The Pros and Cons of a Government Job

It's more than just job stability

Panel of government workers sitting in front of microphones
••• Getty Images

Some jobs lend themselves to government work, such as police officers, firefighters, and social workers. But the government offers countless other positions as well, such as accountants, computer programmers, and human resource specialists. These exist in both the private and public sectors.

So how do you choose whether to work in the private or public sector? Like any decision, there are both pros and cons to consider when it comes to government jobs.

Key Takeaways

  • A government job is one where you're employed by a government entity.
  • Government jobs tend to be stable and offer excellent benefits.
  • Unfortunately, salary and earnings are often capped for government workers regardless of how well you perform.
  • Federal jobs often require security clearance, and this process can take several months up to a year.


What Is a Government Job?

A government job is one where you work for a government entity. This might be at the federal, state, county, or municipal level. You might serve the people, you might serve the government, but in most cases, you'll serve both.

The distinction is that your pay and your benefits come from the government entity.

Pros and Cons of a Government Job

Pros
  • Government jobs provide stability.

  • Government jobs offer flexibility.

  • Benefits tend to be very good.

  • You should have ample time off.

Cons
  • Salary growth can be slow.

  • Earnings are capped.

  • You'll have limited control over your job.

Pros Explained

  • Stability: Unlike the private sector, where companies can go out of business, the government never goes out of business. Agencies or offices may close or morph into new forms, but there will always be government jobs. Employees will always be needed to complete the tasks that only the government does, and additional employees will always be needed to support them.
  • Flexibility: Workers can easily maintain a healthy work/life balance in the vast majority of government positions. Telecommuting and alternative work schedules are common in government agencies. Government organizations have begun providing equipment to facilitate a mobile workforce for jobs that require employees to conduct much of their business away from the office.
  • Benefits: Government benefits can exceed private sector benefits packages. Employees often have superior health care plans with lower costs and favorable retirement plans. Government and private sector benefit packages both get worse in prolonged recessions, but government benefits remain better. 
  • Time off: Leave time accruals are generous, and managers tend to be permissive in approving vacation time. Federal holidays are observed.

State and local governments sometimes have their own additional holidays.

Cons Explained

  • Slow salary growth: Cost-of-living adjustments authorized for government employees rarely keep up with inflation, and merit raises are given to only a small percentage of top performers. Government employees have to compete for vacant positions with higher salaries for big salary increases. Keeping the same job in the same organization isn't possible if you want to obtain one of the highest salaries. 
  • Capped earning potential: Government executives can be paid less than their private sector counterparts in similar positions and regions. High-level government employees may jump to the private sector to hit the big paydays.
  • Low levels of control: Bureaucracy doesn’t only frustrate citizens. It also plagues government employees who want to get things done quickly. Expect all major and many minor decisions to go through some sort of formal approval process.

How Can You Get a Government Job?

No matter what you want to do, chances are you can do it for the government. You just need to make sure you're willing to put up with the negative aspects in exchange for the positive ones.

The federal government provides a website, USAJOBS, with a search function to help you determine what's available at any given time. You might also research the hiring practices of your state and local governments. Some schools work with governments to place their students as well.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

How long does a background check take for a federal government job?

It can take several months to a year to get federal security clearance. It depends on the level of clearance required for the position and how many people are in line for investigation and clearance ahead of you.

What is the highest paying U.S. government job?

The #1 highest paying federal government job position was that of a medical officer as of 2020. Average pay was $251,055.46 that year.

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