bckr | Looking for your first role? Try govt or 3rd sector, get the right CV and do your research
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Looking for your first role? Try govt or 3rd sector, get the right CV and do your research

Looking for your first role? Try govt or 3rd sector, get the right CV and do your research


We recently welcomed Wendy Barnes, portfolio non-executive and an independent consultant in cyber security to a BCKR breakfast event.

Wendy’s first non-executive role was at GCHQ in 2002.  It was one of the first government departments to go through a proper recruitment process.  The private sector was moving towards greater transparency.  It turned out to be a great role that led to many others.


How to go about finding that first role.

Getting a government or 3rd Sector role is easier than gaining one in the private sector which relies more on your CV, your reputation and who you know.  The 3rd sector roles adhere more to their required criteria and so it’s easier to fit in.

The public sector is also easier to control with regards to your time if you are already juggling an executive role alongside.

But be aware that if you are looking at roles in the health sector, the time demands will be considerably greater – as much time as you are willing to give.

All public roles are listed on the cabinet office website and are also distributed via BCKR’s weekly summary of roles.  You can set up email alerts too from the Public Appointments site.  You should know that many interesting roles come under the very broad umbrella of public appointments such as museums, highways UK etc.

Some appointments are still listed with headhunters so it is worth keeping an eye out on their individual websites too.

Networking is also key.  WIG (Whitehall Industry Group) host networking events and seminars.

There are also ‘arm’s length’ bodies such as trading funds, who are looking to fill their boards with the right people.  They tend to use their NEDs well and be more focused on how to make money, rather than simply how to satisfy government ministers, which tends to be the case on a Whitehall Ministry board.  Ministry boards are chaired by the relevant Secretary of State but NEDs aren’t in Wendy’s experience, actively used.


An area of interest which might be a lawyer’s calling card, is the introduction of GDPR. The EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) will apply from 25 May 2018.  When people talk about Cyber it really comes down to information loss.  There will be a lot of legal constructs to overcome when GDPR is introduced.  If you are prepped, given your legal and commercial background you could position yourselves very well to be of assistance to boards on this matter.


Contracts is also an obvious area where boards require advice.  A lot of government boards don’t have a GC to call on.


Have you got the right CV?

Government want your CV to match the essential criteria in the role description pretty much to the letter.

Your covering letter should have headings, with evidence, that meet those criteria.  They are less interested in events and qualifications.  You need to illustrate how you have added value through these essential qualities.


Think about the wider political agenda.  The minister and Secretary of State will give a steer early on in the process on what kind of person they are looking for but that will never be made clear to you.

You will then be classified as ‘above the bar’ so possessing the right criteria, or ‘below the bar’.  If you don’t get the role it may be due to this hidden other agenda in the background.


  • Think of examples.
  • Use your network.
  • If you get an interview use your network to research the panel – but not too overtly. Don’t contact panel members before interview as that will be frowned upon.
  • Before you go to interview make sure you know your CV back to front. Often, you’ve spent so much time researching the role that you have forgotten how your CV can tie in to it.
  • They will ask for “examples” but they really only want one!
  • Prepare questions but not too many. The panel likes to be in control of the agenda.


Wendy has really enjoyed her government NED roles.  From 2002-2011 all her non-exec roles were in government security, defence and the environment.  She was offered an executive role in government subsequently and ended up taking it up on an interim basis.  After this, her CV went to a different level, and all of a sudden the private sector started to show an interest in her as a board member too.


She found that the government boards really wanted to use her knowledge and experience.

It can also be a great stepping stone to further roles.

The public sector NEDs are subject to stronger guidance, i.e., an audit committee’s guidance includes what audit should do regarding cyber.

In a lot of areas government lead the way on governance.


As a layman in the cyber world, what can a non-exec do to push their enquiries to be helpful?

What is Cyber?  Would suggest that if you can, you go on one of the many training sessions around on cyber.  The COOs and CTOs tend to know what they are doing, so the tech part is well covered. It is about asking the right questions and knowing that the right systems are in place.  E.g. Ask how they are managing their technology. Are the right tech, people and processes in place?

Education, training and phishing emails are the softer side of cyber.

Does the organisation do trial phishing attacks?

To position your credentials in Cyber, ask about how they are prepared for the introduction to GDPR and potential information loss.

How will they handle it?  Protection of high net worth individuals.  Keeping out of the press.  Avoiding leaks.  How do you manage those kinds of breaches?

Any regulator will look more kindly in the event of information loss if you can demonstrate preparedness.


To what extent is being young getting you ‘under the bar’?

It depends on the role and the minister.  There will be unwritten requirements that you can’t really glean from the job specification.  The more information you can give about yourself at the outset the better.


If you are looking at contracts, is there a difference between public and private sector boards?

They are very different.


The private sector is more financially driven and includes the current state of the competition, growth, turn around, asset stripping.

Will often only have the CFO, CEO, GC as executives and the rest will be NEDs.

They are trying to route down into information.


The public sector will be a mixture of exco and board (no independent Chair).  There will be more information than you would normally get.  Directors give much more detail to the board.


What about strategy?

The strategy tends to be that of the department rather than policy driven.

How do you position yourself as a department with stakeholders?

What do they want to be seen as?

How can you deliver policies?

How can you best fulfil the minster’s agenda?


HMRC’s strategy would be how to handle ‘events’.  Same agendas but set by the regulators.


Who should you ask to meet before going to an interview?

Be careful as too direct an approach can backfire.

If you ask to meet panel members if may be counted against you.

You could contact previous members of the board.

Do your usual due diligence but don’t be too overt.  Use your existing network to make enquiries but back off when you get to interview.  It won’t do you any favours if you indicate that you know someone on the panel.


What are the dos and don’ts of engaging with the panel?

It is about striking a balance.  Knowing enough about the panel without being over familiar at the interview.


Where headhunters have been involved have their insights been useful?

They can certainly help in the preparation, particularly with your application and ensuring your CV meets the criteria laid out in the specification.  Headhunters can be challenging in a good way, and can even be a helpful sponsor.