4 Tips to Help You Ace the Interview and Land Your Dream Job
So, you’ve started the job hunt. Congratulations! But if you’re looking for your next job in the public sector, the ever-shifting political and economic landscape may have you worried. In reality, there’s no reason for concern-- even in times of austerity, the public sector still recruits people to fill vital roles in procurement. Some of these roles will be filled by candidates coming from other public sector roles, but in many cases public sector employers are looking for prospective hires with a private sector background to add another dimension to their team.
Trust me. I’ve been right in the middle of this process for decades as an interviewee trying to get my first (and second, and third…) public sector job, a CPO looking for recruits, and an independent interviewer and selection panel member for filling senior roles. Based on that experience, I’ve put together this simple list of 4 things you can do to make yourself stand out in your public sector or public procurement job interview. They are mainly aimed at people looking to move from the private sector, but we hope they also contain some worthwhile points for anyone, even internal public sector candidates.
Here’s what we’ll be going over:
- The importance of researching your prospective employers
- Telling the right story about your experience
- The essentials of public procurement
- Coming across as the kind of person your interviewer wants on their team
Doing some research on the public sector organization takes only a few minutes and makes a big difference in the interview.
1. Before your interview, hit the books (err, the web).
Technology is amazing, isn’t it? In a few short decades, computers have gone from massive machines that exist only in university and government facilities to tiny devices every man, woman, and child carries in their pocket or purse. That means there is absolutely no excuse for you to sit down in an interview and say something, as I have heard many times, such as, “well, I don’t really understand what your organization does…”
Virtually all public organizations put information about what they do out in the public domain on the internet, which means it’s easy to find all of the key information about how your prospective employer operates. Taking a few minutes while you’re waiting in line at the grocery store or sipping your morning coffee to do some research about the company you’re hoping will hire you puts you in a much better position to answer-- and ask-- questions during your interview.
You’ll want to get a sense of the organization's:
- Goals and drivers
- Mission statement
- Financial data
- Senior Staff
- Management style
- Office Culture
Be aware of how you present yourself to the public sector interviewer-- focus on presenting things in a positive manner.
2. Emphasize the positives.
Why do you want to join the public sector? Why do you want to join this organization in particular? If you can’t answer these simple questions, you’re going to have a hard time impressing anyone at your interview. I once interviewed a very capable young woman who was a lawyer for a big firm in the UK. When I asked why she wanted to join this particular public sector organization, she said that she was not enjoying working 12-hour days for the law firm, and wanted basically an “easier and less stressful” job.
We knew what she meant, but it did not seem like a great motivator to employ her! Talking about “work life balance” would have been better, even more so if that was the third or fourth reason she gave. We believe that most public sector procurement jobs have their fascinating aspects, so emphasising that would seem to be that is a far better reason to give for applying. “I like the idea of contributing to something more than my organisation making profit” was always a good answer from someone currently in the private sector, I thought. The additional challenges in the public sector, such as handing the political aspects of senior roles, can also be appealing.
Spend some time understanding the differences between public and private procurement as well as what that means for you personally.
3. Understand public procurement-- a bit, anyway.
Public procurement and private procurement have been similarities, but they also each have their unique qualities as well. Your private procurement experience will serve you well in a public procurement job, but it’s likely you will still need to do some learning as you transition from one sector to the other.
Before the interview, get at least a basic understanding of the public procurement technicalities. Your interviewer will not expect you to explain the Directives with regard to Part B service contracts of more than five years’ length as they apply to the Bulgarian military, but they might expect you to at least understand the basics around how procurement is different in the public sector.
When conducting interviews, I tend to hope that my candidates have put some time into thinking about what these difference mean for them on a personal level. In addition to learning the basics of public procurement, I would highly recommend considering questions such as:
- How might you personally handle the differences between the public and private sectors?
- Can you foresee any challenges in making that transition?
- What are your feelings about having to work under tighter constraints than, perhaps, you have been used to?
- How will you address these personal challenges?
- Do the differences reveal any opportunities for you to exhibit skills you may not have been able to put to use in the private sector?
Even though you are coming from the private sector and you interviewer has built their career in public procurement, you can still build rapport with a good attitude.
4. Whatever you do, don’t be arrogant!
It seems that many people have the opinion that private sector procurement is “better” than public sector procurement. Another popular notion is that having any private sector experience automatically makes someone a huge asset for a public organization. This is not the sort of attitude you should take with you into your interview! Be confident, not arrogant in your interview.
In reality, there are excellent examples of procurement in the public sector as well as not so good examples. The same is true of the private sector.
By all means think about how your commercial experience can help your new organisation, and emphasise what you can bring to the new job. But remember that your interviewers are making their career in the public sector, and no-one likes to hear their own career choice slated! So don’t tip over into the arrogance that says “I’m from the private sector, you should just be grateful that I am applying to your useless public sector organisation role.” I have seen that approach more than once, and it has certainly never helped a candidate land a job.
Keep these tips in mind for your public sector or public procurement job interview, and you are sure to be successful!
In review, the secrets to public sector interview success are: a little bit of preparation to ensure you have some understanding of the organization and its environment, enthusiasm for the role you’re talking about, and a degree of humbleness alongside confidence in your own ability. They sound like good tips for any interview to be honest, but we’re sure they will help if you are going for that public procurement role. Congratulations on your upcoming interview, and good luck!