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6 May 2022

Joining a consultancy from the civil service

Andy Long

It’s been over 6 months since I left the civil service. It was a scary thought, but joining a consultancy from the civil service isn’t as scary as you’d think. These thoughts might help you decide if you’re thinking of doing the same.

Joining a consultancy from the civil service isn’t as scary as you’d think

I’ve spent most of my career working at or for public sector organisations and often heard the civil service described as a comfort blanket.

High levels of job security, a very generous pension, decent holiday allowances and flexible working policies. Your job is safe and you’ll be well looked after for as long as you want to be there.

You do get all of those things and I respect everyone who is happy with that.

Content design was thriving when I chose to rejoin the civil service just over 4 years ago after a few years working in the private sector. There were communities of practice in several government departments. But I knew things weren’t perfect in the civil service and at some point it would probably be time to move on again.

The easy decision is to stay where you are, and many people do for the reasons I’ve mentioned. Having spent time in the private sector, I knew there were other options out there and I knew when the time had come.

Comparable benefits

When I was approached about joining Hippo, a quick look at their careers page showed me the benefits are comparable to the civil service. After a few chats about the work and the culture, the thought of throwing off the comfort blanket was a lot less scary.

Do your research

Look at the alternatives, write down the pros and cons of staying in the civil service or leaving — do as much research as possible to make an informed decision.

Write down what’s important to you — is it the work, the people or the culture of the organisation? It could even be a balance of all of these things. Talk to people who work outside of the civil service and see what they think.

At least then you’ll know you’ve done as much research as you can before you decide to stay or go.

There’ll always be a place for consultancies

Recently, ‘consultant’ has become a bit of a byword for government inefficiencies and financial waste. But when it’s done properly, hiring a consultant or a consultancy is worth every penny.

As with everything in our line of work, it’s all about context. Many public sector organisations need to design new services and products but often don’t have the expertise to do so in a user-centred way.

Bringing in the services of a specialist consultancy is often the quickest and most efficient way to get things done whilst meeting the standards expected and required.

Whilst many government organisations are rightly building in-house expertise, smaller organisations may never have the need for in-house design teams — and for that reason, there’ll always be room for consultants to step in to solve a particular problem.

The key to making it work for both parties is through building relationships and by making sure everyone is aware of expectations, roles and responsibilities from the outset.

User-centred design isn’t going away

Last year, the Government Digital Service (GDS) published its strategy for 2021-2024.

User-centred design is still very much at the heart of this strategy. Work to make government services work for everyone means there’s a demand for skilled people to step in and design services in the right way.

In fact, Hippo has been involved in some key elements of the work around building a simple digital identity solution that works for everyone — more evidence that consultants and civil servants can work together effectively to solve complex problems.

Variety is the spice of life

During the early part of the pandemic, I felt quite jealous of people who moved at short notice to work on critical services and infrastructure to support the pandemic response.

Being able to work as a content designer whilst knowing there’ll always be a different project to work on (often for a different organisation) in a few months or weeks was one of the big selling points to making the jump to consultancy for me.

Having a say in where you’re placed

Consultants are asked what sort of work they’d like to be involved with when they join Hippo and then regularly through meetings with their line manager.

We match the right people up to the right contracts so we’re creating healthy relationships with clients. This means consultants get the experience and professional development opportunities they need.

I’ve enjoyed my first assignment at Hippo — it’s been challenging and I’ve needed to draw on all my skills and experience, but I also know there’ll be many different opportunities in the future once that work is done.

And I’ll get a chance to have a say in what those opportunities are.

There are plenty of options out there

If you’ve made the decision to try working for a consultancy, obviously I’d love you to join us at Hippo. But there are plenty of consultancies out there, from global IT corporations to smaller (but growing) specialist design organisations.

Hippo falls into the latter category, but as we grow I’ve been comforted to see there’s a real commitment to keep the sense of community and friendliness that can often only be felt at smaller organisations.

Again, do your research and see what might be a good fit for you.

Having a healthy community of practice to lean on for help and support is also a huge benefit to people who may spend most of their time working for a client.

We have that here and I’m really pleased to be working with such a talented group of content designers, building the best supported and friendliest content design community in user-centred consultancy.

I made the right decision

Other than missing some talented and dedicated public servants, I don’t regret my decision to leave the civil service. My advice would be to find an organisation where the culture aligns with your personality and values.

I’m very happy with my choice to join Hippo. We’ve plenty of interesting and challenging work to get stuck into and we need good people to come and join us as we grow.

So if you’re a content designer or any other user-centred professional, I’d be more than happy to chat about working for Hippo to see if we’re a good fit for you.

You can view our latest vacancies here.