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To Govern or not to Govern: your Future

by Archives March 31, 2009

Many graduates find themselves trying to decide between a career in the public sector or one in the private sector.
If power is what you’re after, you might find yourself switching between both along your career path. In the public sector, you could find yourself managing departments that are larger than almost any private company out there and being in charge of large workforces. With these responsibilities, you’ll likely develop valuable connections within the government. But in the private sector, the pay is substantially higher and you are often a part of creating something new rather than sustaining something hundreds of years old.
Many private companies are in direct competition with the state – they want lower taxes, easier access to resources, and less regulation for their industry. If you have knowledge about these things from the inside, you can bet there are people willing to pay for that information. Unlike corporate competitors where one must deal with the issue of non-competes, a company can pluck the best and the brightest from the ranks of the government at will, and often do. As a securities lawyer, for example, spending five years within the regulatory agencies is the surest path to gaining the interest of a major securities law firm.
You have to make sure though, that the public department you join will directly benefit what you want to do in the private sector. General public work experience won’t necessarily get you anywhere; IBM is not interested in your experience with the department of agriculture. Thinking long term however, they might be interested if you have experience in taking bids for government contracts.
The dream department for most fields is the foreign affairs department, as international negotiation is one of the centrepieces of modern business. Working in this department will also put you in a place with constant networking opportunities. Plus, you’ll be in a place where you can gain a lot of valuable experience within your first five years on the job. Contrast this with the first five years of most private sector business careers, where you will be stuck working long hours on largely rudimentary tasks. The pay might be better overall, but after five years you will be in direct competition with peers that have acquired major experience in management, and who have a wealth of valuable outside information.
If you don’t know where to begin, many government positions offer the opportunity to converse with people in different departments and explore broader subject matters. Private sector jobs often pigeonhole you in one particular role, which means you have to be far more proactive about continuing to grow in your career. If you’re looking at a combination of public and private sector work through your career, the best thing to do is ask members of the private sector industry what kind of knowledge they value most, and what parts of the government they spend the most time working with. This will give you some direction as to whether or not it could work for you.

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