You might think working for the government means putting on a suit and tie and spending your days on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. In fact, the U.S. government offers all kinds of exciting career opportunities, from public health analysts to census takers.
If you’re majoring in government or a related field, you have plenty of possibilities when you graduate. The federal government is the biggest employer in the country, so there’s no shortage of options available.
Plus, there’s an entire industry of government-adjacent jobs — private companies that work with the government but aren’t actually government entities.
Below, we talk about some popular government jobs and explain what’s needed to land them. We also highlight government industry companies hiring on Handshake, so you can check out job openings and start applying.
Is government a good career path for you?
Government jobs run the gamut from corrections officer to IT specialist. Regardless of the role you pursue, these traits are essential if you want to get a government job offer:
- Problem-solving. Government employees deal with systemic issues that impact society at a very basic level. Being able to identify the root cause of an issue and critically propose solutions is helpful. For example, if you’re a public health analyst, you might identify hurdles to public health, like a lack of vaccine uptake, and offer solutions, like vaccine drives in community centers.
- Communication. Clear verbal and written communication skills are helpful for all kinds of government roles. For example, if you’re a corrections officer, you have to be able to communicate with inmates and other corrections officers and superiors.
- Diplomacy. Government roles often mean navigating diverse viewpoints. Being able to maintain diplomacy while discussing and negotiating is a must. For example, if you’re an inventory management specialist, you may have to negotiate contracts with multiple suppliers.
- Teamwork. Government agencies employ thousands of people. Being able to collaborate with your team and across departments is a must. For example, if you’re an IT specialist, you have to work with other people in IT and collaborate with individuals in other departments who lack specialist IT knowledge.
- Leadership. Government jobs are generally hierarchical, with strictly defined roles that advance from junior to senior levels. Developing leadership abilities allows you to advance to more senior roles. For example, if you’re an administrative specialist, leadership abilities can allow you to get more senior admin roles.
If you tick these boxes, we’ve got good news for you: A LOT of government jobs are available. As we said, the federal government is the nation’s No. 1 employer. On top of that, many government agencies are experiencing a hiring dry spell — meaning they need people urgently.
If you’re still unsure whether a government job is right for you, this roundup of pros and cons may be able to help.
Benefits of government careers
A government career offers some great advantages, including:
- Stability. A private company can go out of business. However, this isn’t really possible with government agencies. Government jobs offer steady demand and good stability.
- Great benefits. Government jobs are known for great benefits, including excellent health insurance and retirement/pension plans. Most government jobs also offer a good amount of time off, plus you’ll typically be off for federal holidays.
- Flexibility. Government jobs generally offer a good work-life balance, as many agencies offer options like telecommuting (with limited in-person attendance required) and alternative work schedules. For example, you might be able to fit your workweek into four days instead of five.
Challenges of government careers
Disclaimer: No job is perfect — and government jobs are no exception! Here are some disadvantages to consider before you start applying:
- High stress. Government jobs can be demanding. It’s important to prepare for a potentially stressful role with high expectations. Developing a personal “toolkit” to address stress, such as meditation practices, can be helpful.
- Capped earnings. Government jobs pay less than their private counterparts. This is why high-level government employees often switch to the private sector. Additionally, salary growth can take a long time, as government salaries generally take longer to keep up with changes like inflation.
- Limited control. Government job announcements are strictly defined upfront in terms of their duties, skill requirements, and salary and benefits. You won’t have a lot of wiggle room in carving out a unique job position. Also, expect plenty of red tape, as bureaucracy impacts both large and small decisions in the government.
Industries where you can build a government career
Working in government doesn’t have to mean working in politics as some elected official in a suit. You can build a government career in many industries — plus, you don’t even have to work for the government to work in government.
Here are some examples:
- Health care. Government agencies, like the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), hire health care workers, from nurses to physical therapists and psychiatrists.
- Law enforcement. You could work in law enforcement for the government, for example, as a corrections officer. Government agencies also often have security teams.
- Education. Government agencies, from the U.S. Air Force to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), need educators to develop training curricula and train staff.
- Finance. Government agencies are well-funded. They need accountants, payroll specialists, and compliance specialists to make sure all that money is going where it needs to be.
- Technology. Every government agency has its own tech tools, from staff intranets to cybersecurity tools. For example, you could work as a cybersecurity expert to make sure tech data is secure and confidential.
- Consulting. Government agencies may hire external consultants to help ensure streamlined and ethical work practices. You could work on government projects for a “big four” firm like Deloitte or KPMG.
Curious about what government jobs are available? Scroll down to see some job posts available on Handshake right now.
Most valuable degrees to earn a job in government
For any government job, you’ll need a degree to get a foot in the door. Exactly what kind depends on the career path you want to pursue. Here are some popular degree programs that can open the door to a government employment opportunity:
- Computer science. A computer science degree can pave the path for government jobs like IT specialists or cybersecurity officers.
- Engineering. An engineering role can up opportunities like a civil engineer or engineering technician.
- Public health. Public health is an ideal degree if you want to be a public health analyst. This degree can also be handy for applicants to health-related agencies, like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
- Political science. Political science teaches government principles and can improve your eligibility for various government or government-adjacent roles, including consulting.
- Public administration. A degree in public administration can prove useful in clerical roles, like an administrative specialist.
- High school diploma. Yep, you read that right — you can get some government jobs with just a high school degree, like corrections officer, inventory management specialist, census taker, or admin specialist. Consider these jobs as steppingstones or part-time jobs while you work on your college degree.
Beneficial government certifications
Additional certifications can give you a competitive edge when applying to certain government job postings. Here are some certificate programs that can help your resume and cover letter stand out from the crowd:
- Code enforcement. This program teaches public servants how to ensure compliance with a specific jurisdiction’s ordinances and codes. The American Association of Code Enforcement offers a program.
