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Differences Between Government Jobs and Private Sector Jobs

Resource Differences Between Government Jobs and Private Sector Jobs

By Carol Mendelsohn

There are many differences between working for the public sector and working for the private sector. Both come with their own advantages and drawbacks. If you currently work in the private sector and you're thinking about getting a job in the government, here are seven of the most salient differences to help you make a decision:

More Diversity Among Employees

Most government agencies make a concerted effort to hire a workforce that is representative of the community they serve. HR Directors who work for the government are tasked with advancing and supporting the agency's diversity and inclusion initiatives. Part of their goal is to make sure they're both attracting and hiring candidates of different races and ethnicities. Some agencies have offer sensitivity training to ensure that everyone is treated with empathy and respect, regardless of their skin color, background, or belief system. For this reason, the public sector has historically attracted more people of color. In fact, in a recent survey by NEOGOV, 25% of black women said they believe the government has more equitable hiring processes than the private sector.  

Workers from Different Generations

The government workforce is more likely to be made up of people across the age spectrum. While the private sector - especially technology companies - are filled with twenty and thirty-somethings, you'll find employees of all ages in most government agencies. From Baby Boomers looking to retire in the next few years to the youngest contingent of the workforce, Gen Y, you'll find a variety of perspectives and attitudes that inform policies, decisions, and initiatives, often in positive ways. 


The most obvious difference between working for the private and public sector? Purpose. Is it to turn a profit, or is it to help others? The objective of a corporation is to generate revenue and reduce costs while returning the largest profit possible, either to an owner or shareholders. For this reason, the corporate world can be more ruthless and less forgiving. 

Government agencies exist solely to serve the people and surrounding community. The way in which they do so varies broadly, but the goal is always rooted in supporting the community. For example, the mission of an Ohio parks and rec department may be to enhance the lives of its residents through providing open green spaces and programming that connects people with nature, whereas the mission of a San Diego public utilities commission might be to assure all residential citizens have access to satisfactory, safe and dependable services at fair prices. 

Older Systems, Slower Processes

The stereotype about the government being filled with red tape and bureaucracy is unfortunately based on reality. While you will find government agencies with modern software and automated processes, there are still many agencies using paper-based processes. Additionally, because public sector agencies have more compliance and auditing requirements, there tend to be more approvals and extra steps that can make the simplest of everyday tasks more frustrating. For this reason, moving from a private sector job to a public sector job requires patience and a willingness to adapt. 

Better Benefits 

Government jobs are known to pay less but offer better benefits, and that tends to still be the case. Health insurance packages are usually more generous than what you'll find at most private sector companies, where cost is the primary consideration. 

Although they aren't as prevalent as they used to be, some government agencies offer pensions where employees are guaranteed a percentage of their salary and healthcare during retirement once they've worked at the agency for a substantial time period. It's an advantage of the public sector most people don't consider early in their careers but can deliver huge benefits later in life. For example, holding a job with the same city for thirty years might translate into receiving 80% of your salary for the rest of your life, in addition to social security. 

Work/Life Balance

If you're looking for career growth in the private sector, you're often expected to work longer hours than a traditional 40 hour work week. Feeling pressure to be the first one who arrives in the morning and the last one to leave is common in a corporation, and spending 60-70 hours a week working (without being paid for overtime) is expected if you're on the fast track to management.

Alternatively, in a government job - even if you are a manager or ambitiously seeking career growth - it is completely acceptable to leave at 5pm or whenever your official 8 hour day ends. Most government office employees work an eight-hour shift with an hour for lunch, with only the rare occasion of working overtime when there's an audit or big project they're expected to deliver. 

More Stability

For the most part, a government job is more secure than a private sector one. Layoffs do happen in government, but they are always the last resort. Whereas in the private sector acquisitions, mergers, and downsizing regularly result in an elimination of jobs. Workforce reductions in government are usually limited to circumstances where there are catastrophic budget shortfalls that can't be managed by furloughs or reassignments, like during the early months of the 2020 pandemic. 

Whether you decide that a public sector job is right for you comes down to what you value most. If living a balanced life where you have time for your friends and family is more important than achieving massive wealth, then you're likely to find a job in the government fulfilling. You're also more likely to be surrounded by people who view the world the same way you do.  

Carol Mendelsohn is the General Manager of and the Head of Marketing for NEOGOV, the applicant tracking system used by many local, county, and state government agencies. 



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