A Look at Why You Should Leave the Private Sector and Take a Job in Public Sector Procurement or Acquisition
It’s no secret that private sector consulting is a lucrative field. For a lot of people in the industry, it seems like “the top,” that lofty goal they’re always striving to reach. However, I recently had a conversation with a very senior government procurement executive that really made me think. This executive revealed that several of the people in their latest batch of recruits came to them from top blue-chip consulting firms. My immediate response was Why? Why would a relatively high-flying consultant (or manager in any leading private sector business), let’s assume around 30 years old, leave Accenture or KPMG and join a public sector procurement team?
There are plenty of reasons to consider a career in the public sector, but these are 5 of the biggest:
- New work challenges
- Engaging suppliers including entrepreneurs and business leaders
- Work that feels meaningful or rewarding
- Improved work/life balance
- Giving the resume a little boost
- Stability and job growth
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1. New work, new challenges, new opportunities.
The public sector offers a wide variety of genuinely challenging and fascinating work. Those in private sector jobs sometimes express concern that they’ll get bored if they switch sectors, but there’s really no reason to be concerned. There’s no doubt in my mind that work in the public sector can be at least as interesting as work in the private sector, if not more so when you add in the right competency areas.
My personal experience has been that the public sector has many of the same challenges as the private sector– they both have all of the major procurement challenges of markets, suppliers, and so on. However, in the public sector you also have to meet challenges associated with being in the public eye:
- Dealing with the political angle
- Satisfying the commercial angle
- Maintaining a professional public image
I once appeared on the front page of a major UK newspaper after some leaked emails, which is certainly not something I experienced working in the private sector. In that way, the public profile can be a bit of a double-edged sword, but it does ultimately expose you to work, challenges, and opportunities for growth you might not encounter in the private sector.
Jobs in public service give you an opportunity to make a difference in other people’s lives, which improves job satisfaction for many public sector employees.
2. Make a difference.
Have you ever noticed that people are happier when they feel like the work they’re doing means something? I think deep down, we all want to leave our mark somehow. Many people choose to work in public sector because they want to make their world by helping people. Public sector employees report feeling like the work they’re doing is for the benefit of humankind, not just for commercial profit-making reasons.
We can debate the philosophy behind that, but here’s a story about a procurement director from a hospital that has always stuck with me. The director said that his team’s procurement savings “had paid for 100 more heart operations this year.” Compared to buying sugar for a soft drinks firm or even technology for a bank, making life-saving operations possible.
3. Find a balance.
The public sector in many cases will offer a better “work/life balance”. It may be something of a cliché, but it is still true. Generally, the public sector is more reasonable than private industry when it comes to working sensible hours, having time off for emergencies, flexible working patterns, and so on. Whilst the large consulting firms are trying to address these issues, as a young consultant you are in general likely to be working long hours, and you can be sent pretty much anywhere in the world at short notice. Some people love that; others don’t. With most government roles you probably know where you will be for most of the time at least.
Switching to a public sector job is a great way to round out your resume or cv.
4. Boost your resume.
In terms of developing a rounded cv, getting experience relatively early in your career in different sectors is a positive step. So for some people, even if they think they will return to the private sector later, a few years in a significant public sector job to gain different experience may well be useful. As we said above, the challenges to be faced are considerable, and for instance, the stakeholder management issues faced by public sector buyers can be a lot more interesting than those in the private sector – which you can use to impress at interview!
Public sector jobs won’t just disappear, and that stability is extremely attractive to many professionals.
5. A good job now and in the future.
One of the biggest stressors for people working in the private sector is job security. It makes sense– businesses in the private sector are always growing, changing, merging, and restructuring. That can put a lot of stress on the people who depend on income from those businesses to pay the rent! These kinds of concerns don’t really exist in the public sector– the government won’t go out of business like a private company could. There will always be a demand for skilled employees in government jobs, which is part of the reason the job outlook for public sector jobs is typically so good.
There you have it– 5 reasons why you should consider making the switch from the private sector to the public sector. While these reasons are a good place to start, there are also plenty of other things to consider when you’re thinking about making the switch to a career in public service.
For example, we haven’t touched on pay and benefits here. Traditionally, the private sector was usually better, and with austerity in southern Europe that may still be true in many countries. But aspects such as a guaranteed, index-linked pension, still available to some public servants in some countries, has huge value. Not many appreciate quite what that is worth but it can be worth up to 50% of basic salary!
But even taking that out of the picture, the reasons above make it clear why for some procurement professionals – not everyone, but a reasonable proportion – a move to the public sector can make a lot of sense, just ask the CEOs.