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How to recruit senior leaders in the public sector

How to recruit senior leaders in the public sector

A poorly-chosen senior leader can have a huge impact on a business – negatively influencing employee engagement and morale, company culture and brand reputation, as well as its bottom line.

But, for the public sector, a poorly-chosen senior leader can be crippling!

At a time where budgets are shrinking, organisations are “right-sizing”, and a potential skills shortage looming on the horizon, the public sector is under increased pressure to deliver. 

And to make the situation worse, the number of people in the public sector is dwindling by the day. According to the latest figures, there are 5.36 million people in the UK working in the public sector, accounting for 16.5% of UK employment – the lowest percentage since records began in 1999.

So, when it comes to hiring senior leaders in the public sector, you need people that are adaptable, agile, and accustomed to navigating their way through change and uncertainty. 

If you’re a not-for-profit looking to recruit a senior leader, here’s how to go about finding the perfect candidate:

Value mindset over skillset.

When it comes to finding fresh talent, many not-for-profits try to target candidates from the commercial world – the logic being that these business-savvy professionals will be able to come in and modernise their organisations with the latest, cutting-edge thinking and ideas.

But, unfortunately, this is not always the case. While you might want someone who is commercially savvy, remember, it’s easy to bring big ideas to life when you have a big budget – but it’s a little more difficult to do so when you’re restricted by costs, which in the public sector, is almost always the case.

That’s why you need leaders who are able to think outside the box in order to get things done, and for that, they need an adaptable, collaborative and agile mindset. 

When interviewing senior candidates, it’s important that you measure for mindset, analysing how they respond to challenges and change, and gaining key insights into their motivators and preferred working styles.

Think outside the box.

If you’re working alongside a search firm, it’s important to bear in mind that some consultants are accustomed to working towards very specific and niche briefs, and as a result, will often try to place people who meet the requirements to the letter. But, in more cases that not, it’s better to hire someone with a competitive edge, even if they don’t meet the brief to the T. 

Try to find a recruitment consultant with a broad understanding of your industry, and that firmly understands the type of person you need - perhaps even better than you do. 

For instance, if you’re looking to recruit a Communications leader, you might think you want someone with an extensive background in PR and communications, but if you take a closer look at the type of person that would succeed in the role, you might learn that taking on someone from a creative background that knows how to design a communications strategy as well as launch an ad campaign is much better suited to the position.

Know what you’re paying for.

If you’re appointing a senior leader, you shouldn’t go running to the first executive search firm that pops up on Google. To find the right leaders, it’s crucial that you partner with a consultant that understands your business objectives, company culture and team structure.

In fact, some search firms have the capability to carry out in-depth, senior-level search and selection campaigns that are customised to your brief – and your budget.

For example, throughout my time in the recruitment sector, I’ve helped build some of the brightest and highest-performing marketing and communications teams in the public sector. But I also have the skill, experience and capabilities to carry out a leadership-level search campaign, with access to cutting-edge sourcing tools, a state-of-the-art selection process, and a range of bespoke psychometric and leadership assessment tools. 

To find out more about our experience finding senior leaders in the Public Sector, get in touch with Romana Begum on

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