Transitioning from the APS to private sector
August 31, 2017

Ronan Kaplan, Manager


In 2015, I made the decision to radically change the path of my career.

Since 2006, I had been focused on national security policy and strategy. I had completed degrees in this area, wrote a thesis, won entry into the Defence Graduate Program and spent five years writing, analysing and implementing the Australian Defence Strategy and Strategic Policy.

Despite my wonderful experiences in the public service and within the Department of Defence, I was eager to test myself in the private sector.

A friend had suggested management consulting, which appealed to my desire to solve complex problems for a range of clients on a variety of topics. My only worry was that, with a Bachelor of Arts (Hons) in International Relations and little ‘business’ experience, perhaps no consulting organisation would be interested in what I perceived to be a niche skillset in international strategy and national security policy.

On the advice of a friend, I applied to a multinational firm and won a position in their strategy and operations team. My initial experience was a whirlwind – trying to become familiar with complex methodologies, attending jargon laden meetings and completing new tasks, all sprinkled with the knowledge that I wasn’t in the safety of the public service anymore … I felt like it was ‘perform or perish’.

One evening while I was working back, trying to figure out how to complete a task I had never completed before, my boss made the comment: ‘Just whip up a pretty basic functional analysis will you?’ I had no idea what I was doing and at 7:30pm on a Thursday night was wondering what I had gotten myself into.

Then a colleague said something so simple I couldn’t believe it hadn’t dawned on me. ‘Just Google it.’ In that moment, I realised that these methodologies, approaches and techniques were all different ways of using a set of skills I already had.

I had been researching, analysing, synthesising and communicating for years in both academia and the public service. The variables and required outputs were different, but ultimately the basic skills were the same.

Almost two years later I had found my niche. I was able to weave my knowledge of the APS, together with a set of methodologies and technical skills, to make a substantial contribution to a multi-million-dollar project.

I’d never thought that I would be describing myself as a lean practitioner, a process modeller or a scrum master. All of these things previously sounded so foreign and inaccessible to me just twelve months earlier; but after being trained I kept coming back to the same realisation – research, analyse, synthesise, communicate – it was all there.

While my research was no longer made up of intelligence reports, my analysis was now based on commercial impact rather than military posture, and my synthesis and communication focused more on process models and slide decks than Ministerial briefs; the base skills were the same, even if the technical methodologies were very different.

I look back at my trepidation at leaving the APS and my concern that my skillset was too foreign to a private entity to be attractive as an employee, and realise now that the foundational skills I learnt in the APS have been the foundation which I have built on to successfully change my career path and become a management consultant.

If you’re looking for your next challenge but are unsure about how to make the transition from public servant to consultant, please contact me at to have a discussion about how you can begin a similar journey.