Have you ever thought about government employment as a
career path? I suppose unless the IRS or FBI is chasing you down, you may not regularly
think about government agencies. To the average person, the federal, state, and
local governments tend to operate in the background. Their services are pretty
much taken for granted. Most people probably don’t even think about them on a
daily basis. So, it should not come as a big surprise that government
employment as a career path is often overlooked. Perhaps simply out of sight,
out of mind. Besides, every time you watch the news on TV or online, it seems
as though the government is in chaos. Fighting between and within
political parties. Campaign mudslinging. Scandals involving leaders
and staffers at all levels. Wow! No wonder the thought of working for the government
may not seem appealing!
That’s too bad. Having worked in government a few years, I know it offers great opportunities in almost every career field. Plus, working as a “civil servant” can be a personally rewarding and fulfilling experience. You can serve your city, county, state, or even the federal government in important ways, all while getting paid. It’s true; government pay scales are often not as lucrative as those found in the private sector. However, they’re not too shabby either, especially if you advance to a senior level or management position.
More Stable Work?
Some people feel government work may be more stable than
other types of jobs. As long as you are not in a temporary or grant-funded
position, this is probably true. Jobs in
the private sector may come or go suddenly for many reasons. For example, a drop
in last quarter’s sales figures might result in cutbacks. A sudden decline in
profits might result in closing entire factories or branch offices. Thus, for
many types of jobs, government work is perhaps more stable because “sales” and
“profits” are non-issues. Also, government entities must provide certain essential
services and perform many tasks which are mandated by law. Thus, the function
of government must continue regardless of the current business economic
What Kinds of Workers Are Hired by the Government?
If you think the government doesn’t hire people in your
trade or profession, think again. You might not even realize government
agencies hire nurses, teachers, computer programmers, engineers, plumbers,
electricians, welders, and mechanics. Also, purchasing agents, writers,
communications specialists, analysts, and photographers. Don’t forget accountants,
chemists, artists, social workers, and law enforcement officers. Even doctors,
dentists, and lawyers are needed. And those lists just scratch the
surface! I could go on and on.
Could I Really Get a Job?
Sure. In fact, depending on your background and situation, you
might have an advantage when it comes to landing a government job. For
example, the Federal Government has programs which assist or provide a hiring
preference for certain groups. Such groups might include veterans,
military spouses, disabled individuals, Native Americans, and others.
Check out usajobs.gov for a wealth of
information about finding and applying for positions with the United States
In addition to Federal jobs, don’t forget your local city,
county, and state governments also need qualified people! Be sure to
check their websites for job openings and instructions on how to apply for open
positions. These governmental entities may also have special hiring programs
for which you might possibly qualify.
Government and Your Career Path
From a career path perspective, government employment can
work for you in two ways. If you go into government first, it might help
open the door for private sector employment later on. This is especially
true if you are in a field where having been a “government insider” with
knowledge of how government operates is valued. Your government
experience could give you an advantage over other applicants who do not have
such valuable insight. For example, suppose your new employer is
considering selling products or services to the government. Governments
typically have complex purchasing processes, requiring piles of paperwork and
forms. If you have government experience, you may already know how this all
works, making you very desirable as an employee. Additionally, you probably
know exactly who to contact, in which agency, to get results. To
outsiders, the government can appear as a hopelessly confusing labyrinth of
On the flip side, suppose you have private sector employment
experience first and wish to later move into government employment.
You may be an attractive candidate to agencies wishing to bring new
knowledge and experience into their organizations. They are often
interested in adapting and implementing many of the best practices found in the
private sector. This makes your skills and experience all the more
The Government Workplace
So, am I suggesting government employment is all roses and greener grass? You’re kidding, right? Show me a workplace that is! In reality, it depends for whom you work and the type of work you do. Just like private sector companies, government agencies each have different cultures and levels of employee satisfaction.
I have talked to many individuals in state government who have
switched their employment between various agencies. They all tell me the
same thing. Every agency has its own unique personality, culture, and
atmosphere. Even within the same state, some individual agencies are
considered to be wonderful places to work while others are not.
It is true “politics” impacts the government work
environment. No, I’m not referring to your personal political beliefs or
party affiliation. I’m talking about politics as it relates to
legislative decisions and approval or non-approval of budget bills, etc.
Depending on who gets elected, drastic changes in the focus and direction of
work may occur. Still, as you already know, the issue of internal politics is certainly
not limited to government and is commonplace in the private sector as well!
Government agencies often tend to be “by the book”
employers. So, expect lots of rules, regulations, policies, procedures,
and numbered forms to fill out. But, that’s not necessarily all bad or
limited to government. For example; athletes must follow certain rules in
order to play and win in their particular sports. It’s simple; if the rules
aren’t followed, you can’t play or expect to win. Similarly, government workers
who run into problems are often those who are either unable or unwilling to
learn and follow the rules. If you learn the rules well, and know how to
interpret and apply them skillfully, you may likely do great in government
The Outlook for Government Employment
A quick look at government employment projections shows
modest and mixed changes. The Bureau
of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects a slight decrease in
Federal government employment of -0.2% for the period 2016 to 2026, while state
and local government employment is expected to increase by 0.4% during the same
I believe that although government job sectors are not
expecting new or expanded growth, there will still be an increase in job
openings for existing positions. Why? Because baby boomers are aging. According
to an article by the Pew
Research Center, from the years 2011 to 2030, 10,000 baby boomers per
day will reach the age of 65.
Of course, most will not retire at exactly age 65. In fact,
the trend is for many to continue working later and later for a number of
reasons. According to a 2018 Gallup
poll, 41% of nonretirees plan to retire at age 66 or older.
Still, just the rising age of these workers suggests a
massive exodus from the government workplace is imminent at some point. According
to the Washington Post, there is growing
concern about the “brain drain” such impending departures will cause. The
82,000-plus federal employees who retired in 2013 alone took 2 million years of
experience with them!
Clearly, in order to carry on, government agencies need to
pass the torch to someone in the next generation of workers. That someone
might just be you!
Agree? Disagree? Share your experience or thoughts?
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Featured image courtesy of Baldur93-Pixabay.