Making the jump

From public sector to private sector

By Donn LeVie Jr.
donn-levie-80x80   Career Connection

When I left the employ of the federal government in 1980 after three years with the U.S. Department of Commerce-NOAA, I had no problem getting interviews and many job offers from major oil companies who were desperate for experienced geologists. 

Today, public-sector employees who want to make the transition to the private sector find a different environment. As we know, government in many of its areas works quite differently from businesses. Some can find that the cultural shift they need to make to be successful can be a stumbling block. This paradigm change requires time and commitment to grasp how business processes are integrated both vertically and horizontally and how they all work together to generate revenue and profit (˝meeting the numbers˝).

The good news is that since 9/11, many federal government agencies have embraced the idea of horizontal integration so they can move further away from rigid “silo” mentalities and segmented (in serial fashion rather than in parallel) responses to changing conditions. 

Dynamic exchanges and collaborative processes among agencies foster cooperation that mitigates risk and threats and can take advantage of opportunities more quickly. Such a shift in how government operates minimizes past problems of public-sector-to-private-sector transitions. 


Okay, let’s home in on some practical advice for making the jump to the private sector. First on the agenda: your résumé. To be clear, unless you’re applying for a fellowship or large grant, or an academic, research or scientific position at the Ph.D. level — all of which demand a curriculum vitae (CV) — you use a résumé. 

A résumé is a one- or two-page summary of your skills, experience, accomplishments and education; it’s short on duties and responsibilities. A résumé is brief and concise. A CV is longer — at least two pages and usually many more — with additional detailed information. Too many online job banks and websites confuse the two documents and their purposes, so beware.

I’ve seen some of the forms the government forces upon workers to document every event of their professional work lives, and that level of detail just won’t get the attention of a private-sector hiring manager. You have to boil it down to major accomplishments, skills and experience and leave the details for another time (such as the interview and the post-interview “continuous promotion approach” I detail in “Confessions of a Hiring Manager Rev. 2.0”). 

You have to understand and be comfortable with the idea that the hiring process is a staged release of information that provides more detail as you move forward in the process; it’s not a document dump at your first opportunity.

Next, determine your skills, knowledge and expertise that you can transfer from the public sector to the private sector. All of that can be dropped into five different buckets:
  • Technical abilities/problem solving.
  • Leadership/relationship building.
  • Communication clarity.
  • Ability to influence people and projects.
  • Business knowledge. 


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