How to Transition from the Federal Government to the Private Sector

Are you a federal government employee thinking about transition from the Federal Government to the private sector?

It’s a common situation.  In fact, many federal employees are eager to move into a position in the private sector and start making more money right away.

But making that transition isn’t as easy as some people might have you believed. Some of the interpersonal skills you’ve acquired working for the federal government don’t necessarily apply in the same way in the private sector.

Federal employees are masters of navigating bureaucracy, but they’re not always masters at the kind of personal networking that equates to success in the private sector.
If you want to transition from the federal government to the private sector, you have a lot to think about. This post covers many of the most important considerations.

The Benefits of Both Private Sector and Federal Employment

You’ve probably already done some thinking about the pros and cons of private sector employment as contrasted with federal employment. You might not have thought of everything, though, which is why a section is included here covering both.

The biggest benefit offered by a federal civil service job is the benefits package. No one in the private sector offers benefits packages comparable to what you’d have in a federal career.
And the biggest piece of that benefits package is the retirement plan. Fewer than 20% of private companies now offer a traditional pension plan. In fact, millennials might not even know what a pension entails.

All federal government employees have pension plans to participate in. While they’re not as generous as they used to be, the government pension plans are almost always better than the private sector alternatives.

Job security is another big benefit of a federal job that can’t be matched in the private sector. Of course, even federal jobs are less secure than they were in the past, but they’re still far more secure than private sector jobs.

Not only do most private companies reserve the right to fire you anytime for any reason, some of them go out of business – leaving you out of work.

It’s possible that the federal government might go out of business at some point, but it’s not likely. As of this writing, the federal government in the United States has been in continuous operation for 243 years and counting.

Most private sector companies don’t even come close to that kind of longevity. The other benefits offered by the federal government include health insurance coverage that is rarely matched by a plan from the private sector and time off benefits that are considerably more generous than you’d see in the private sector.

The biggest benefits of working in the private sector are the greater earning potential and the variety of jobs and challenges available to someone working in the private sector.

The Drawbacks of Both Private Sector and Federal Employment

One of the drawbacks to staying in a federal job for your entire career is the limitation on your retirement benefits. Yes, you’ll have a solid pension plan as a federal employee.

But if you have a first career as a federal employee and a second career in the private sector, you can collect retirement benefits from both.

And even though many of the benefits of federal employment are great, the private sector often offers unique benefits packages that include perks unheard-of for federal employees.
These vary from company to company, of course, but some of the perks offered by private companies include things like company cars, financial bonus and incentive programs, and facilities that aren’t available elsewhere. Google, for example, is famous for their gourmet cafeteria and relatively luxurious facilities on the job campus there.

Federal employees often deal with salary caps and rigidly defined career paths. In the private sector, you can write your own check if you’re good at “the game.” Many of the tips in the rest of this post are aimed at upping your game when it comes to dealing with private employers.

Making the Leap: Rebranding Yourself and Repurposing Your Skills and Education for the Private Sector

If you’ve given the pros and cons of each sector a careful weighing and have decided to transition from federal employment to the private sector, congratulations – you’re in for an experience.

One of the most important things you can do is take stock of your strengths and weaknesses as an employee. What skills have you acquired during your period of government service? What goals have you accomplished, and what personality traits made it possible for you to accomplish those goals?

Where do your talents lie? Are you a good communicator? Are you well-organized, efficient, and fast? Are you able to come up with win-win solutions during periods of conflict?
All these skills and talents are in demand in the private sector, but you need to think about your career transition from the perspective of a marketer selling a product.  And you’re the product.

What are your benefits and features?

It might seem like this is simple enough and that you already know the answers to all these questions.  But don’t rush into editing your federal resume and start applying for jobs. Chances are, though, you might benefit from some career coaching and advice from a company with people who specialize in helping employees transition from federal employment to the private sector.

But unlike a product, you have a soul and a heart. These also need to be accounted for when making your transition.

What kind of work do you find satisfying? What kind of contribution do you want to make to the world through your career? What kind of person do you want to be?

When you inventory your strengths and weaknesses and combine those with knowledge of what you want from a career, the transition process becomes much easier. Most people don’t have much experience taking this kind of stock of their careers or their values, though.
The best advice anyone can give them is to ask for help.

Companies like Your Edge for Success (YES) offer that kind of help. Using a variety of tools a career coach can help you find out what job markets are best for you when you account for these factors. YES can also help you come up with the best strategies for approaching those markets.
This involves a lot of practical, nuts-and-bolts work like determining the right mix of product and strategies you need.  And then writing your cover letter, your LinkedIn profile, and your resume. Depending on how long you’ve been working for the federal government, you might not even HAVE a LinkedIn profile – but you need one.

You’ll want to rebrand yourself through all these channels, but you’ll also want to start tapping into your network of personal and professional contacts. You have a network, but you might not be aware of how big it is. We can help with that, too.

