Job Search: References for those in the public sector
Many public sector organizations will only offer bland references as your employer. You will need their reference. But when it arrives it may only be a confirmation that you worked for them in a particular grade over a particular period of time.
Most large private sector employers know this – for others you may have to explain. You will need something more. Try asking your line manager or someone in your management line if they would be prepared to give you a personal reference as well as the one sent officially by HR. Many managers are more ready than you expect to help. Also consider approaching retired senior colleagues and others who have left organisation.
You might consider asking for a personal reference from someone who holds a senior position in the private sector. This is where people you have met during work in a voluntary capacity may be useful. Otherwise, consider people who you have met through clubs and associations.
You shouldn’t feel embarrassed about asking for a reference. Most people feel flattered to be asked But you should always give people the opportunity to say no and make quite clear that you will understand if they feel they simply don’t know you well enough to help.
If you need advice in a particular situation please get in touch.
I left the UK public sector five years ago. At that time people management skills appeared to be in the decline. I noticed this particularly in how restructuring exercises were being handled. It was the main reason I chose to go!
I had always been very proud to be part of the UK Civil Service! Sadly that ceased when I saw how some of my colleagues were being treated. No, not because we were being downsized – it was how we were being downsized.
Well, the UK public sector has changed a lot since I left and I do not mean in terms of the colour of the government. In terms of managing change, few lessons seem to have been learned and a good number seem to have been forgotten.
There have always been good and bad employers – bosses with more and less finesse when dealing with their employees. My encounters with large private sector corporates, has led me to think they are not better or worse at handling people than those in the public sector. Good practice in small and medium-sized bodies varies widely in both sectors.
Recently I have heard some very strange and rather sad tales from those in both the public and private sectors. I have heard about organizations going through their third and fourth restructuring in a few months.
On top of that, I am being told of people who have had to reapply for their own roles three and four times in those exercises. As you will understand the effect on staff morale is devastating.
Running large corporate change programmes – even when well handled – costs a lot of money.
Right now, not only is there a lot of change but it is very clear that it is not being handled well.
As one former colleague with vast experience of managing public sector change successfully said to me;
“They try to manage a restructure themselves and can’t. So then they bring in one of the large consultancy firms to help and they just seem to make it worse. They are being told to finish the change quickly, so they don’t try to find out what we do really but they get well paid.”
What is going wrong? Well yes, I do know about the economy and the need to make “cuts”. And yes I do know we live in a world of constant change.
But there seems to be a kind of corporate panic/frenzy around and that is the worst way to respond. Now more than ever we need real leadership and we need leadership confident enough to be serene when all about are running round like headless chickens.
Think about a wolf pack! Wolves have to flex and change all the time as they hunt. The constants are that they are quite clear why they are there, the strengths and weaknesses they possess and their roles. The leader sniffs the wind and off they go in very good order.
The weather may change about them and the quarry may lead them into new and difficult terrain. But because they are well led, have a strong commitment to the pack and are clear about their roles they succeed often enough to thrive even in the most challenging times.
Wendy Mason works as a Coach, Consultant and Blogger.
She works with all kinds of people going through many different kinds of personal and career change, particularly those;
This post is concerned with the particular issues faced by those moving between public and private sectors when completing their CV.
I’m going to comment on language, confidentiality, competencies and references.
A recent post here set out the reasons why public sector jargon needs to be avoided in CVs and job interviews. Keep your language clear and simple. When in doubt ask a non-public sector friend to read it and give you honest advice on clarity.
Some public sector staff work in areas where the issues of confidentiality are real and significant. But in all honesty most do not! If you do, there will be clear guidance available. You should consult your HR department about what you can say and how best to overcome the barriers to you getting a new role.
Most public sector staff do not work under the same restrictions. The reality is that you can record on your CV the kind of work you have been doing. Of course you should avoid information; under a security classification, relating to an individual member of the public or a fellow staff member, likely to embarrass the organisation or Government Minister for which you have worked.
Most people will be able to describe their work in sufficient detail for a CV. But see the comments made in the next section about how you do it.
In my last post I included a list of skills and personal qualities (competencies) that employers are likely to look for. The list was by no means an exhaustive.
When you complete your employment history, try to show how your approach and your achievements demonstrate the competencies you quote.
For example, putting together a team and then driving through an initiative to improve the service to customers while reducing costs illustrates a number of competencies. It can be understood quite easily by those outside the public sector.
Experience of project and programme management again can be understood outside the public sector and can be used to illustrate planning, organizing and delivering benefits when applying for roles in small to medium-sized organizations that do not have large projects for you to manage.
