Patrick Reihill: Insights from the Whitehall & Industry Group – lawyers and public sector roles
BCKR recently welcomed Patrick Reihill from the Whitehall & Industry Group to share his experiences of public sector role recruitment. A copy of Patrick’s presentation can be found here.
What do law firms get out of their WIG membership?
Most use it for the events WIG put on, to get a better understanding of policies coming through and the inner workings of government and also for their leadership programmes.
What is the normal recruitment process for a public sector role?
WIG will go through a very thorough briefing process with the client and challenge them about the type of individual they are looking for and from that, draw up a brief.
The role will then be advertised for 4-6 weeks and also be brought to the attention of their existing network. BCKR does review the WIG advertisements in compiling their lists.
Then they will draw up a shortlist. WIG won’t meet the candidates face to face before the shortlisting stage. That’s when the more detailed bullet points come in – the value added skills that differentiate between candidates. It is important at this point for candidates to give as much as possible for the headhunter to hang their hat on. The covering letter is often more elaborative than the CV.
Next is the interview stage. Fairness is always at the top of the panel’s mind, so the same questions will be asked of all candidates and there is no deviation from the script. It can appear to be quite a forensic overly formalistic process. There will not be an opportunity for supplementary questions. It is important to have an understanding of how government and Whitehall operates. Make sure you keep your answers short. Overwhelm yourself with examples of how you fit the job competencies detailed in the job description.
What due diligence?
- How does the minister/permanent secretary see NEDs working in his/her department (WIG can always help you here)?
- Do you know any of the current NEDs who are stepping down or previous NEDs? Have a cup of coffee with them – anything to get a steer on what the panel are really looking for.
- If you get the opportunity for a ‘fireside chat’ (which would only occur after an initial interview) this would be the opportunity to meet with key sponsors, and a chance for a more informal discussion where you must sell yourself. This is not to be taken casually. It is certainly not to be taken as an indication that you have the job.
Why would you put yourself through this?
The intellectual challenge and the opportunity to give something back.
The political involvement can add a fundamentally interesting element to life.
It is usually the work above and beyond the boardroom that is really interesting.
It will require extra time but and can be very rewarding and complimentary to your other activities.
The other thing to take into account is that there are lots of roles in the WIG arena so statistically you have a better chance of getting one than in the straight commercial sectors.
You will also meet a lot of interesting people serving on these boards, which in turn increases your network for the future.
Don’t give in if you get rejected. The more roles you go for the more you will pick up about the process.
Addressing your weaknesses.
There is an industry perception that law firms don’t know how to run a business. This is the lawyer’s fault. It is up to you to re-write your CV with headlines around your commercial experience giving tangible examples of your translatable skills. Get rid of your list of deals. For example:
- Commercial income that you have been instrumental in increasing
- The size of teams you have led
- Business decisions you have been involved in
How do you go about developing your CV?
- Make sure it is role specific.
- Seek help – WIG is always willing to give advice.
- Lay it out in a straightforward way illustrating your business skill-set with real successes/outcomes.
They are a challenge. Headhunters are undeniably client focused and they are frankly not trained to advise candidates. You need to do as much of their job as possible. Things to think about:
- Be focused personally – what are your interests, skills and breadth of experience?
- Use your network – clients, mutual connections.
- Consider getting a mentor.
- Go digital – make sure you are on LinkedIn.
- Think about all the prejudices lawyers have to overcome and tackle them head on.
- Start early but don’t just jump in without due consideration.
- Ensure involvement in your organisation. Be a champion within your own firm.
- Think about charity trusteeship as early as you can.