There are basically three IT employment environments in the U.S. these days: the private business sector, a nonprofit enterprise, and a government agency or department.
While federal and state tech departments aren’t immune to economic woes, there are some solid benefits for working for Uncle Sam these days—solid pension plans, technology opportunities, and the altruistic opportunity to support the country.
Former FBI special agent Scott Moritz said people vie for government jobs because they want to know that they’re working for the good guys—making a difference every day. And, of course, recent global events have prompted many people to reevaluate their lives and their career choices. A government job can be a way to reaffirm your faith in the country and in your own ability to contribute to its continued prosperity.
Given the private sector job outlook, it’s definitely worthwhile to see what the federal work sector offers and what you should know before making a career move from private to public IT.
Vying for a job with Uncle Sam
If you want to apply for a government IT job, the first step is to toss out most of what you know about resume writing and instead check out the United States Office of Personnel Management Web site, USAJOBS, which is the federal government's official one-stop source for federal jobs and employment information.
Government resumes are quite different from the traditional private-sector job resume. There’s no room here for exercising creative options; if you don’t want to take the time to put your resume into the proper format, then you should stay in the private sector.
That, by the way, should serve as your first lesson: If you want to work for the government, you’ll have to get used to its rules. However, that doesn’t mean your job will be all about bureaucracy, but you do need to be prepared for lots of paperwork typically not required in a private-sector job slot.
The pluses of working for Uncle Sam
Most of the time, you don’t need any special skills—that is, skills beyond what you’d need for a similar private sector job—to work for the government. While technical skills and business acumen are important to a government IT job, if you present those skills incorrectly, you’ll never get to work for Uncle Sam. The focus is on teamwork and unit loyalty.
“Most people never see the camaraderie, the esprit de corps, that is one of the best parts of the job,” said Moritz.
While the collaborative work environment can be a bit of a culture shock for those used to cutthroat office politics, it’s kind of like Tivo in that once you get used to it, you’ll wonder how you ever managed without it.
Another advantage of working for the Feds is that IT professionals get the opportunity to work on projects and technologies that would be prohibitively expensive in the private sector.
As Moritz explained, federal workers can use the government’s jam-packed toolbox of technologies and products, and the focus is always on getting the job done.
Going on the job hunt
The government has up to 20,000 job openings at any time, so it’s likely that there’s a federal job that parallels your current IT position. To find it, visit the USAJOBS site and begin your search. Because this is the official site for federal job-hunting, complete with detailed salary information, you should take some time to explore it thoroughly.
At some point you’ll likely discover an interesting job post that indicates the need for a security clearance. Basically, if you’ve never been arrested and don’t make a habit of hanging out with convicted felons, you can apply, and the government will apply for the security clearance for you. Often, you’ll even start work before you have the clearance, with the understanding that you’ll be immediately dismissed should you fail to receive it.
Government work might not be glamorous, and it typically doesn’t pay what the private sector can potentially offer, but it does have a few tremendous pluses today, such as stability, pension plans, and generous paid vacation plans.
A federal IT role won’t make you a billionaire, but the altruistic aspect of working to improve the government, and enhance its many efforts, is not to be taken lightly. Go ahead—ask what you can do for your country. And if it doesn’t work out, move to L.A. and audition for Alias.