Government Financial Careers: What to Expect

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 you can land a government job, and whether you'd even want one.

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 you want to apply for. Thus, if you know you want to work for the government, but you aren't sure which jobs you're most interested in, 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 towards 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 a given field 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.)

Expect More 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 aide 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.

How Government Jobs Pay

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 five pay grade," entry level for a college graduate, for ten 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 Accountability 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 go after 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 Accountability Office. You may work for several agencies over the course of your public service career.

When considering careers in local or state government, expect that 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. Although 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.

Meeting the Employment Requirements

For most government jobs, you can't have student loan defaults or felonies on your criminal record, 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 making a specified number of payments. Always view job position postings for specific requirements.

The Bottom Line

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 Less-Coveted Finance Careers Offer Enviable Rewards.)

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