Are Gov Employees Risk Averse?


I stumbled into the federal government by accident. When I quit swimming after my sophomore year of college, I waited tables to help pay tuition. As my senior year progressed, I realized I needed to gain some accounting experience. A local tax preparer called and asked my roommate if she was interested in a job. Fortunately my roommate was already employed, she declined the offer, and I got the job by default. So I racked up a few months of experience, and then the seasonal employment came to an end. I frantically searched the Career Services web site at my college and I saw a Student Trainee position at the General Services Administration. I had never heard of GSA before, and I ended up landing the job. I figured I would be there for the short-term. Before graduation I interviewed with a few of the “Big Four” accounting firms, but they pushed passing the CPA exam as soon as possible. I wanted to get my graduate degree without racking up debt. So I started the two-year internship program at GSA while earning my MBA, and 11 years later, I am still a federal government employee.

So now it looks like I’m here to stay, and I have mixed feelings about that. I enjoy the stability of federal government employment, and it is very difficult to find a similar job in the private sector where they would match my salary and benefits (especially given the 40-hour work week at the government). Plus the retirement benefits are a huge perk. Also, my husband and I love to travel. Not only can I travel, but I also have the flexibility to plan trips without having to worry about a busy season, month-end close, year-end procedures, etc. Lastly, my work schedule and telework options give me a great deal of flexibility to pursue hobbies. (What I mean by that is I can telework from 6:00 am – 2:30 pm and have a good portion of the afternoon left… don’t send the telework police after me!)

On the flip side, I feel like I’m becoming less marketable the longer I stay at my federal agency. My resume will start looking a little monotonous. If I don’t continue marketing myself and consider pursuing other opportunities, will I miss out on something life-changing and fulfilling? Maybe I would be more well-rounded if I left my agency, worked for a consultant, mortgage company, accounting firm, etc., and then eventually came back to the federal government with more skills and experience. Maybe the reward of a new job would be worth the risk?

Have you asked yourself some of these questions? Have you taken a risk and left the government? If so, what was your experience?

I surfed the internet trying to find a fun quiz about risk. On this quiz, “How much of a risk taker are you?”, my result was “thinker” (and I polled a handful of family and friends, and they got the same result).

The description for “thinker” is “you realize that sometimes in order to win big, you have to expose yourself to uncertainty. But before making a move, you carefully weigh the pros and cons of each decision. While others may find your methodical approach tiresome, your vigilance will pay off in the end.” “Daredevil” and “control freak” are some other possible results (I used my alter egos to ensure the quiz could give different results). How much of a risk taker are you?

Nicole Willingham is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.

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Catherine Andrews

This is an important and honest post and I think a lot of govies struggle with these questions. Thank you for writing it, Nicole!