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Putting On A Public Face—October 2013 print edition

Tips for breaking into the public sector procurement realm


October 21, 2013
by Katherine Risley

Working as a procurement professional in the public sector can be a very rewarding opportunity and often gives employees the ability to positively impact the service provided to the general public. It’s a field that many in the private sector may be interested in getting into. But as with any field, public sector procurement in Canada has its own host of requirements when it comes to recruitment. Understanding what the employment market looks like in the public sector and what skill set and experience is highly valued in potential candidates will allow those looking to make a move into the public sector to be more strategic about their job search.

The last few years have seen a decline in the number of positions within the public sector as the government has cut spending and departments have had to make do with less. However, an area in which there has been some growth has been at the entry to intermediate level, from procurement clerks to procurement specialists. Procurement clerks are still in demand as the administrative side of the role produces a fair volume of work to attend to. Additionally, those providing guidance to internal departments, such as procurement specialists and contract managers, remain in demand to ensure that organizations follow a fair and transparent process and that their stakeholders receive best value for public funds that are spent. When it comes to opportunities at a senior level within the public sector, these roles are often filled through an internal competition and rarely are external candidates hired.

Public vs. private experience
With an increased focus on the spending habits of public sector departments over the last few years, it has become crucial that procurement professionals within the public sector ensure that the competitions they run are fair and transparent. When looking to hire a new employee, often candidates who have experience working in the public sector are given preference over those that have only worked in the private realm. This is because of a perception that practices in the private world are not as rigorous.
If you’re looking to get into public sector procurement without any experience in that realm, there are several areas you will want to be able to speak confidently about to demonstrate that your skill set is transferable.

First and foremost among these is your ability to enforce a set of procurement practices with your internal clients. Many corporations within the private sector have comprehensive procurement guidelines in place and procurement professionals are tasked with informing their business partners of those policies and ensuring that they are followed. In an interview, your ability to articulate the extent to which you were able to educate internal stakeholders of the importance of these guidelines and have a process followed in a disciplined manner will go far in demonstrating your ability to transition in to a public sector environment.

Secondly, your ability to enforce procurement guidelines without becoming what internal clients would refer to as a “just a road block” is a skill set that is highly valued. Often times, internal operating departments can see procurement as a hindrance rather than a help, but there’s no reason that being bound by good procurement practices means you can’t be innovative. In the private or public sector your ability to work with your client to develop creative solutions, while still ensuring procedures are followed, will make you stand out as a leader in your profession.

Thirdly, in developing creative solutions, you must also be adept at working with your clients to gain a clear understanding of their needs in order to develop a tender package that does an exceptional job of communicating those needs to potential vendors. Within the public sector this is increasingly important given the structured nature of the tender process and the limited access vendors may have to the end client. Outlining your experience working with stakeholders to develop strong statements of work, RFx documents, evaluation criteria and so on will demonstrate that you will be able to repeat this process in a public sector environment.

Finally, in both the private and public sectors there is a focus on procurement having a long-term customer service mentality towards providing ongoing procurement program delivery and implementation. Within the public sector, hiring managers are looking for procurement professionals who are able to give examples of how they supported their internal client groups past the awarding of a project by implementing performance metrics and monitoring client satisfaction.

Networking
If you are interested in joining the public sector in a procurement role you will want to connect with your professional peers who are already employed in the industry. Using LinkedIn to set up informational interviews with procurement professionals who have made the transition from the private to the public sector is a great first step as it will allow you to gain an understanding of how they were successfully able to demonstrate that their skill set was transferable.

You may also want to consider taking educational courses that focus on public sector procurement offered through SCMA to compliment your work experience. In addition, if you are currently unemployed, there are often a number of contract opportunities available within the public sector for which the recruitment requirements can be less stringent. Taking on a contract role can be a great way to get some industry experience on your resume and increase your chances of being hired full time.

Ultimately, making the transition from the private to the public sector may take some time, but if you put in the effort to get connected and understand how to talk about your experience in a relevant way, you should be a step ahead of the competition.
Katherine Risley is a senior consultant at Meridia Recruitment (a division of Knightsbridge Robertson Surrette) in Halifax. Reach her at krisley@kbrs.ca.