We all benefit from the services of government in our daily lives. Federal, state, and local governments provide many essential services that keep our families healthy and safe. For many, government jobs and a career in public service can offer rewarding opportunities to improve the community and impact the lives of its citizens.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, over 22 million Americans were employed by the federal, state, or local government in the United States in 2017.
While some career fields may be unique to the government (for example, law enforcement, public education, public works, and more), governments also employ people in nearly every career field. Whatever your interest and background, there are hundreds of occupations within local, state, and the federal government.
Benefits of Government Jobs
There are many rewards of government-sector employment. These benefits include:
- Work-life balance. Government jobs typically have set hours, which is great for people seeking a balance between work and family and other responsibilities.
- Competitive salary and stable pay. Pay and benefits for government jobs can often exceed private-sector benefit packages, including attractive health insurance plans, retirement benefits, and more paid vacation days and holidays. In 2016, the average annual wages of a federal employee is $78,379, a state employee earns $57,168 annually, and local government employees see an annual income of $48,440.
- Career advancement opportunities. Given the size of the government sector, there are many opportunities for promotion and hiring from within is encouraged. Job experience and skills gained in one government agency may also translate well to similar positions in other agencies or regions. With over 84 percent of federal government jobs located outside the D.C. area, government employees also have great mobility.
- High job security and protection from arbitrary layoffs. Additionally, government jobs are more commonly unionized. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2016 public-sector workers had a union membership rate (34.4 percent) more than five times higher than that of private-sector workers (6.4 percent).
- Student loan forgiveness. After 10 years of full-time employment for a qualifying government organization, government employees may be eligible for student loan forgiveness through U.S. Department of Education’s Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program.
As with any profession, government jobs can also come with some disadvantages. Government employees can experience slower salary growth as cost-of-living adjustments frequently don’t keep up with inflation and merit-based raises are less common. Additionally, public-sector employees must often learn to deal with bureaucracy in the workplace and other challenges resulting from the size of government and the complexity of policies, processes, and procedures.
Differences Between Local, State, and Federal Government Jobs
The scope and organization of each government is defined by the authority granted from its legislative body. The federal government is guided by the U.S. Constitution and laws and policies passed by Congress. States are organized according to the statutes from state legislatures and assemblies. City and county councils determine municipal ordinances that rule local governments. The structures of state and local government agencies and government jobs vary based on the needs and preferences of the voters in each region.
Best College Degrees to Prepare You for Government Jobs
All types of government hire job candidates with nearly every level of education and experience. While some government jobs will not require a college degree, there are also many cases where a college degree will strengthen your job application. Posted job openings will outline minimum education requirements for each job.
Some of the most common college degrees for government jobs include:
- Public administration
- Business administration
- Political science
- Public affairs and policy management
- Public health
- International relations
- Urban and regional planning
In many cases, education requirements may be substituted for relevant work experience (general and specialized experience) in the application process.
The professional skills required to be successful in government jobs are similar to those in any career. Strong candidates for government jobs include the following:
- Communication skills
- Teamwork and collaboration
- Problem-solving and innovative thinking
- Strategic thinking
- Organization and management, and adaptability
Best Places to Find Government Jobs
Those interested in local, state, and federal government jobs will find a fair and equitable hiring process. Many government agencies, for example, offer special hiring programs for the disabled, veterans, and students.
Government job openings are typically listed publicly. Federal agencies post all jobs at USAjobs.gov, but may also post openings directly on their own websites. State and local governments also post job openings directly on their websites. Applicants can search for government employment by geographical location, by occupational group, or by an agency. Government job postings are also regularly listed on popular job search websites like Indeed, Monster, etc.
Applicants should carefully research and understand the government agency’s hiring process and required paperwork when completing an application for government jobs. Be patient, as the application and hiring process for government jobs can be time-consuming and lengthy. Federal agencies can take over 100 days to fill a job vacancy.
Additionally, a federal-style application and resume can follow different format and requirements than a traditional job application. Pay special attention to required job duties and responsibilities, special skills, and other evaluation factors. Further, government job applications may also include an occupational questionnaire, civil service exam, or written test to demonstrate the applicant’s KSAs – knowledge, skills, abilities, and other characteristics.
Most Common Government Jobs
Whatever your interest and background, there are countless opportunities within local, state, and federal governments. Below is a list of the most common government occupations, according to the US Census: