I get uneasy nowadays with so many people saying they want to work for the government. The same way I got uneasy years ago when lots of people said they wanted to “get into computers.” They didn’t know why. Just that it was where the jobs were.
Government jobs may be aplenty and growing. Some estimates range from 250,000 to 600,000 new jobs, primarily due to the stimulus bill and changing government priorities, says Stewart Liff, author of Managing Your Government Career, who also suspects those numbers are too high.
Nevertheless, if that’s the direction you’re pursuing, know what you’re getting into.
First, let’s look at the main reason many people – maybe you – want to get a government job: security. Job security is indeed one of the advantages of working for the government, says Liff. The government offers more job security than the private sector because it’s funded by taxes, doesn’t have to make a profit and will always exist in some shape or form. You also don’t have to worry about corporate mergers or jobs moving overseas.
But plenty of people lose government jobs. And there is always the risk of consolidation, Liff points out. Indeed government workers do have strong protections. And “the federal government offers an incredibly attractive array of benefits,” says Liff.
On the other hand, government jobs may not pay as much as the private sector. (Sometimes they pay more or about the same.) There’s all that bureaucracy due to the sheer size and scope of government, says Liff. And don’t forget about the rigid and complex rules and a “culture that far too often enables poor performers to skate by” and can “sometimes result in pressure to promote, reward, protect or retain undeserving people.”
Another disadvantage is that since elected officials change, agendas shift. “New procedures may be diametrically opposed to the approach taken by the last administration” and you may “have to change course 180 degrees and follow the direction of a political appointee who does not really understand the organization that the civil servants have devoted their working life to,” says Liff. This can be extremely frustrating.
One of the best reasons to work for the government is because of its core mission: to help your fellow citizens. Government workers defend our country, aid returning soldiers, help protect the environment, educate our children, maintain our libraries, fight fires and improve public health. They were part of the team that sent Neal Armstrong to the moon. Government employees certainly have the chance to make a difference and do.
So if you’re going to be in a job that exists to serve your fellow citizens, being in touch with that is key and can help keep you going when you’re drowning in red tape. Serving your fellow citizens is admirable and your empathy for what we go through can make you better at your work. It would certainly make those interactions at the Bureau of Motor Vehicles more pleasant. And think of how much more satisfying it could be for you.
Getting into computers because it was where the jobs were or because it was thought to be “secure” was foolhardy. Just as getting into government or health care is today for that reason alone. I can introduce you to thousands of people who hate their jobs and lives today because they blindly applied the it’s-hot-and-where-the-jobs-are criteria. Many of them have – or want to change – careers. A career in government might be perfect for you. But only for the right reasons.
Andrea Kay is the author of “Work’s a Bitch and Then You Make It Work: 6 Steps to Go From Pissed Off to Powerful.” Send questions to her at 2692 Madison Rd., (POUND)133, Cincinnati, OH 45208; www.andreakay.com or www.lifesabitchchangecareers.com. She can be e-mailed at: firstname.lastname@example.org.