How to get a procurement job in the private sector – part 3

In part 2 we gave some interview tips - 'should do / say' - for public sector people who are applying for jobs in the private sector; now let's have some of the 'don'ts'.

Bear in mind that your interviewer may have a balanced and informed view of the public sector and what you can bring to the role.  On the other hand, they may have a pre-conception that public sector staff are idle bureaucrats with no concept of a decent day's work, return on capital or real negotiation.  While we all know that isn't true, don't give them any ammunition to support their theories!

So, at interview, don't

  • Make assumptions about the culture/style of the organisation.  There are huge differences between Google, Arcadia, Shell and Goldman Sachs (or similar) - far more so than between most public sector organisations. Do your research and get a feel for the organisation.
  • Sound like you love the 'Sir Humphrey' element of working in the public sector.  Name dropping politicians or councillors; talking about policy intrigue and so on won't impress.
  • Use jargon. "So the SPAD asked me if I'd brief the DG before the PAC because the NAO report was very critical of our OJEU process and claimed that we'd overspent on DEL during the SR07 period because we hadn't factored in RPI adjustments..."  Not good.
  • Talk about 'the public good' too enthusiastically (if you really hate capitalism, you probably shouldn't be in the interview) or sound sniffy about making profits.
  • But don't slag off your past employer, colleagues or other stakeholders either! (That's a no-no in any interview situation, however much you might feel you've been locked up with a bunch of dysfunctional water buffalo for the last 8 years...)
  • Say “I'm a bit worried about the long working hours, lack of flexi-time and whether I'll get time off for looking after my budgie / standing for the local council / playing golf".  By all means explore the work / life balance stuff - once the employer has decided they want you.  And definitely don't ask, "Do I get the Queen's birthday as a holiday"?
  • Don't focus too much on the detail of specific procurement exercises, particularly esoteric aspects of OJEU processes and regulations.

BUT... don't be modest!  Some of the best people I recruited at NatWest were ex public sector and they've gone on to have successful careers in both private and back in the public sector. The size of the spend you've handled isn't that important; just focus on your skills and capabilities you have that relate across to the private sector (see yesterday's post).  That should help you get, and communicate, a clear view of where you can add value to your new employer.

And one final tip.  Interviewing all day is tiring enough without having to face someone who looks like they would rather be anywhere but talking to you.   Be enthusiastic, project yourself (but not too wildly, you're not trying to be Robin Williams);  and smile, engage.  It does help!

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