Working Class is a series by CLEO where we ask experts and real women for job, career and salary tips. Have relevant advice to share? Contact us at cleo@sph.com.sg


It’s natural to have reservations about making a switch from the public to private sector or vice versa—you don’t know how hard a time you’ll have adapting to a new work culture. But Giet Koh didn’t let this apprehension stop her.

After seven years as a teacher and a stint at statutory board Sport Singapore, she decided to leave public service for the private sector. She was 35.

Despite having a wealth of experience from the public sector, Giet realised she didn’t have the relevant experience to work in the private sector. She decided to embark on a year-long internship at a business strategy consulting start-up.

Giet Koh.

“It was a struggle rationalising my decision with family and friends. They questioned my decision to be an intern at an older age,” she says.

“However, I wanted to continue to grow and develop. I try to have a growth mindset, which means having a positive attitude to challenges and an eagerness to always keep learning. As the worlds of work and technology are continuously changing, learning excites me and keeps things fresh.”

Now, the 39-year-old is the Head of Account Management at Deliveroo Singapore. And as someone who has worked in both the public and private sectors, she sheds some light on the differences in work culture between the two to help you decide if you should make the switch.

1. Things move at a faster pace in the private sector

“In the public sector, there’s a need for public accountability, so there are more formalities and procedures and many levels of approval are needed before a decision is made. Patience is key. In the private sector, the approval process is not only shorter, especially at start-ups, but we’re also allowed to change up processes, systems and ways of working quickly and effectively when we need to, with minimal disruption to the team’s day-to-day work.”

2. Results and change are more immediate in the private sector

“In the public sector, there is a greater gap among the constituents, so results may be less immediate and achieved over a long period of time. Teaching is a well-established profession, and while there are processes that can be renewed or updated faster, there are fixed syllabus and curriculum you need to follow. In the private sector—like at Deliveroo for example, where our goal is to improve service standards and forge great partnerships—we see the effects of our work with our partners every day. Change is a constant here and we look to global markets as well as our competitors to quickly update our business processes whenever necessary.

3. There’s a lot more competition in the private sector

“Since the success of the company in the private sector largely depends on the revenue generated, employees are eager to prove their worth to secure promotions and a pay raise, which can result in greater competitiveness. The public sector, however, is generally less competitive as there’s a higher sense of job security among employees and they tend to be more relaxed about promotions.”

4. You enjoy more job security in the public sector

“During my time in the public sector, there were no retrenchments and there was a steady pay increment year-on-year in the education sector. In the private sector, especially in a start-up, compensation is heavily dependent on your individual and team performance. However, this isn’t to say that people in the public sector are complacent—I only witnessed hard work and dedication from my colleagues. During my stint as a teacher, I worked with people who are extremely passionate about serving the people of Singapore to the best of their ability.”