Government is the single largest employer in the United States. Supporting more than 20 million employees, federal, state, and local government units offer numerous attractive opportunities for transitioning servicemembers.

Federal government agencies, which employ 2.4 million civilian workers (over 600,000 of these are postal workers), are of special interest to individuals with military backgrounds.

Indeed, many veterans disproportionately look for employment within agencies of the Departments of Defense, Veterans Affairs, and Homeland Security - agencies involved with national security and benefit issues relevant to ex-military members.

As a veteran, you receive Veterans Preferences (5 to 10 points) when applying for a federal job. Even your spouse is now (since September 2008 - Executive Order 13463, 73 FR 56703) exempted from the competitive service for certain federal government positions.

Most government jobs, however, are found at the state and local levels - not with the federal government, which disproportionately operates from the Washington, DC metropolitan area and from major cities and regional centers across the country, such as New York, Atlanta, Chicago, Denver, and Los Angeles.

Veterans with backgrounds and skills related to security tend to be especially interested in working for law enforcement agencies and correctional facilities, which readily recruit individuals with military backgrounds.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Working for the Public Sector


  1. Salaries: Government salaries are relatively good compared to similar positions in the private sector.

  2. Benefits: Government benefits are good to excellent, including health care and a generous pension plan.

  3. Work hours and lifestyle: Most government employees basically work an 8-hour day and a 40-hour week.

  4. Working conditions: Since government is not profit driven, the work is less stressful than many jobs in the private sector.

  5. Job satisfaction: Many public employees are relatively satisfied with their jobs, which they find interesting and rewarding in both monetary and personal terms.

  6. Security: Most government jobs are relatively secure. Few employees lose their jobs due to budgetary cutbacks, elimination of their offices or jobs, or incompetence. To be fired from a government job is unusual, unless one is obviously incompetent, rebellious, or corrupt.

  7. Advancement and promotions: Many public employees function within merit personnel systems which assure relative fairness in promotions and advancement. Especially in large government agencies, the promotion hierarchy tends to be well defined and open to performers.

  8. Future career investment: Government jobs are a good investment for future jobs and careers in the private sector with organizations that operate on the periphery of government, especially with contractors and consultants that work with the same government agencies that "contract out" much of their work.


  1. During a recession, government jobs may become insecure as agencies cut back and morale sinks.

  2. The last hired may be the first fired, or salary freezes may take place.

  3. In many cases, government salaries may not keep pace with similar jobs in the private sector.

  4. Government work in many bureaucratic agencies lacks challenges, involves a great deal of red tape, does not encourage initiative and creativity, and may involve working with deadwood.

  5. Politics often affect the work of government employees.

  6. Government employees have few opportunities to make additional income either on or off the job.

  7. Working conditions can be unattractive - crowded, noisy, and windowless offices and outdated equipment.

As you transition to the civilian work world, you need to weigh the advantages and disadvantages of working for the public sector. Are your motivated abilities and skills (click here) conducive to a government job?

If, for example, you have strong organization and leadership skills and are very entrepreneurial and seek more independence in shaping your future - have lots of great ideas about what you would like to do with the rest of your work life - a government job may not be for you.

Instead, you may want to pursue a job in the private sector or start your own business (click here for more information).

Continue to the next page.

  SOURCE: Adapted from Carl S. Savino, Major, USAR (Ret.), and Ronald L. Krannich, Ph.D., The Military-to-Civilian Transition Guide (Manassas Park: Impact Publications). Copyright 2009. All rights reserved.