Sunday, January 9, 2011; 9:00 AM

Working in the Public vs. Private Sector

In most areas of the country, looking for a new tech job starts with a look at job placement Web sites, some calls to your contacts in the industry and brushing up your resume. In the D.C. area, looking for a new tech job often begins with asking yourself the question: "Public or private sector?"

When most people in the D.C. area are considering a public sector job, they consider working for the federal government. The federal government is the largest employer in the nation, and as of 2008, about 15 percent of the federal government's employees lived in the D.C. area according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Hiring at the federal level is expected to increase by 10 percent by 2018.

Federal employment has many advantages. Tech jobs are not always stable and often involve long hours. Federal employment is traditionally a very safe choice. You do not have to worry about your company losing funding, failing to sell a product or getting bought out.

"I tell my clients, if they can get a government position, take it," Susan Hein, owner of recruitment firm The Job Market, Inc., in Potomac, Md., said. "The private sector is offering more money, but it's not as stable."

The healthcare and retirement benefits that federal jobs offer are some of the best and most stable in the country. A federal job provides a good opportunity for tech workers who are concerned with job security and maintaining work/life balance.

Some federal tech workers cite the job satisfaction they feel from serving society as a contributing factor in their choice to work for the government.

"There's a lot of fulfillment in doing something that's for the greater good. We're helping people," Gavin Goode, an IT specialist for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services said.

The primary reason for choosing a private sector tech job over a government tech job is compensation. Pay for some federal jobs can be as much as 26 percent lower than a comparable private sector job, according to the National Treasury Employees Union.

Another draw for techies to private employment is the technology itself. Private sector tech jobs typically offer the opportunity to work on more cutting-edge projects and use better equipment. Private sector companies are motivated to make a profit and have less red tape to cut through when financing new projects.

"Government tech is either bleeding edge or 20 years out of date," Corey Christian, a lead engineer at FICO, said. "There are some jobs that are bleeding edge, but they're few and far between."

When considering a public or private sector tech job, it is important to figure out what is most important to you. Is stability and a good work/life balance what you want? A federal job might be for you. Do you prefer higher compensation and the opportunity to work on more cutting-edge projects? A job in the private sector might be a better fit. Consider the advantages and disadvantages of both when you look for your next tech job.

This special advertising section was written by Amy Gardner Mcneal, a freelance writer, in conjunction with the advertising department of The Washington Post and did not involve the news or editorial departments of this newspaper.

© 2011 The Washington Post Company