- Risk communication. Communication skills are in-demand for many government jobs. Risk communication teaches techniques in high-stakes situations, for example, after an image crisis. Harvard offers a certificate in the topic.
- Public works. Many public sector jobs deal with public works and land use, from environmental agencies like the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to infrastructure agencies like the Department of Transportation (DOT). A public works certification from the American Public Works Association (APWA) can be useful.
- Incident management system. Government roles may involve responding to crises. For example, organizations like the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) help after a natural disaster like a hurricane. A certificate in incident management can help improve capabilities to deal with these issues. The World Health Organization (WHO) has a certificate.
- Public management. Government jobs can involve the management of public sector lands, infrastructure, municipal works, and more. A public manager certification provides the hard and soft skills needed to excel in this field. The American Academy of Certified Public Managers (AACPM) offers credentialing.
Top 10 entry-level jobs in government
Working for the government doesn’t have to mean being a politician. Get inspired with this roundup of potential job titles.
1. Court reporter
Court reporters keep a written record of legal proceedings, such as court trials and affidavits. They must be able to take notes in shorthand and then translate that shorthand to voice writing, speaking notes into a computer that translates words into written transcripts.
Median salary: $63,709 per year
- Associate degree or certificate in court reporting
- Attention to detail
- Listening skills
2. Public health analyst
Public health analysts look at medical data to pinpoint trends and assess their meaning. In addition to data analysis, the job may include preparing reports and keeping records.
Median salary: $70,055 per year
- Bachelor’s degree in health information systems, public health, or similar
- Math abilities
- Analytical skills
- Knowledge of data management and analytics tools
3. Administrative specialist
These admin pros perform clerical tasks and administrative duties in public service roles. Tasks could include data processing, bookkeeping, and customer support tasks like answering phones.
Median salary: $39,520 per year
- Associate degree in administrative sciences or similar
- Knowledge of document management and project delivery tools
- Familiarity with human resources (HR) and financial software
4. Information technology specialist
IT specialists install and manage an organization’s hardware and software systems. They may also troubleshoot issues and support other employees with tech-related problems.
Median salary: $59,152 per year
- Bachelor’s degree in computer science or similar
- Analytical and problem-solving skills
- Customer service mindset
- Communication skills
5. Corrections officer
Correction officers supervise inmates serving time or awaiting trial. They ensure prison and juvenile facility rules are followed, conduct patrols of the premises, and supervise routines like meal times.
Median salary: $41,600 per year
- High school diploma or equivalent
- Interpersonal skills
- Physically fit
- Observational abilities
6. Inventory management specialist
Inventory management specialists oversee tasks related to an organization’s inventory, including ordering, storage, record-keeping, and organization. They control the flow of all equipment and supplies throughout the organization.
Median salary: $58,453 per year
- High school diploma or equivalent
- Proficiency in word processing, database, and spreadsheet tools
- Multitasking abilities
7. Civil engineer
Civil engineers help create public infrastructure like power plants, railways, roads, tunnels, bridges, and dams. Their work includes developing designs, conducting site inspections, and reviewing regulatory compliance documentation.
Median salary: $71,073 per year
- Bachelor’s degree in civil engineering
- Accreditation by the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE)
- Proficiency with design tools like AutoCAD, MicroStation, or Civil 3D
- Leadership skills
- Critical thinking skills
8. Data entry clerk
Data entry clerks take information and compile it into databases in an orderly way. Their job may include gathering, organizing, and summarizing data, for example, in reports.
Median salary: $31,200 per year
- High school diploma or equivalent
- Communication and organization skills
- Ability to concentrate for extended periods
- Good touch typing skills
9. Census taker
Census takers gather information about the general public, which government agencies use to track population trends like birth rates and unemployment. They may gather, compile, and organize information.
Median salary: $35,360 per year
- High school diploma or equivalent
- Interpersonal skills
- Good communication
10. Engineering technician
Engineering technicians assist engineers in designing, researching, and evaluating processes that go into building infrastructure and buildings. They may specialize in fields from industrial engineering to aerospace or environmental engineering.
Median salary: $49,920 per year
- Associate degree in engineering technology or similar
- Eye for detail
- Ability to work in a fast-paced environment
- Excellent teamwork
Who’s hiring in government on Handshake?
Common government job FAQs
These frequently asked questions address some common concerns people have when pursuing a career in government.
How can I get hired by the federal government?
If you want a federal government job, you’ll need to maintain a clean criminal record, gain entry-level experience in local or state government jobs, and obtain a relevant degree in a field like political science. Aim for an undergraduate GPA of at least 3.0. An advanced degree like a master’s is also helpful.
What is the average salary for a government job?
Government jobs are diverse, and the salary ranges reflect that. For example, a data entry clerk earns about $31,200 per year on average, while a civil engineer earns more than twice that much at $71,073 annually. Meanwhile, inventory management specialists fall in the middle, earning about $58,453 per year on average.
Find the right government career for you with help from Handshake
The federal government is the largest employer in the U.S., offering a range of roles from health policy analysts to corrections officers, IT specialists, and more. There are also government-adjacent careers, such as consulting.
Government jobs offer pros and cons. You’ll enjoy perks like great benefits and stability. However, you’ll also have to deal with drawbacks like red tape. It’s important to think about what’s important in your future career when deciding whether a government role is right for you.
If you do decide to work in government, you can start your job search on Handshake. Handshake jump-starts the hiring process, connecting job seekers with federal, state, and local government opportunities. You’ll find part- and full-time roles, plus internship possibilities.
Create your profile, scan job opportunities, and connect with future employers on one easy-to-use platform. Here’s how it works.