Moving from third sector to private sector

Hi there,

I have been working in HR for 22 months in various entry level roles, i.e HR Coordinator, HR Administrator, Recruitment Officer within the third and public sector.

Recently, I have nursed the ambition to make the move from my current sector into the private sector. Job advert after job advert, talking to one recruitment agent after the other,  I must say it has not been easy and I have not been successful in that quest, unfortunately. The requirements are pretty much strict which makes me feel a bit disheartened to pursue it. 

I would be grateful for any tips or advice can anyone who has found themselves in a similar situation give to me in order to help me make the move to practice HR in the private sector.

And also how different is NFP or Public sector HR practice from Private sector?


  • Hi Afua

    I started out in the private sector and transitioned into the third sector. I have to say it is much easier doing it that way around and I can see why. Even the more philanthropic private sector organisations tend to characterise the third sector as being bureaucratic and process-driven while seeing themselves as agile and fast-moving. You will need to convince them that you can adapt to what they perceive as their leaner, meaner culture.

    I wonder if it might be helpful to do this in two moves rather than one? Could you target social enterprises and the commercial or trading arms of charities? Charity shops, whether in the High Street or on line, are big business and social enterprises operate in exactly the same marketplace as every other business in their industry. There are social enterprises running garden centres, cafes, domiciliary care, clothing and jewelry manufacture, bottled water, chocolate, catering businesses, investment, publishing ... .. whatever kind of business you can think of, someone somewhere is running one as a social enterprise or B corp. That would enable you to position your experience as having been gained within the profit-driven part of the third sector and might give you the springboard you need to make the transition.
  • In reply to Elizabeth Divver:

    Wow Elizabeth. You outdone yourself with the tip and to be honest i am very grateful with your input. Thank you!

    I work with a housing association who run domiciliary care as well as provide housing to over 55s in London. Looking at the advice you gave, i pretty much fall into this category. But, I'm still not understanding why I'm not successful with this move:/. I'm not giving up and i will take your advice on board.

    Thanks once again.
  • Steve Bridger

    | 0 Posts

    Community Manager

    10 May, 2018 21:25

    In reply to Afua:

    Hi Afua... and welcome to the Community.

    Some previous discussions that may or may not be useful to read, too...

    Pigeonholed to a sector by recruiters

    Moving sectors without experience

    Searching for roles in the private sector

    Public sector vs Private sector

  • In reply to Afua:

    Prejudice is the answer and I share some of those concerns.
    HR people should be risk takers supporting the business not bureaucrats.

    You need to be seen to be a commercially focussed risk manager with some valuable skills if you are going to persuade someone to take a risk on you.

    Do not give up and keep analysing whether you are failing at cv stage or in interview.
  • Hi there

    I am interested in why you want to move sectors when you don't seem to know much about what to expect. Private sector usually pays the best which may be your motive but it is very different. Some might describe it as chaotic and it is certainly an environment that only suits certain personality types.

    I've worked in predominantly private, then the public sector and now run my own business working with a variety of organisations. If I was recruiting for the private sector I'd be concerned about anyone with only a NFP background as I'd see them as potentially uncommercial and with a need to operate in an environment with clear rules and procedures on everything.

    Of course there are businesses that are private and provide support to the housing sector where your knowledge of the sector would be an asset. So in addition to Elizabeth's advice I would be asking how you can show that you can work in an agile fast paced environment. Can you do something commercial as well as what you are doing? Maybe something voluntary if you want to make the direct leap.

    Recruitment agencies are extremely risk adverse and rarely consider anyone with a different background. Your best bet to get into a new sector is by targeting possible employers (including though networking - online and face to face) and only responding to adverts where companies are recruiting directly.

    I feel sure if you are determined enough and have a plan you will be successful.

    Good luck.
  • Having made the transition from public, to charity, to private sector, I can't add much to Elizabeth's tips (to be honest, my success was down to luck: finding an SME that was a little bit of a basket case, looking for a clear head and a robust temperament - my MD understood my limitations pretty well and has been mentoring me to learn my way into the peculiarities of the private sector SME).

    However, I can now offer some thoughts on what was different, and it wasn't what I expected.

    A good deal was similar, which I think was because the organization's size was very similar to the one that I left, and that meant that it wasn't too hard a transition. But what was really far more different than I expected was the people. In the third sector, most people were motivated by the fact that they were engaged in a project to improve the world. Sure, they would grumble about their pay and their colleagues and the management and their workload. And sometimes people left and went on to a different charity or (more rarely) a commercial organization with a similar interest. But mostly, the fact that we were, ultimately, all working towards the common good was a binding factor, and that was what kept everything basically working even under the worst of circumstances.

    In military parlance, we understood the "Main Effort" - the thing we were supposed to be trying to do - so in the absence of clear direction we had a light by which to steer.

    Moving into a commercial SME, the only Main Effort that was evident to 100% of the workforce was to maximize profits for the benefit of the company owners. The business of business is, after all, business; and I didn't (and don't) sense that people resented this fact. But it's not much of a light to steer by, which means that, in the absence of clear management, the default is to revert to habit. And not all habits are good habits.

    I'd not say that everyone working for a charity is a good person (sadly, there's too much evidence that's not true, especially lately), but they all know what behaviours are expected of good people, particularly with clear sight of the Main Effort.

    Nor would I say that a person working for a commercial enterprise is a bad person, but the lack of a clearly illuminating Main Effort makes it far easier to slip into bad habits.

    On the plus side, though, it was hard - in a charity - to justify expenditure on anything other than our Main Effort. So investment in HR systems, training and development was pretty depressing. But in a commercial enterprise, those things can be clearly aligned with the making of profit (spend a little now to recoup a lot more next year). So I have found it is easier to extract the money to begin acquiring systems to do the other things that matter.