Be a show-stopper by crossing the divide

8 Nov 17

Experience in different sectors can raise you well above the competition when it comes to career development. Helen Emmott gives steps on how to do it. 

During these complex, challenging times before Brexit, business, the government and the not-for-profit sector need to work closely together to learn from each other and create joint solutions to problems they share. It is now the norm for large and complex organisations to work closely with other sectors, and having the skills to do this effectively is becoming more of a requirement. In addition, management teams in large-scale organisations find they have more similarities than differences when it comes to the difficulties they face, irrespective of sector.

Business leaders, as a consequence, will increasingly need experience of working in different sectors as well as of creating optimum value networks by building relationships with as diverse a range of individuals as possible.

Cross-sector experience has until now been overlooked as an important feature of career development. During the downturn in 2008, recruitment became more conservative, with organisations tending to hire from those in their own sector. Now, however, we are seeing more movement in the market with an increasing preference for broader experiences – and a new breed of multi-sector professional is emerging. There is growing acknowledgement that candidates are more credible if they can draw upon a range of experiences.

“Cross-sector collaboration has evolved from a ‘nice to do’ to a business imperative,” says Debbie Alder, HR director general at the Department of Work & Pensions. She suggests that the time may have come when a lack of experience in different sectors can limit career progression.

The talent and leadership teams at the Whitehall & Industry Group (WIG) advise hundreds of people every year on how to move sectors.

Is it time you took a look at your own career through the cross-sector lens? How could you increase your market value and employability through cross-sector contacts, dialogue and experiences?  Start with our 10 top tips below.

1. Scrutinise your CV

Take a close look at your career to date and count the number of sectors in which you’ve worked – public, private and voluntary. Three is ideal; two is acceptable; only one means you need to redress that balance as you plan your career.

2 Understand the value of cross-sector experience

Look at your experience from the point of view of a head-hunter hiring for a C-suite or non-executive appointment. You may be an expert in your field of finance, but it’s the breadth of experience you have, within different sectoral environments with their own priorities, drivers and challenges that will make you a flexible, resilient leader. Those who have leadership experience in both the private and the public sectors have a high market value for the most sought-after senior roles.

3 Prepare for a career boost

Speak with individuals who have made the transition and discuss their experiences of changing sectors. Some straightforward, practical advice about likely hurdles can be highly beneficial during the first few weeks in a new role. WIG can introduce you to such people, and can advise on how best to harness your skillset in a new environment. Events are also a useful way of maintaining and extending your network.

4 Consider diversity in thought and practice

Appreciate that diversity of thought – the range of thinking and operating that comes from working in different sectors – is as important now as demographic diversity in the boardroom. When it comes to crafting your non-executive offer, understanding the variety in ways of thinking and working will give you greater perspective in the boardroom.

5 Time it right

Be aware of the points in your career that will offer the best opportunities for you to transition between sectors. When will you be most attractive to the opposite sector during your leadership journey? Investigate the hiring strategies, structures and hierarchies within other sectors to better plan your entry or re-entry.

6 Find your own story

Make sure you can articulate how your breadth of experience translates into commercial value. Will your previous experience better enable you to understand the language, targets and mindsets of your customers and clients? Make sure you can explain why cross-sector expertise in finance particularly puts you ahead of the crowd.

7 Network, network, network

Join roundtables and discussion groups with finance professionals that attract a cross-sector audience. Just being in the room can give you a distinct sense of the differences (and similarities) between the public, private and voluntary sectors, and how they work.

8 Go on a secondment

If you don’t want to change sectors in the longer term, consider taking a secondment of six months or one year into another sector. If you are not sure, get advice and guidance to help you through the process.

9 Choose a mentor from another sector

While it’s normal to look for a mentor within your own organisation or sector, there is added value in having a mentor from a different sector. This will help you gain a broader perspective, avoid cynicism, assumptions and groupthink, and encourage you to broaden your horizons.

10 Apply for non-executive or trustee roles in different sectors

Constructing a cross-sectoral portfolio of interests will make you a well-rounded and sought-after non-executive director or trustee. WIG offers a board recruitment service with a strong cross-sector candidate base, and the talent team runs a workshop for those contemplating non-executive work.


(1)       View your experience from a headhunter’s point of view

(2)       Time any move carefully

(3)       Expose yourself to people from different sectors at events and discussions


(1)      Feel obliged to move for the long term – consider a secondment

(2)      Restrict yourself to people in your sector as mentors

(3)      Forget non-executive roles as a way to develop professionally


  • To see how WIG could help your career, visit
  • See WIG’s board vacancies or get advice via


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