Do I stay, or do I go?March 6, 2019
One consultant’s journey on leaving the Australian Public Service (APS)
After almost eight years in the Australian Public Service (APS), I made the decision to leave and enter the private sector. This decision shocked many people; myself included, as I had always considered myself a ‘lifer’, but I had reached a crossroad in my career. Not entirely happy but not entirely dissatisfied, I grappled with the ‘should I stay, or should I go’ conundrum for months.
After finally deciding it was my time to go, the questions I am asked most is how I made the decision to leave, and whether I regret it.
Understand what is driving your desire for change
Understanding why you want to leave is just as important as making the decision itself. Is it the thirst for a new challenge? Better remuneration? Or possibly a desire to be a part of something bigger? Whatever your reason (or reasons), it’s important to take the time to understand your motivation.
This consideration was the longest and most difficult part of the process for me, and one that took considerable time. My drivers were an accumulation of events and desires which had built up over time. Long-term acting and ill-timed recruitment freezes helped me to realise that I wanted to be the driver of my own career which led me in consider consulting as better career for me.
Know what you’re leaving behind
There are a lot of benefits available to APS employees; I was fortunate enough to work alongside some of the most talented people, had access to and visibility of key senior executives, and worked on high-profile government policy that I felt made a tangible difference to the community. I had a well-established reputation and was relied upon for skills and expertise. One of the biggest questions I had to ask myself was whether I was comfortable ‘starting over from scratch’.
Acknowledging the many advantages that come with being employed by the APS made my decision more difficult in some ways. I concluded that despite all these positives I was still feeling unsatisfied and therefore knew that leaving the APS was the right choice for me to make.
Know what you are getting into
If you are considering a similar career move, reach out to some consultants to get a true picture of what consulting is really like. There are many misconceptions out there such as ‘ridiculous work hours’, ‘unreasonable KPIs’, or ‘expectations are through the roof’. It’s important you don’t base your decisions on information you have absorbed from water cooler talk over the years, good or bad.
Every consulting firm is different, and most have their own expectations, cultures and consulting methodology. I was fortunate to have several individuals in my network who were willing to talk me through the pros and cons of consultancy and their respective firm’s expectations of their employees.
I decided to join Apis because their culture and organisational structure alleviated many of my concerns about what I could lose when transitioning into the private sector. Their flat structure meant I had access and visibility with partners and senior staff. Their clientele (primarily federal government) meant I could still work on policy that made a difference in my community. Their professional development framework provided a flexible and attractive pathway for me to progress my career and enable me to drive my own path to success.
Once I had a clear idea of what was motivating my desire for change and a clear understanding of the opportunities available to me, I asked for advice. I met with people I had worked with over the years whose opinion I valued, knowing they would not sugar coat reality. The key to holding these conversations successfully was to walk into them knowing I wasn’t going to come out with a silver bullet that would magically address all my concerns. I knew the goal was to glean more information which would help me reach the best conclusion in my circumstances.
People will often give you advice you don’t want to hear; embrace it and trust your instincts. The advice you don’t like is just as valuable as the advice you do. People have their own biases and motivations, and it’s important to be aware of this. Take it into account with the conversations you have. A boss who really appreciates you may be reluctant to advise you to leave, whereas someone who has recently left the public service may be more likely to counsel you to go. Likewise, consultants who see your potential may end up pitching their pathway to you! Everyone approaches situations with their own biases and perspectives, whether consciously or unconsciously trying to make themselves feel better about their own choices. Keep your own drivers in mind, and don’t be swayed by others’ opinions.
You can probably decide without going through this process, but if you are on the fence or you are the kind of person who second guesses themselves, this can really help. Take the time you need to make this decision as it impacts your career (not just your job). Make sure that if you do make a change, you don’t find yourself back at the start, grappling with concept of ‘should I stay, or should I go?’
Written by Renee Fuller
About the Author
Renee is a solution focused consultant with significant expertise in change management, corporate strategy, governance and assurance, policy formation, project management and enterprise analysis and planning. Having recently been promoted to the Senior Consultant level, Renee has thrived in the consulting environment and is a consistent high performer within the Apis Group. Prior to consulting, she accumulated over seven years in the Australian Public Service, working across diverse strategic and operational roles in many locations throughout Australia.