Selecting between government and private industry jobs

You are near the end of your studies and are thinking about a career. How do you decide between government employment and private industry jobs? When starting the job hunting process, what should you look for in the job ads?

Requirements such as minimum level of education, salary offered, where the employer is located, career goals compatibility, job security, promotion possibility, and employer type are all important factors that will influence your decision.

The employer's standing is significant. Your approach towards employment and your career path depends on the surroundings that the employer offers. Selecting the correct employer is not something to take lightheartedly. Since there is a major difference in government employment and private industry jobs, it helps to be able to identify the benefits and drawbacks of working in each of the sectors.

What does government employment entail?

The government sector consists of national, provincial and local municipality entities and employs people to help govern the country, provide essential services, research, development and education.

What do private industry jobs involve?

The private sector is what brings in money for the country. Income from private industry jobs helps to sustain economic growth. It consists of any unit that supplies goods or services at a set price. The aim of the private sector is to manufacture and promote a product that ensures a return to shareholders.

The main differences between the government employment and private industry jobs are as follows:


The government?s main objective in the education, science, knowledge fields and all other areas are to work for the greater good of society. Research and goals are long term. The government plan years ahead and has an enormous budget.

The private sector on the other hand cannot afford to work with 20 year plans and budgets. Enterprises in the private industry have to get profits while the government just needs to be able to break even or show little growth. As such you will work on longer term projects when if you choose government employment and since profit is not such a big issue ? you will also not be judged so severely on productivity and output as in the private sector.

If you are a person who likes to see the end results of your work, wants to complete projects in shorter time spans and enjoy diversity, then the private industry jobs are more for you. The government has time to implement procedures and plans, while in the private sector you need to finish a task in a set time to make a profit. If you cannot deal with strict budgets and deadlines then government employment is better suited for you.

Professional and career development

Membership of professional organizations plays a major role in the public sector employment while the private industry places less emphasis on participation. Professional association membership can be a tremendous benefit to your career progress and as such should be pursued. It will however, count more in your favor in the public sector than in the private industry.


Government employment on the higher levels normally involves a lot of networking with other departments and NGO?s. The private sector has only recently started to realize the importance of networking. Cross networking can be found in both industries. People and communication skills are required in both sectors, although the private sector utilizes it more effectively.


The public sector places more emphasis on ongoing research and the subsequent publication of results than the private sector. Academic institutions in particular, have this as a high priority. Acknowledgement for research is definitely more prominent in the government employment than the private industry jobs. You are much more likely to receive bursaries, research grants and promotion based on your research than in the private industry.

Working environment

The working environment in the public sector is more conservative and in general the managers are less open to new ideas. Stagnation sometimes plagues departments and creativity is often suppressed. On the up side, you get job security, clear guidelines and procedures for doing your job. If you prefer to work in a stable and secure environment with clear guidelines, managerial or supervision rules and specific working times, then you should consider the government as employer.

If you prefer a more open managerial style, openness to new ideas and more flexibility in rules with fewer guidelines, you can consider employment in the private industry.

You decision will thus depend on your aspirations, goals, values, needs and personality. The government employment offers more opportunity for changing jobs without necessarily changing employers, but the private industry jobs provide more opportunity for quick advancement.