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Federal Eye
Posted at 11:58 AM ET, 05/29/2012

Is government work a dream job? Public sector employees respond

As a new class of college graduates enters the job market this spring, we are reminded that finding the “right” job is not always a direct extension of getting that diploma.


Public Health graduates Megan Leahy, of Atlanta, left, Eling Tsai, of Ormond Beach, Fla., and Dana Barnes, of Omaha, Neb., right, celebrate during commencement at Yale University last week. (Jessica Hill)
Many grads who set out with a specific career path find their chosen field closed off by the lack of entry-level positions. Other are compelled by economic uncertainties to pounce on the first paycheck they can secure.

GovLoop asked its members how they came to their current job, and what drives them to do the work they do. One common response was that taking an unfavorable job early in their career let them more fully appreciate their later jobs.

“I worked for corporations for 10 years out of college,” said Thomas Brazelton, Web communication specialist for the city of Ankeny, Iowa. “While I learned a lot and gained valuable experience, sometimes it felt like I was throwing my efforts into a well. I never really saw the direct outcome. Working for local government the last two years, I see directly how my role affects, informs and improves the lives of citizens.”

Others responded that serving in both the public and private sectors had been beneficial to their career, and was also a source of pride.

“I’ve worked for private organizations in both the profit and nonprofit sectors,” said Peter Sperry, budget analyst at the Pension Benefits Guaranty Corporation. “I have never found them more or less attractive or morally superior/inferior than government work. The whole government vs. private is a non issue to me -- the DOW chemical researcher who developed Kevlar provided as much of a public service as any DOD employee -- a job is a job. The satisfaction is largely determined by your relationship with your immediate supervisor. And the value is what you make of it.”

And accepting that some aspects of a career path must necessarily be left to chance, respondents cited their openness to follow unexpected opportunities as a source of their later success and happiness.

“While this job is not the job I dreamed of having when I was fresh out of school, in some ways it is even better than that, because back then I really didn’t have enough experience to know what aspects of work I would enjoy and not enjoy,” said Tom Melancon, manager at the Seattle Federal Executive Board. “I haven’t found a job that meets 100 percent of my needs, but this one is in the 90 percent range, and I feel lucky to have it.”

Here is what some others had to say to the Federal Eye and on GovLoop in response to our Federal Buzz question of the week on whether they are doing their “dream job”:

Kanika Tolver, IT project manager, Department of Transportation:

One has to find a government job that they are passionate about. That is hard to find, it may take years to get into a federal job that excites you everyday.

Lee Tilton, legislative specialist, Department of the Interior:

I am now making a difference in ways that have a positive impact on millions of citizens. Even after 19 years, I still put on my badge every morning with pride and walk a little taller on my way to the office. While federal employment may not be for everyone, for those who have a calling to public service and want to work hard and contribute to a solution, there is a way to accomplish that as a federal employee.

C.E. Carter, Justice Department:

I am in my dream job! While in high school, I realized I wanted a career in the public or nonprofit sector. In college, I narrowed it down to the federal government, so I pursued degrees to prepare me (bachelor of science in legal administration and criminal justice and a master of public administration). I moved from the Midwest to the Washington area to increase my opportunities.
Though we’ve been the brunt of negative press, I can still say I’m proud to work for the federal government and I’m pleased with my career path.

Andrea Harlow, Marine Corps Systems Command:

What a job — dynamic, challenging and rewarding. I went into public service when I was in high school. I envisioned myself as a key player in something, not sure what, but I felt I had something of value to add. Do I ever.
Our group provides all of the combat support logistics equipment for the U.S. Marine Corps and improvised explosive device equipment and many other valuable assets. They are fighting for my freedom, and every day I am fighting to get them what they need as quickly as I can. The older I get, the wiser I get, and realize what the fight is all about. God bless our troops, their families and the sacrifices they make every day for America.

Karen Pao, Energy Department:

My dream job was the one I had since grad school, for almost 20 years, as a scientist at a national laboratory working on hard problems that matter, like national security. Seeking more challenge, I came to Washington on an assignment, and ended up liking this area.
Since I could not be “on assignment” forever, I quit my dream job and took a job with the government. This government job is definitely not my dream job. It pays less in the grand scheme of things, has less benefit, and at times it makes me feel like an over-educated paper-pusher.
On the other hand, it has gradually grown into a different sort of challenge, one that I didn’t expect, but is getting more and more interesting every day. On good days, I think it has the potential of becoming a dream job when I look back 20 years from now. On bad days I want to vote them all out, every one of the 535 members of Congress.

Nuru Parkar, Census Bureau

Absolutely. Prior to (reluctantly) joining the federal government, I worked in the private sector. I did not see much difference, except in federal government we spend taxpayers’ money. That said, I got more opportunities in federal government than in private sector. I am proud to say that I made a big difference in a positive way.

Are you doing the job you dreamed of having when you were fresh out of school? Tell us in the comments or on Twitter using #FedBuzz.

By Samuel Lovett for GovLoop  |  11:58 AM ET, 05/29/2012

Tags:  Federal Buzz

 
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