What To Expect When Transitioning From Private to Public Sector


The Transition.

A number of years ago I left the private sector to work for local government. I wish I could say that it was a smooth, planned transition but I did the thing that is never ever recommended. I quit. Not only did I quit but, I left WITHOUT another job. Of course, I would never recommend anyone do what I did but, I would recommend it if you feel that you have nothing left to give in your current job.  After I quit I had to deal with several realities. I would not be getting a performance bonus, no more subsidized lunches, no more company travel, no car service, no paid professional development, and no awesome holiday celebrations on the company’s dime. Just to be fair let me reiterate that I quit so all the regular stuff, like a steady paycheck, was gone in addition to the delicious perks.

Base Salary Levels.

When I found a government position that I knew I would like I applied because the job seemed like it would be different from my former career but well within my credentials and educational background. The job ad stated that a master’s degree was preferred but the salary was 50 percent lower than my former salary. Unless you are joining the highest levels of an agency, as you move from private to public you may experience a salary disruption. At the time I accepted the position because it was a good fit and I was a relatively young worker with many more years to regain the salary loss. Another reality in the public sector is that salary increases and promotions may not be tied to performance. I have experienced that public sector promotions could be obtained by other methods. You can take a civil service exam for a higher pay grade or you can apply outside of the civil service system for another position that pays at a higher salary grade if they accept “provisional” workers.

Fringe Benefits.

My health insurance did not change at all due to the transition.  My former employer as well as my government employer both offered me the same health insurance. The health insurance premiums did however have a different effect on my take home pay due to my lower salary level. Some of the other perks disappeared in ways that are both funny and not so much. For example, my cute little office space with the window, the dark wood accessories, and the two guest chairs, was replaced with an office styled like a police precinct. Yes, you heard me right. A police precinct has one big room with a bunch of desks turned this way and that. If it was Wall Street you would call it a ‘bull pen’ but this was government so ‘police precinct’ is appropriate.

So yeah, the workspace was slightly less glamorous but here’s one that I didn’t see coming. One morning I arrived at 8:30 am and at 4:30 pm I rose from my desk, grabbed my coat and headed for the door. As my hand touched the door knob I could hear a voice behind me saying, “Where are you going?” When I replied I got here at 8:30 I was steered back to my desk with a smile and a statement about the lack of flex time. In the private sector we didn’t need a flex or an overtime policy.  You had a basic 8-hour day after which you were free to leave but you also worked whatever extra time you needed to finish the job. Even if you left early every now and then nobody made a fuss. Although I am currently in an agency that does have a flex time policy, in the public sector you have to be much more aware of the time clock.

The Biggest Difference.

In some respects, the level of prestige might be different as you move from the private sector into the public sector. However, I can say that one of the biggest changes was the feeling that I was part of delivering a service that the public needs each and every day. One of the key reasons that many people work in the public sector is in fact to perform public service. Although you may have many reasons for leaving the private sector don’t forget to acknowledge the best reason for joining the public sector.

Yolanda Smith 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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