Heather Krasna is the author of Jobs That Matter: Find a Stable, Fulfilling Career in Public Service, and the Director of Career Services at the Evans School of Public Affairs at the University of Washington.
Many people have considered moving from corporate careers to public service, especially because government has a reputation for offering more secure jobs (including preferences for re-hiring laid-off staff, some union protections, etc.). However, it’s important to consider whether your personality is a good fit for government, whether you are considering transitioning for the right reasons, and whether your skills would match well with government jobs.
Government employs 22 million people in the U.S., and there are many levels of government, ranging from small townships and counties to vast federal bureaucracies. There were 87,500 different local governments as of 2002. The types of skills needed and the types of jobs available are similarly vast. But many government employees have certain things in common:
- A desire to serve the public good, whether that means keeping rivers clean, roads paved, or the nation safe
- Transparency—being able to work in an environment where any email you send, and even your salary, are public knowledge
- An openness to listening to citizens, who are your ultimate customer
- A knowledge that you are accountable to your fellow taxpayer, and that your salary was paid for by your neighbors and so it should be used well
- A willingness to work hard, even for wages that are sometimes lower than comparable salaries in the private sector
- Often, an ability to keep working on solving society’s problems, with the knowledge that change can be incremental and you can’t always see your results
- A belief in merit-based promotion and meritocracy, and a dislike of nepotism or favoritism
Yes, these qualities may fly in the face of the negative stereotypes many people have of government workers. But they are what I have seen frequently among people who commit themselves to government work. If you are transitioning to a government career, you should ask yourself—are you the right person for the career? Or are you only looking for what seems to be a safer job?