Deciding to leave a job is never easy. And if you’re considering leaving a government gig for an IT role in the private sector—which many IT managers do after five to 10 years working for a government agency in an effort to seek more money and more challenges—the decision is even more complicated.
There are numerous pros and cons in transitioning from the private sector to the government sector—and it’s the same in the reverse situation. In the private sector, for example, you might be able to progress through the ranks of a company without having to move around the country to different field offices—an event that often happens to government IT pros.
IT professionals need to consider this type of issue, along with the level of job challenges, when making the decision to move from government to the business world. Once the decision to go private is made, the next step is preparing for a civilian life. Here are some of the basic steps and factors that go into transitioning from a government job into the private sector.
Rewrite your resume using layman's terms
After deciding to move in the private sector, you need to review your resume through ”civilian” eyes. Private-sector employers aren't always familiar with government language; titles and grades that carry weight and meaning in government may mean nothing to the outside world. You need to rewrite your resume to explain your strengths to potential employers in language they understand.
“Far too many career government servants don’t give employers any indication that they can translate their skills effectively to the private sector,” explained Scott Moritz, a former FBI special agent who left the bureau after 10 years to take a job in the private sector.
“And, unfortunately, most companies will remember the one time they hired a high-performing government employee who didn’t transition well.”
So while it might be depressing to consider, it’s quite possible that some of your most impressive accomplishments won’t mean much to your new boss. Be ready to do some serious soul-searching when you revise your CV. A good tool for this process is the skills-based resume template that’s available on TechRepublic.
Talking the talk from resume to interview
Even before you start sending out that revamped resume, you must prepare to defend your work tenure in the government sector, as there is resistance by many companies to hire from that environment. Although you'll never get them to admit it, there are companies out there that have an unofficial policy of not hiring directly from the government.
That’s exactly why it’s crucial to make sure that you can explain the relevance of your government work to companies that have to pay constant attention to the bottom line—and you need to make this clear in your cover letter, your resume, and that initial interview.
"Be preemptive," urged Moritz. "Explain that you might not have sold software products, but you have extensive experience pitching antitrust cases to prosecutors."
Working on the other side of the fence
Once you do get a job in the business sector, you'll have to adjust your mindset a bit.
"There is a cultural chasm between the government and the private sector," said Moritz. "There's a much greater cost sensitivity outside the government. I had to get used to working within budget and time constraints, to learn to do what's best for the client without breaking the bank."
Another major difference that you’ll encounter in the civilian world is a much more competitive work environment. People in government are more open, says Moritz. "What you see is what you get," he says. "In many private companies, people are more guarded. They’ll perceive you as a real threat." Moritz has seen many former government employees gradually lose the openness they once had.
One of the hardest government perks to relinquish, says Moritz, is giving up the chance to know that your actions are bettering the lives of your countrymen. “The parts of my job now where there’s a clear right and wrong—that’s what I find the most gratifying,” he says. “I miss having that ‘bright light’ as an integral part of my workday.”
But, on the positive side, you’ll also find that the private sector offers much more in terms of high-tech toys. The government is generally slower than private industry to embrace new technologies, so if you’re truly passionate about IT, you’ll likely have a lot of fun when you have the freedom to experiment with—and perhaps even create—the next great thing.
And that’s just one of several perks the civilian tech world offers. Other perks include great salary ranges, a more casual work environment, and fewer rules and regulations to comply with. As long as you know what you’re getting into before that initial interview—and what you’re leaving behind—you should be able to make a successful transition.