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(Stefanie Timmermann/iStockphoto)
(Stefanie Timmermann/iStockphoto)

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I took a government job. Now the private sector won’t hire me Add to ...

THE QUESTION

Just over three years ago, I took a job in municipal finance, leaving my private sector job in commercial real estate behind. I was pregnant with my second child and this public sector job was close to home. On paper, my title is similar to my previous position; in reality, though, the work is not challenging and my skills are becoming rusty. I have two graduate degrees, including an MBA, and all my previous work experience was in banking and finance. I would like to return to the private sector. For the past three months, I have been applying to jobs that I believe I am qualified for, yet have not landed any interviews.

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One company did get back to me, wanting to know why I’d taken a role that was so out of character with my previous experience. I explained that I’d taken the job for family reasons. I never heard back.

Is my municipal job really such a turnoff that I’m no longer considered employable in finance? Or is it simply that the job market is very competitive right now and I just need to be patient? I am applying online via company websites and recruiters, as well as networking with friends and former colleagues. Is there anything else I can do to make my résumé look more attractive?

THE ANSWER

Transferring from the public to private sector or vice versa can sometimes be challenging. Employers may give preference to candidates who have had a steady career on one side of the fence. That shouldn’t deter you from making every effort to get back to where you want to be. It may just mean having to work harder to break back in.

Given that you have relevant experience in the private sector, I am wondering whether your résumé (and cover letter) may not be doing the job it needs to do. Résumés are often scanned quickly for first impressions. Recruiters and potential employers need to know at first glance that you have been part of their world and would fit right in. If your municipal job is in some way overshadowing your more pertinent experience, you may need to rewrite your résumé to more effectively present yourself. The key is to strike a balance with your messaging so that you don’t allow your most recent role to inadvertently diminish your private sector experience and at the same time don’t minimize the value from your public sector experience either.

I wonder whether you are overlooking some important gains from your municipal role. Sure, the position may not have challenged you enough for the long haul, but I encourage you to reflect on what ways this experience may have given you a unique perspective or skills that could be of value in future roles? Think beyond the specifics of finance – perhaps something broader but equally important such as improving communications skills, the ability to navigate complexity or hone leadership skills.

I also encourage you to think twice about conveying the message that your move to the municipal sector was just a “time-out” for family reasons. With reflection, I’m sure you can come up with a more compelling message.

Writing a good résumé is both art and science – even more so when trying to make a significant career shift. You might consider getting assistance from a professional résumé writer through Career Professionals of Canada. As well, see some résumé tips offered in an article I wrote recently with advice from two résumé professionals.

As for networking, this too may need some finessing. Friends and former colleagues are great to start with, but you need to spread your networking wings. Identify some organizations you would like to work with or at least learn more about. Then find people who you can talk to from those companies. Ask your current network if they have any referrals or contacts from these companies that you can tap into. Use LinkedIn to follow companies and find people you may know who might be good resources. Networking is one of the most powerful ways of getting a job and often one of the most underused strategies. Bottom line: You need to ramp it up.

Finally, if your skills are getting rusty, consider taking a course or going to a conference. Not only will you have the opportunity to buff up your skills but you might meet people who can become part of your network.

Keep your chin up, your head down, and go for it.

Eileen Chadnick (@Chadnick) is a work-life and career coach and principal of Big Cheese Coaching in Toronto. She is also the author of Ease, a book offering strategies to cope when you’re ‘crazy busy.’

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