Government Financial Careers: What To Expect

By Reyna Gobel AAA

Federal and local governments always need finance and accounting graduates in jobs ranging from financial and credit analysts to tax examiners and accountants. Before you start your next job search, consider public service positions for the job security and opportunity to help your community. We'll look at how can you land a government job, and whether you'd even want one. (For info on other types of finance careers, read Academic Careers In Finance.)

TUTORIAL: Education Savings Account

Where to Find Government Jobs
All government jobs are required to be publicly posted. For local and state government positions, go to your city or state human resources page. You will typically be allowed to filter the types of jobs based on years of desired experience and industry. However, you may not know which job for which you want to apply. Thus, if you know you want to work for the government, but you aren't sure in which job titles you're interested, you should try these avenues for career guidance:

  • Your University's Career Center
    Career counselors can help you match job titles to your field of interest and expertise. For instance, let's say you have an interest in changing economic policy. Your career counselor could direct you toward applying for a position with an economic development office or a congressional staff position.
  • Professional Organizations
    Since government jobs are publicly posted, you don't need professional organizations to find out about open positions, but you can talk to people already working in their fields about their career paths. For instance, if you join a student chapter of the Financial Management Association, you can talk to individuals who chose both public sector and private sector career paths. (To find out what not to do when searching for a finance job, check out Top Job-Search Mistakes For Finance Grads.)

Job Stability
Government financial jobs are generally more stable than private sector careers. However, political appointments and congressional appointments depend on elections. For instance, if you acquire a job as a congressional aid on economic issues, you will have to look for new work if the congressperson you work for is voted out in the next election. However, working for a government department, such as doing payroll or budgeting for the state, tends to be fairly stable.

Pay Based on Experience and Education
Government pay scales are based on job classification and education level. However, you will need to research the next opportunity restricted by job classification. For example, you could be stuck at a "class 5 pay grade," entry level for a college graduate, for 10 years if you don't apply for a position with a higher pay grade.

In addition to the standard category of pay grades available in any federal government agency, agencies such as the Securities and Exchange Commission, Internal Revenue Service and Government Accounting Office could offer a different scale with higher pay rates. Although you typically will not make what someone in investment banking might, government organizations offer a much better work life balance. However, the job skills that one can acquire in the public sector are often desired in the private sector.

To help boost your chances of a successful career, you should feel encouraged to leverage your skill set to more challenging positions in the future. For instance, let's say you chose to work for the Internal Revenue Service, but there isn't a posted opening for a higher position within the agency for you to apply. Instead, you can look for open positions in the Government Accounting Office. You may work for several agencies over the course of your public service career.

If considering careers in local or state government, pay scales will vary by state. However, you will still have set pay scales for most positions. Seldom will one elementary school teacher with the same experience and education earn significantly more than another teacher with the same education and experience level. This often presents a slight disadvantage to public sector employment. Despite that initial wages are fairly high, because salaries are essentially paid by taxpayers, raises within a particular department are tightly regulated. However, professors' pay at state universities could vary drastically from department to department, such as from business to English.

Extra Requirements
For most government jobs, you can't have student loan defaults or felonies, but some problems that would eliminate you from government employment are easy to fix. For instance, you can remove a federal loan default by contacting your student loan lender's guarantee agency and by making a specified number of payments. Always view job position postings for specific requirements.

Summary
Government career paths can offer you all the variety of a private sector career with added benefits of job security and public service advantages. While some private sector positions offer opportunities for community service, all government employees serve the public in some way.

If you want to pursue a government career path, consider what you are giving back to your community. What you discover as a financial analyst or accountant could lead to fixing the budget deficit or finding money in a school district's budget for an extra math teacher.

For further reading, check out Student Loan Deferment: Live To Pay Another Day and Less-Coveted Finance Careers Offer Enviable Rewards.

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