You should also find out more about the hidden job market. Did you know that more than 38% of the jobs that get filled every day don’t come from an ad getting placed?

We can show you how to tap into your network in a way where you can find out about these jobs as well as the ones that are advertised.  But it all starts by first making a clear assessment of the perfect and personalized strategy for you.

The Intangible Aspects of Your Career

What are the intangible aspects of your career?  We alluded to that in the last section, but we’d like to delve more into that topic now.

Basically, what we’re talking about here are the things that make your job rewarding that don’t have a monetary value. In other words, they’re the aspects of your job that don’t involve pay or benefits.

The kind of work culture you’ll be participating in is one aspect of the intangible aspect of your career. For example, do you work better with lots of interaction with your co-workers? Or do you do better working independently as much as possible?

How much recognition do you need to feel satisfied at work, and does this company provide that kind of recognition? Some people are fine with an “attaboy” here and there, but other people need programs like employee of the month programs to feel the kind of validation they need at work.

What kind of management style do you prefer? Do you want a lot of autonomy at work? Do you want to use your judgment and make a lot of your own decisions?

Or do you prefer working with a manager who takes more of a hands-on approach and provides you with detailed instructions and constant feedback?  There are no wrong answers to any of these questions, by the way.  They’re all just a matter of gaining self-knowledge and then taking that self-knowledge into account when looking at job opportunities in the private sector.

It doesn’t occur to people to account for these things when transitioning from one career to another, and that’s where some help and guidance from some professionals can help.

What You Need to Do to Prepare for Your Transition

You need to do several things to get ready for your transition.  The first thing is to start thinking about your brand. And if you think that a brand is just something for a major corporation like Coca-Cola or Ford, we recommend taking a look at The Brand You 50 by Tom Peters. That book will give you an idea of what it means to have a personal brand.

You don’t want to sound like an expert about how to work for the government, and that’s the mistake that most resumes from former government personnel make.

You want to tailor your experience and present it in a way that you sound like an expert in the field you’re transitioning into.

Spend some time on the internet reading about your field’s newest developments. Relate these developments to your experience. Keep these changes in mind when you start the next step of preparation: creating cover letters, resumes, and social media profiles.

When it comes to creating fresh cover letters and resumes, we recommend getting the advice of experts. Most people don’t have experience in the realm of creating these documents, and it’s no sin to get help when you need it. In fact, it’s a virtue.

One of the things an expert will do when helping you set up these documents is to look at how your education and experience apply to the private sector – especially in the fields you want to work in.

Speaking of education, many people in the government are behind in areas of technology. It seems like the federal government stays a little behind the rest of the world, probably because of the inherent bureaucracy involved.

What does this mean to someone making a transition?  It means you might need to take some classes or read some books to get caught up with the latest technical advancements in your field. A professional career coaching company like Your Edge for Success YES can help you decide which subjects you might need to bone up. We can also provide advice about where to get this educational development, affordably and quickly, if you need it.

Finally, you need to take a hard look at your communication, interviewing, and networking skills. One of your goals when interviewing for a new position in the private sector is to take control of the job interview without seeming overbearing or off-putting. You want to get specifics about what kind of timeframe you should have for follow-through on the part of prospective employers, among other things.

If you’re like many government employees, it’s been a while since you’ve sat down in a job interview. Some role-playing and practice can sharpen your interviewing skills.
The kind of networking you’re used to doing with other government employees might have limited applicability when networking with people in the private sector. Boning up on that skillset is also a great idea when preparing for your transition.

Taking the Leap: Making the Actual Transition from the Federal Government to the Private Sector

Taking the leap means entering the job market, which means accepting that, in a sense, you’re a product that you’re trying to sell.

The big difference is that, unlike a product, you’re a person with beliefs, a value system, and personal and professional goals that must be considered.

Our suggestion is to waste as little time as possible making your transition. To speed up the process, work with a team like Your Edge for Success. We can help you do the following:

  • Recognize your core values as they apply to finding a new position.
  • Understand your "features" and "benefits" to an employer.
  • Identify your skills, strengths, and talents.
  • Determine where the best market for “brand you” is.
  • Strategize how you’re going to market yourself to those employers.
  • Collaborate on your cover letter, your LinkedIn profile, and your resume.
  • Leverage your networks – especially your “hidden” network that you don’t even know you have.
  • Develop a new network that will champion you and advocate for you.
  • Teach you communication strategies to better address employer objections and maintain control over your interview.
  • Take your inner game to the next level so you’ll be confident and stop second-guessing yourself when things don’t go well immediately.
Your Edge for Success offers a free 30-minute consultation which includes a review of your resume as well as your goals and expectations and the best career strategies to accomplish them. Contact us so we can schedule a time to talk.