5 Things to Consider Before Choosing a Federal vs. Private Sector Job
If you’ve ever been stuck between a rock and a hard place, then you’ll relate to this immediately. I ran across a conversation on LinkedIn under the group known as the Veteran Mentor Network. A retired military member was trying to decide between offers from the civilian and federal sectors and was looking for advice. He had enticing offers from each, and each had their pros and cons.
But the question of public sector vs. private sector jobs, I think, is a familiar one—and one worth discussing. Advice is offered from members of the group, many of whom have been in the very same battle between the federal and civilian worlds. It’s a tough decision, as there are benefits to both. And that brings us to the premise of this article.
We’ll look at 5 things that stood out to me as items you may want to consider as you make the decision to go with a federal position or opt for the private sector. But first, some context to get us started: the original question from LinkedIn that got the ball rolling:
“The private sector is offering a temporary position that could lead to a permanent position, but the federal is offering a permanent position with full benefits, better location, and job security. Has anyone else had to make this choice? The federal starting salary is more than the private sector, but I am guessing that the private sector salary will be more if hired on full-time after the probation period. The possibility of really enjoying the private sector has me hesitating, but the security and benefits of the federal for my family is really important. Any advice?”
George received plenty of advice from folks who had been there, done that. The following is what I took away from the conversation. Some excellent points made by a group of caring and experienced individuals. Here are the 5 things to consider BEFORE you decide between a federal and a private sector job.
Comparing Benefits: Federal vs. Private Sector Jobs
Aside from the question of longevity (we’ll talk about that later), the first thing George mentions is benefits. Benefits should always be part of the conversation. I recently wrote a resume for a client and I asked what his salary history was. In some cases, when benefits were added to his salary, the result was much more. That’s significant. Benefits are a crucial part of the federal job vs. private sector job conversation.
As a general rule, the federal sector tends to have better benefits. These federal employee benefits include health benefits, vacation, sick leave, paid (especially federal) holidays, retirement, steady and consistent raises, etc. On the other hand, the private sector may not have the benefits package that a federal position offers. Unless you go to work for a large corporation, benefits may not be as generous as the federal sector would offer. And if you go to work for a small business, a startup, or if you start your own business, benefits can be pretty darn scarce.
Location Differences Between Federal Sector and Private Sector Jobs
George then talks about location. In real estate, it’s ALL about location. In this case, George seems to be pleased with the location of the federal job. Many federal positions are located on the East Coast, so it’s got to be a place that you’d be happy living—and commuting. And what about quality of life? Is the big city your cup of tea, or do you gravitate toward a slower pace? The decision is yours to make, but don’t forget about your family.
For example, have you considered schools for the kids? What about nightlife? Bigger, more populated areas will have more opportunity for entertainment. And then there’s the dreaded commute. This can take a serious chunk of your time on a daily basis. You could potentially spend several hours, every day, in traffic. Not a pleasant thought for some people. What about you?
Comparing Job Security: Federal vs. Private Sector Employment
Again, the federal sector is generally known to have better job security. You can retire after 20 years with the federal government—very similar to the military. Another advantage, if you’re transitioning from the military, is the ability to “buy back” your time and add it to your federal retirement. This is a subject for later, so I’ll leave it right there.
Years ago, you could start young working a private sector job, work for 30-40 years, and then retire with that same company. That doesn’t seem to be the case anymore. Others would argue that there is no such thing as job security in any sector. The down economy, budget cuts, and many other factors have caused people to become a bit less optimistic about job security. As I said earlier, the ability to add your military time to a federal retirement can be a huge selling point for federal employment—as well as job security.
Balancing Salaries and Benefits: Public vs. Private Employment
George had a common dilemma when considering salary. He makes more money now on the federal side but potentially more down the road with the civilian job. How’s that for making you think? Many of the folks offering advice talked about the long term, or longevity (20 to 30 or even 40 years down the road). Some of us can’t think that far ahead, let alone the next five years. It’s worth your time and effort to consider salary, but do so within the context of everything else.
Employee Retention and Satisfaction in Federal Jobs: Reasons and Benefits
This is huge, and was a common theme from those that added to the conversation. Some considered it impossible to gain job satisfaction from a federal situation. But others considered a regular pay raise and other security factors huge in their long-term plan. Some would argue that work in the civilian sector is more satisfying—especially if you plan to start your own business. The excitement of the unknown can be what drives some people. It can also be exactly what keeps others away from private sector jobs. For this reason, CareerProPlus also offers career transition coaching.
It’s all about how you define job satisfaction and how your family fits into that definition. Much of the conversation was focused on deciding what’s right for you, your dreams and your goals, and your family’s best interest, of course. A couple of common phrases buried in the discussion were these: “Follow your heart!” and “Go with your gut!” Enough said on that!
The question remains, and will likely be around until the end of human existence. But that’s part of life and decisions like this are never easy, but they will always be necessary. I’m confident that considering these questions should help you decide, but if you’re still stuck, talk with a Master Federal Career Advisor right away or contact us at 1-800-471-9201—we can help!
CareerPro Global specializes in federal, military transition, and Senior Executive Service resumes and application packages. Whatever your decision as far as the direction you plan to take your career, CPG can help get you there. Contact us Today!
Bryan has over 5 years of experience supporting CareerPro Global (CPG) and their clients as a Career Advisor. He is an expert in providing career guidance to CPGs clients in entering the federal government, transitioning from the military, and working in the private sector.
He is a decorated Veteran, winning awards such as: