Working in the Public Sector: What’s It Like?

Consider several rewards and challenges of a career in the public sector. Apply to Kent State’s online graduate programs in public administration today.

What’s It Like Working in the Public Sector?

As noted elsewhere on this site, “Broadly speaking, the public sector refers to any part of a state or national economy that is tied to public programs or services and is controlled by the government.” You may find public sector employment opportunities in the military, law enforcement, organizations managing infrastructure (public roads, bridges, tunnels, water supply, sewers, electrical grids, telecommunications, and so on), departments of public transit or public education, and in healthcare and the government itself.

Working in the public sector can be deeply rewarding, especially for those with a passion for public service. It has its aggravations, as well, of course, so consider your options from as many angles as you can, starting with these.

You’re Doing Challenging Work That Matters.

In working for the government, you have the chance to make a profound difference in peoples’ lives. You may focus on disaster relief, ending homelessness, fighting discrimination, finding cures for diseases—the list of needs to meet is enormous. Your career can make the world better.

Bear in mind that all of this takes time. You may work for long-term change without seeing immediate results. As you contemplate a career in the public sector, ask yourself: How strong is your need to see outcomes in the moment? How patient are you willing and able to be?

Live Anywhere, Do Anything.

Do you love the outdoors? Need to be in the heart of a city? Prefer sandy beaches or sandy deserts? According to the Partnership for Public Service, nearly 85% of federal government jobs are outside of the Washington, D.C. area, and more than 50,000 federal government employees work abroad.1 This means that you can pursue your public sector career in the region you choose. Better yet, the work is diverse enough to include opportunities in nearly every field: engineering, history, art, zoology, medicine, architecture, finance—there’s likely a place for you, whatever your interests and skills.

Wherever you are, you may be there for a while. At the federal level, the hiring process is long and slow.1 Once employed, seniority is highly valued in the public sector and it’s hard to fire people. As a result, employees don’t often leave their jobs, which can make the move up the ladder a gradual one.2

Enjoy Stability and Benefits.

In government work, pay fairness and equality are systematic. Employees are paid on a general salary schedule which prescribes each job’s pay grade and range based on education and experience.3 Beyond salary, government benefits are almost always preferable to those offered in the private sector. They often include favorable retirement plans and excellent health insurance plans with lower costs.4

Because funding for the public sector comes largely from tax dollars, however, salaries are under tight scrutiny,2 and there’s a pay ceiling for a range of federal positions.1 As a result, salaries for comparable positions are likely to be higher in the private sector.2

You Can Count on Work/Life Balance.

Government work is noted for coming with generous accruals of paid time off, including all federal holidays and, in some cases, state and local holidays.4 A flexible schedule heightens the appeal for many people, and telecommuting was a common part of public service work before COVID-19 made working from home a widespread reality.

This all comes with a significant amount of bureaucracy. Our enormous government involves a complex system of rules and procedures for managing agencies, programs and employees. While those boundaries can protect agencies from using taxpayer money carelessly, they mean that you can expect a formal, often lengthy, approval process for all major and many minor decisions.

Change Happens.

Whether or not your public sector job is related to politics, it’s affected by them. This can be very good news: If you love your work but disagree with governmental leadership, the next round of elections may bring in officials whose priorities are in sync with yours, and who will have authority over your employment.

Everything changes. Socio-political views aside, a reality of government work is that there’ll be a new boss, likely with a new fiscal agenda, every few years.

Find the best place for your strengths.

You’re committed to public service. Focus your motivation in Kent State’s online Master of Public Administration and Postbaccalaureate Certificate in Nonprofit Management programs. The robust online coursework is designed for working professionals who are driven to advance their public service careers while serving their communities and the greater good.


  1. Retrieved on February 19, 2021, from
  2. Retrieved on February 19, 2021, from
  3. Retrieved on February 19, 2021, from
  4. Retrieved on February 19, 2021, from
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