Those who have worked very close to Ministers managing legislation have had to use planning and organizing skills. They are also likely to have demonstrated tact and discretion. If you have worked in difficult and sensitive areas including policy discussions with Ministers (where influencing skills, relationship management, tact and discretion were needed, as well as the ability to be flexible and adaptable) this should be included but with discretion.
Think in terms of the competencies as you write descriptions of the work you have done. Think in terms of organisations, tasks, problems solved and people influenced. Describe the tasks you have completed in terms that others will understand and focus on what you delivered and how you delivered.
Some government departments will only offer bland references as your employer. You will need their reference. But it may only be a confirmation that you worked for them in a particular grade over a particular period of time.
Most large private sector employers know this – for others you may have to explain. But you will need something more. Try asking your line manager or someone in your management line if they would be prepared to give you a personal reference. Also consider approaching retired senior colleagues and others who have left organisation.
It helps as well if you can provide a personal referee who holds a senior position in the private sector. This is where people you have met during work in a voluntary capacity may be useful. Otherwise, consider people who you have met through clubs and associations.
You shouldn’t feel embarrassed about asking for a reference, most people feel flattered to be asked But you should always give people the opportunity to say no and make quite clear that you will understand if they feel they simply don’t know you well enough to help.
I would welcome your thoughts on all this and I am very happy to answer questions.
Watch your language – it’s a different world out there! (leavingthepublicsector.net)
Wendy Mason works as a consultant, business coach and blogger. Adept at problem solving, she is a great person to bring in when that one thing you thought was straightforward turns out not to be! If you have a problem talk to Wendy – she can help you – email her at email@example.com ring ++44(0)7867681439
First of all ‘CV’ stands for ‘Curriculum Vitae’ which means ‘story of your life’! But in this context it means a brief written account of your career so far. The intention is to sum up all the basic information that an employer needs to know in one short and easy-to-read document.
Once you have written a basic CV you can then make as many copies as you like and send them to anyone you wish. But more importabtly you can then adapt this basic template to meet the needs of any particular job advert. You can send a copy of your CV when you’re applying for a specific job vacancy or when you’re just writing ‘on the off-chance’.
Some Basics – How to write a good CV (ewaslawinska.com)
Wendy Mason is used to working with people moving out of the Public Sector! She is a performance, programme, contract management and change specialist. She works as a consultant, business coach and blogger. Adept at problem solving, she is a great person to bring in when you are going through personal change. You can contact Wendy at firstname.lastname@example.org or ring ++44(0)7867681439.
Wendy is a bit worried about Dave, particularly his reluctance to network. She hopes that her recent posts have encouraged him to give it a try.
She isn’t surprised that Dave is feeling a bit depressed and that things are difficult with his wife. Being made redundant is stressful for the individual concerned and those around them.
Life changes for the partner or spouse too and this can take a toll. It helps if you can talk about this together. And sometimes you may need outside help from a counsellor.
Keep an eye on how things are developing between you and if they are getting worse have the courage to ask for help! Much better that than to lose the relationship.
Thanks for your last letter.
I hope that my recent posts have encouraged you to try networking. I’m sure it really will help in your search for the right kind of work. I’ll be very interested to hear how you are getting on.
In my next couple of posts I’m going to concentrate on CVs and how you can use the work you have done on your STAR stories to show your competencies.
Yes, I do think potential employers will be interested in both your Civil Service jobs and the voluntary work you have done. But it is up to you to work out how to explain what you have done in a way that shows other people what you have delivered. Potential employers want to see evidence that you can deliver what they need. I’ll help you with this!
That is one of the reasons why you need to establish your own CV template that you can then adapt to each job application. If you read the adverts carefully you will usually find each advertiser is looking for something a little different. If it isn’t obvious from the advert then it may be when you do your home work.
If you are serious about your application, it is worth finding out more about each organization you are applying to be part of. You should be able to find out quite a lot using the internet. Then work out what extras you may be able to offer in terms of your particular experience. As I say above this needn’t just be related to paid work.
Anyway, when you have read my next couple of posts, I hope you have a go at producing the first version of you CV. I’ll be very pleased to review it for you.
Mean while, if you have any further questions please get in touch.
