The private sector is made up of almost 6 million different businesses, ranging from sole traders, where the whole business is owned and run by a single employee, to some of the biggest companies in the world such as Amazon . Of the 25.6 million people working in the private sector, around 5 million of them are self-employed. Essentially 5 million business employ 1 person only and the remaining million businesses employ just over 20 million employees between them. All private sector businesses are owned by someone  and exist to make money:

  • For their owners,
  • So that they can sustain and grow their operations and
  • So that they can pay their employees.

By contrast, the public sector exists primarily to deliver services for society. Public sector employers include the Civil Service, the Armed Forces, the NHS, Educators and Local Government.

The third sector, also called not-for-profit organisations, are driven by social goals, for example, to improve the environment or public wellbeing and are generally focused on a specific cause or issue.


There are hugely varied job opportunities in both the public, private and third sectors, and many role types exist in all of them


Deciding what type of industry you’d like to work within is one of the decisions you will need to make as you embark on your search for work, as well as what type of work you’d like to do. Very often, candidates will choose a number of sectors to look for work in. Other times, candidates choose specific companies they’d like to work for, and then look for similar companies in that sector. If you want to know which sectors employ the most people, and therefore where the most opportunities might be,

Another factor in deciding what type of employer you’d like to work for is the size of the organisation. It is difficult to make generalisations about the differences between big companies and small companies, however you can bear the following in mind:

  • Big organisations employ more people. This may provide more opportunity to specialise.
    In smaller organisations employees may have to undertake a broader range of duties. The extreme example of this is sole traders, where one individual probably has to undertake marketing, sales, do or make stuff, manage accounts and carry out all administration!

  • Big organisations could be considered less personal, as it’s impossible to know everyone who works there.
    Small organisations on the other hand might be family run. Whether these are good or bad things depends on you.

  • Big organisations tend to have more rules and bureaucracy. This is sometimes evident in the nature of the recruitment process, which might be longer and more formal.
    Smaller organisations may have a less formal recruitment and other processes.

See the next section if you are thinking of working for yourself - self-employment.