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Why is it generally more difficult to move from the public sector to the private sector than vice versa? Is HR also a sector specific profession?

Let's say you are working as an HR Advisor or an HRBP for an employer such as Northamptonshire County Council, Wirral NHS Foundation Trust or the University of Manchester, but really wish to be performing the same role for an organisation such as BP, Heineken International or The Boston Consulting Group. 

From my own personal experiences, blue chips, fortune 500s and private companies can be notoriously difficult to break into, as you have to wait for a specific vacancy to become available and they tend to look for a near identical profile match and fit of sector specific experience. The vast majority of jobs I have obtained have always been in the public sector, be it police, prison, NHS, courts, forces, civil service etc as a 'service' is often more willing to take and train people up into a role. The downside of course is that you cannot work internationally with them. 

So whether people unintentionally fall into HR or take the first HR role that can get, can or do people also and overtime often become pigeon holed or labelled by employers by default, such as you are an HR Professional and Practitioner, but an NHS one, a Police one or a County Council one?

However, that can also be problematic if someone is an HR Officer for St. Helen's College of Further & Higher Education, but wishes to then become an HR Advisor for Booking.com in Amsterdam.    

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  • Tightly or wrongly the public sector has a reputation in much of the private sector for being time bound, non-commercial, bureaucratic and slow and unresponsive. Many private sector organisations do not see these as attractive attributes or ones to add to their own organisation. Meaning HR folk on these businesses have that group prejudice to over come.

    It doesn’t work quite the same the other way around. As commercial people can be seen to be attractive to try and change a culture. But a number of people who move commercial to public can struggle.
  • Keith's got it in one!!

    The public sector dots the Ts and crosses the Is and adds a few more for safety. Therefore many ex public sector employees in the private sector struggle, or insist that everything is done the way they've been used to in the public sector. Doesn't go down too well quite often.
  • I moved from public sector (NHS) to private sector and I did have to learn to let some things go! It taught me a lot about questioning my own assumptions and practices though, and I really enjoyed it. So much I'm still there 7 years later. It perhaps helped that I didn't aim to move to the same size organisation when I crossed sector - I down-scaled a bit, as that was one of my reasons for making the move, so during selection I was able to talk about both the benefits I hoped to bring to them, and those I hoped to experience by entering a different working environment.
  • Interesting I have come from a private sector commercial background to an ALMO for a council. I've got to admit I nearly didn't accept the job because of the poor reputation public sector has but when I spoke to the CEO she completely changed my mind as they were already on the journey of change; in her words:

    we are moving away from being too prescriptive …we aim to treat people as adults not children who need to be told what to do and copious pages of policies etc. telling them how…part of the move to a coaching relationship… concept of manager as coach…supporting and enabling not telling

    They recruited me because my view of HR tied in with this and I was of a 'commercial mindset', we are currently working through re-writing all the HR policies because they are war and peace and come from a position of distrust and redesigning all our processes.

    Yes it is hard and I'm asking 'why do you do this' constantly but for me the opportunity of being able to be instrumental in driving this kind of culture was exciting and the drive to get their from the CEO and other managers is stronger than I've seen in most private sector roles.

    I'm lucky in that my new organisation wants to change maybe this isn't the case for all.

    I am worried though if I ever want to move back into private sector how this will be perceived...