As I’ve said before, if there are other things you would like me to write about here please let me know
Wendy Mason is used to working with people moving out of the Public Sector! She is a performance, programme, contract management and change specialist. She works as a consultant, business coach and blogger. Adept at problem solving, she is a great person to bring in when that one thing you thought was straightforward turns out not to be! If you have a problem talk to Wendy – she can help you – email her at email@example.com or ring ++44(0)7867681439
Following the 2010 UK Government Spending Review it was revealed that between them UK Government departments were expected to shed over 100,000 civil service posts as part of their efforts to reduce administration costs.
The UK Government’s cull of quangos, in which 192 public bodies are to be abolished and a further 112 will be merged, will also contribute to an overall headcount loss in the civil service.
In addition vast numbers of posts are likely to be lost from the wider public sector – Local Authorities, the NHS, the BBC etc.
Many public servants have already been invited to consider taking voluntary redundancy, and many more will be invited to do so as reorganisation plans begin to take shape.
Compulsory redundancies cannot be ruled out.
For many public servants this is a time to consider the future and the challenge it presents.
Four years ago I was facing the same challenge. I left the Civil Service in May 2007 and despite the changing economic climate I have not had one moment of regret!
Since then, as a coach, I have worked with a number of other people leaving public service.
So I’ve decided to start this new blog to share learning and to help people leaving make the most the time ahead. The aim is to;
Give them honest advice about the realities of life outside
Support them in making their plans
Help them carry their plan through!
It will also be a place for people to express their views, if they wish, in the form of comments and to ask questions!
I will welcome contributions from those with experience of leaving, or supporting people leaving, the public sector.
I would be really grateful for your help. Would you please pass the word on about Leaving the Public Sector to anyone you think might find it helpful!
Also I would love to hear from people who might be interested in writing for it or sponsoring it!
I am sure this is worthwhile exercise: helping people make the most of their lives has got to be a good thing to do!
Please pass the word on!
Wendy Mason is a performance, programme, contract management and change specialist. She works as a consultant, business coach and blogger. Adept at problem solving, she is a great person to bring in when that one thing you thought was straightforward turns out not to be! If you have a problem talk to Wendy – she can help you – email firstname.lastname@example.org ring ++44(0)7867681439
I’m reading ‘Surviving Change – A Manager’s Guide’ from Harvard Business Press. It advises on managing in the downturn and opens with a discussion of different survival strategies – hard and soft! In fact, most change is a mixture of the two and the strategy chosen usually reflects the underlying culture of the organisation! How the mix works is critical because if it is not well managed it can become fraught with conflict and demoralising for people in the organisation; it can lead to a schizophrenic approach to customers.
The ‘hard’ approach to change is usually short-term and about economics – cut costs and increase cash flow! If a unit, or an employee, cannot demonstrate how they add financial value, out they go with very little ceremony or concern for personal well-being. The change is usually hard driven from the top with little wider engagement. Often consultants advise the magic inner circle and HR consultants deal with casualties that might cost the organisation.
Soft change focuses on developing the organisation to meet new conditions with high engagement across the piece from the leaders. Employees trust in the informal contract they have with the organisation and work towards its well being.
Sadly experience shows that neither soft or hard approaches work in isolation. The hard approach works in the short term but with that alone you are usually left with a demoralised and disloyal workforce – your best employees probably left at a rate of knots when you started the change. The soft approach can take years to embed and the market doesn’t stand still!
Most successful change is a combination of hard (rationalisation well managed) and soft (employee engagement and encouragement to learn new skills). But if change is a reflection of underlying culture and that has conflicts within it, a change can put the whole organisation out of kilter. What I’m thinking of here is an organisation that pays lip service to soft but is really hard. I believe in the downturn this is likely to be an increasing problem, particularly in the service sector.
Clients of service companies, particularly in the UK public sector, like to hear how well the company manages its employees. A tender panel may take great interest in training and development approaches but, of course, the final decision is usually made on the keenest price. In the present climate the client is likely to continue to seek cost reductions, which mean lots of change to be managed. This can lead a company into a kind of schizophrenia. It flags up all the good things its HR team would like to do but finds itself increasingly having to make hard, and very short-term, decisions. As a consequence, its own employees and its middle managers in particular, become confused and a little cynical! In turn this impacts on the service delivered to the client – so the client pushes harder!
What is the answer.? Well maybe it starts with a little more honesty on both sides! Perhaps clients should start being more realistic about how they expect their service companies to manage for the price they are prepared to pay. Perhaps the companies should be a little more honest with clients, and with themselves, about the real costs of delivering ‘cuts’ At the end of the day, a client gets what they pay for and it they want to see services well managed with employees committed to the services they deliver, they need to recognise there will always be a cost even in the downturn!