (tendency to trust until I see evidence that something is untrustworthy).

Given the above you cannot risk the recipient of a job application sitting in the trust pot. You should structure applications to address distrust in a conversational and relevant way.

🌟 Creating a positive personal reputation

Embracing your unique value and purpose by taking control of your profile narrative is essential.  What you avoid sharing and addressing can be left to hot imaginations to run wild

The following tips impact all communication touchpoints.  Consider how they can be embedded in resumes, LinkedIn profiles and cover letters and of course interviews.

In applying for professional and executives roles you need to be aware of potential pushback and application rejections.  As I coach my clients

‘Answer potential hiring bias & objections before they arise’

  1. Address the elephant in the room and talk to the negative perceptions. Acknowledge any complaints (overt or covert) and how you approach matters differently.
  2. Provide comfort and examples of how you are unique in areas and sectors that have a negative reputation.
  3. Communicate your values and what is meaningful to you and your field of expertise. Share stories and show rather than state with humanity.
  4. Build up a body of content and relevant media contributions (especially at senior executive level). Provide relevant professional insights and share your honest opinions with confidence.
  5. Be transparent in sharing best practices, processes and methods. By virtue, this will demonstrate differences and reframe perceptions from past negative experiences.
  6. The Feel, Felt, Found tool is powerful for unpacking negativity (feel); sit alongside the other person with empathy and acknowledgement (felt); draw examples and ask questions to reframe the actual situation (found).
  7. Be visible, don’t hide — always display current photos and your career background, goals and purpose.

While calling out the elephant in the room is key, recognise that change is gradual but comes from courage and purpose.

And each bit of that big elephant of distrust and push back builds a stronger reputation that will impact personally and broadly.

We all must step up with greater transparency and courage this year no matter the sector or profession.

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