Top 8 Reasons I Work for the Government

I’m often asked why I’ve chosen to work for the government. Sometimes it’s asked at conferences by other gov’t officials who are looking for guidance on how to recruit and retain Generation Y. Other times it’s just at a social gathering and is asked by a non-government official often in a negative tone (Really? Why do you work for the gov’t?).

So here we go…my top 8 reasons why I work for the government:

1) Mission – As shown in a previous GovLoop poll, most people work for the government because of the mission. I’m 100% in this camp. I believe it is absolutely important to have an effective and efficient government. I’ll let the politicians debate the policies but irregardless the government needs to deliver on its mission whether it’s providing emergency housing, protecting our environment, issuing benefits, or protecting the homeland. Last year, I interviewed for a job at Goldman Sachs where I was to work on bundling and selling mortgage-backed securities (good think I didn’t take that job). At the time, I thought to myself that I couldn’t spend 60 hours a week on that mission.

2) People – A large part of every job is the people you work with. While I struggled in my first government job to find great colleagues, I’ve been very fortunate every since to work with some of the most interesting, engaging, and passionate individuals ever since. There is some truth to some of the government worker stereotypes but my key has been to find the good ones and work with them. Through my involvement with groups like Young Government Leaders and GovLoop, I’ve met some of the most creative and innovative people who really care about the mission of the government. They are the reason I work for the government and by working with them I think we can really contribute to improving government.

3) Opportunities – Part of the value of working for a big company (such as a GE) is the opportunities within the various components in the company. The federal government is a huge employer (I think there are 2.8 million feds alone) and there are a ton of opportunities if you look at them both within your agency and cross-agencies. There are details, rotations, and promotion opportunities if you keep your eye out, do good work, and a little networking.

4) Training – In my experience, government provides ample training opportunities. Obviously, this varies by agency, gov’t level, and budget issues, but in general the government provides lots of opportunities to get training to advance your skills. My friends that our contractors do not get nearly the amount of training and have often converted for this very reason.

5) Money – While I’m not a millionaire, the paycheck ain’t bad. Pay raises are steady and promotions can often jump quickly. Personally, I started out of graduate school as a GS-9 ($40k a year) and jumped to a GS-13 ($80k) in three years. I think that’s pretty darn good and is becoming more and more common (especially in D.C. with the feds) with the new programs to recruit new talent. In comparing with my peers, I’ve noticed that government is definitely competitive especially in the mid-level. It starts a little low but catches up quick. At the top levels, it is significantly lower than private sector but I got awhile until I have to worry about that problem 🙂

6) Talent Shortage – It’s a good time to be a govie. Whether the retirement tsunami happens or not, the baby boomers will eventually be retiring in the next 10-15 years and there will be lots of opportunities throughout the government. If you are energetic, smart, and hard-working, there will be a talent shortage in the government and they will need you. I want to be part of the solution.

7) Work/Life Balance – Work/life balance is critical and I think the government is a model employer in many ways. Recently, a number of state governments have moved to a 4-day workweek. The federal government has had alternative work schedules for awhile (4-day workweeks and 5/4/9 schedules) although they are implemented differently across agencies. While it may be changing with blackberries, most government positions still abide by the 40-hour workweek. Finally, the government generally provides a solid vacation package (20 days for feds a year once you serve 3 years).

8) Stability – While layoffs do exist in government, they are less prevalent than in the private sectors. While in times of economic boom, private sector may look enticing. However, in trying times like today, the stability and safety of government is comforting.

So why do you work for the government? What brought you to government? What keeps you there? What attracts you to government?

Photo Published Courtesy of Creative Commons License by Flickr user “notsogoodphotography”

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Margaret Sarro

Agree 100%! Working for the government may not be for everyone, but I make a decent living and I’m happy. What else can you ask for?



I could not agree more and your ranking was spot on as well. I hope you are well and can make it to the Fiscal New Year party!