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The economic downturn has brought an end to the prosperity African-Americans have come to rely on through public sector careers. Historically, the public sector has been the single largest employer of blacks, consistently providing jobs to roughly 20% of our group. Getting that “good job” has always been one of our community’s most respected goals, with positions in local government, mass transit, or public education representing the epitome of stability. Working for central public institutions also gave African-Americans a sense of self-respect that made up for feeling excluded from other aspects of civic life. But, the security of working for tax-funded entities has eroded, as the fever to slash public sector spending spreads nationwide.

The shrinking tax base caused by the recession has put a strain on local economies, leading political leaders to scapegoat public sector workers for looming deficits. The unfortunate portrayal of these employees as “coddled fat cats” has cost more than 400,000 public sector jobs over the past two years, with more cuts sure to come. Future job losses will most deeply affect our community, as the public sector is the number one single employer for African-American men, and the second largest employer of black women, according to The Loop 21. The generous pensions, economic parity and opportunities for leadership that have been the fiscal bedrock of our lives must be sought elsewhere – or blacks will face financially devastating consequences.

Planning a career move to the private sector is essential to African-Americans facing these challenges. These tips, culled from career experts, can help you successfully navigate a transition out of the public sphere into the corporate job of your dreams:

1. Assess how your current skills relate to private sector positions.

Typical government job functions like procurement, managing large projects, and statistical analysis have a wide range of expression in a plethora of jobs. Distill the elements of your expertise that could be useful in more than one position. Then determine how to sell various corporations on your ability execute that skill in different contexts.

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2. Network with friends who have made the transition.

Professional counterparts who have already moved from the public to the private sphere can give you the best idea of which of your skills are most marketable. In addition, it will be critical to learn the business methodologies that differentiate positions in the private sphere from similar government jobs. Informational interviews with private sector employees can help you find these important answers, and determine appropriate levels of compensation.

3. Research companies of interest, considering their size and product types.

Blacks seeking to make the transition to the corporate world must consider whether they want to work for large organizations, or smaller enterprises. In addition, whether a firm creates tangible products or trades in information or services will factor into which businesses makes the best career move for you.

4. Stay on the bleeding edge of your profession.

Working in public agencies can leave one unconsciously steeped in the specific protocols of your place of work. As you explore private sector opportunities, refrain from using jargon that does not translate into the larger arena. Learn newer, industry-wide terms and read up on current trends pertinent to your field.

5. Go back to school.

Getting a specialized degree, master’s degree or training in a new area of interest is a great way to make a transition to the for-profit world. Not only can you gain the latest knowledge related to your profession — good schools also provide the networking opportunities necessary for applying your degree in a new position.

Most economic indicators suggest that overall employment opportunities are increasing, while public sector jobs are on the decline – so it’s time for African-Americans to abandon the ebbing tide and ride a new wave towards financial security. Plus, we must move towards new opportunity faster than others to transform the “last hired, first fired” phenomenon into scenarios in which we win. Making moves from the public to the private sector might seem daunting, but there are also advantages, such as the greater flexibility of private sector pay and roles. So, remain positive and open to new possibilities as the black community shifts from our dependence on the public sector for career growth.

Transitioning from the public sector into private fields is critical to side-stepping the effects of the greater public sector cuts ahead. We can “make the cut” collectively, if we try.

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