Many occupations have specific job options in the private and public sectors. Those who choose to work in the public sector, namely, for the government, receive a number of perks. However, government workers do make some sacrifices for their public service. In this article, we explain what working in government means, provide a list of pros and cons for working in the government and offer a series of tips for establishing a governmental career.
What does working in government mean?
Working a job in the government means you're employed by the local, state or federal government to perform a specific series of tasks and duties. In some cases, these jobs are directly related to the government's function, like transportation advisors, who monitor and improve public roadways for the community. Other roles, like public relations specialists, indirectly support the goals of the government rather than contribute to them directly.
Pros for working in government
Government workers enjoy a number of benefits as part of their work. Consider these primary advantages to working in the public sector:
Most federal government jobs include an impressive pension or retirement package, designed to ensure you receive a livable income, similar to what you earned in your last years of service, for the remainder of your life. As pensions and this type of employer-sponsored retirement decrease in the private sector, this is one of the primary benefits of government work.
While employed in the public sector, you'll benefit from full health insurance coverage, with potentially zero personal costs. Depending on the branch of government for which you work, you may qualify for continuing benefits for you and your immediate family after you retire, which is an enormous perk and can save you a substantial amount of money on healthcare costs, both during and after your government service.
Government jobs are traditionally very stable. Once hired—in most cases—you'll enjoy substantial job safety and security from layoffs and unexpected downsizing. Most people who work in the public sector enjoy long careers or choose when to leave their positions rather than facing the volatility of layoffs and turnover that can be common in the private sector.
Student loan repayment
Many local, state and federal government employees are eligible for the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program, which eliminates your student loan balance after meeting a certain set of criteria. This can be an enormous financial benefit, especially for those workers who earned their master's or doctoral degrees in pursuit of a public service job.
The government pay scale is highly transparent. Every employee receives a set salary or wage based on their years of service and education level. There are no salary negotiations and no concerns over hiring manager biases impacting how much or how little a new government employee makes.
Government work is often very consistent. Employees are expected to work hard on their tasks during their assigned hours, but there's very little overtime work for most roles, and the expectation is once you've clocked out, you should be spending time with your family or on personal pursuits and not working.
For the most part, the people you work with will share a similar service-focused mindset. One of the reasons most government employees choose to work for the government rather than for a private business is because they want to serve their community, which helps align personal and professional goals across the organization.
For the most part, the work you'll do as a government employee supports maintaining the local, state or national community. Many government workers enjoy participating in a career that not only effectively uses their education and skills but also contributes to the greater good.
Some jobs, particularly those in the federal government, allow employees to move to new locations every few years if they choose. The largest example of this is the U.S. military—servicepeople regularly move to new assignments all over the world as part of their job. If you love to travel and live in a variety of places, this can be a huge benefit.
Broad job range
At all levels of government, there's a broad range of job availability. No matter what education, skills or training you have, you can likely find a position that appropriately uses your qualifications and abilities. The government employs people with little to no formal education and people with post-doctoral degrees.
Once hired, the government has an interest in keeping you within the organization. Most government employees have the option to engage in extensive and well-planned career development training to help them advance within the government.
Cons for working in government
While many people enjoy the benefits of working for the government, it's important to consider the few disadvantages that might not fit with your career desires before committing to the role:
Lack of growth
One potential downside to a government position is the lack of job growth for some specific occupations as compared to the private sector. Based on the way the government is organized and the way labor is divided, some roles won't have the same opportunities as they might if they worked for a private company. Lawyers, for example, don't have partner-equivalent positions in the government as they do in the private sector.
Similar to the job growth, earning potential is limited compared to the private sector for many government positions, particularly those that require extensive education and experience. Since all government employees earn pre-determined, step-based salaries or wages, there's no opportunity to negotiate or receive bonus compensation.
The government is a highly regulated and procedure-driven organization. As such, it can take much longer to achieve goals or affect change in some roles than it does in the private sector. The slow-moving bureaucracy of the government can impact some employees' job satisfaction.
Slow to change
Related to bureaucracy, making small and large organizational changes is often time-consuming. Most ideas must go through several layers of conversation and assessment before you can begin the process of making the change, which can impact the efficacy of your work, depending on your role in the government.
Seniority over ability
The government is a hierarchical organization. In some cases, promotions and opportunities go to those who have served longest and not necessarily to those best equipped or qualified person for the role. Focus on seniority over capability can frustrate new governmental employees unused to this type of hierarchical organization.
The hiring process for government jobs is often very lengthy. Most people apply for government jobs through a single website. From there, an initial group of hiring managers reviews all the applications and determines which are the best before sending the documents to the actual hiring agency. Then, candidates can expect several rounds of interviews before finally receiving a job offer.
Not every government role is impacted by the election cycle, but many are. Positions that work closely with elected officials can expect to see continuous turnover in leadership as the public votes elected officials in and out of their roles. Constant changes in leadership can make completing long-term projects more time-consuming than working under a consistent manager or supervisor.
Tips for getting a government job
If you think a government position is the right fit for you, review this list of tips for gaining employment in the public sector:
- Check job postings often: The federal government posts most positions through a central job site that updates daily. Make sure you're checking often to see what roles are currently available.
- Know your qualifications: Traditionally, government jobs have a list of minimum requirements and qualifications applicants must meet for consideration. Know what your qualifications are and ensure you accurately complete this part of the application.
- Consider your preferences: Some applicants receive special preference over other candidates, like veterans and military spouses. Check to see if you qualify for any special considerations.
- Ensure you complete your applications: The application system for most federal jobs will automatically disqualify your application if it's incomplete in any way, so ensure you've completed every step before submitting.
- Write a federal resume: Federal resumes are often the preferred resume format for all government jobs. Write a comprehensive federal resume that you can then tailor for each position.
- Keep applying: Most government positions receive a large number of applications. Keep applying to anything that interests you and for which you're qualified to increase your chances of receiving a job offer.
- Prep for the interview: If you receive an interview request, take time and care to prepare for it. Getting an interview for a government job means you're one of the very few people the hiring manager is considering for the role, so you'll want to make the best possible impression during your interview.
- Use your network: Since government jobs receive so many job applications, if you have professional connections with the agency you're applying for, it's best to communicate with them about your career ambitions, so they can advocate for you from inside the organization.