Stef Sampa
3 min readJul 21, 2023

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Photo by Alex Kotliarskyi on Unsplash

Working at the Private vs Public Sector: Let’s Weigh In!

Just by typing in the title of this article, we’re jumping into a discussion that’s almost as classic as ‘tea vs. coffee’ or ‘cats vs. dogs’. Drumroll, please… It’s ‘working at the private sector vs. the public sector’ time!
Let’s set the stage by saying that both have their merits. Seriously! And I bet we all know someone who swears by one and can’t stand the other. So let’s dive into some cold hard facts, a sprinkle of testimonials, and maybe even a pinch of my personal take on things.

1. The Benjamins (or whatever your currency may be)
When it comes to pay, the private sector often has the edge. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics in 2020, employees in the private sector had median weekly earnings of $994, compared to $1,030 for those in the local government but up to $1,435 for those in the federal government. But, of course, it varies by industry, location, and position.
Tasha, a tech wizard who’s been in both sectors, chimed in, “While I started off with a higher salary in the private sector, my public sector gig had rock-solid benefits and job security. You’ve got to weigh in all factors!”

2. Stability & Job Security
This one’s a bit of a no-brainer. Public sector jobs are often viewed as more stable. Jane, a librarian of 15 years, shares, “I’ve seen private companies close or merge, but my job at the city library has been consistent. There’s comfort in that.”

3. Work-Life Balance
The public sector tends to win this round. Think more regular hours, holidays off, and less overtime. Craig, a public servant, once told me, “Sure, I might not be raking in bonuses, but I cherish my 5 PM clock-offs and weekends with the kiddos.”

4. Climbing that Ladder
In the private sector, there’s often more room for rapid advancement. If you’re a go-getter, it can be an exciting, albeit competitive, space. Sandra, who’s been in the corporate world for a decade, says, “I started at an entry-level, and now I’m two steps away from the top. The adrenaline is real, but so is the burnout.”

5. Impact & Purpose
Many public sector workers mention the sense of purpose in serving their community. Tom, a public school teacher, shared, “Every day, I see the future in front of me. Knowing I’m part of shaping that? Priceless.”
On the flip side, private sector roles can give a sense of direct accomplishment. Sarah, a product manager, beams about her role: “Every product we launch feels like my baby. Seeing it in the market and getting real-time feedback? It’s a rush!”

6. Flexibility
While the public sector is catching up, private companies often have the edge in adopting new technologies and flexible work arrangements. Jess, who telecommutes at a private firm, states, “I’ve got friends in the public sector who were office-bound way longer than I was. Working in my PJs has been a game-changer!”
Now, it’s easy to get caught up in the “which is better” debate. But here’s my two cents: it boils down to what you value most. Are you after stability and a community-centric role? The public sector might be your jam. If you’re hunting for higher earning potential, swift upward mobility, and perhaps a faster-paced environment, maybe give the private sector a whirl.
It’s also worth noting that these aren’t hard-and-fast rules. You’ll find private companies with fantastic work-life balance and public roles with surprising flexibility. The landscape is ever-evolving, and boundaries are continually blurring.

Photo by Christina @ wocintechchat.com on Unsplash

So, if you’re at this crossroads, my advice? Dip your toes in both ponds if you can. Intern, chat with those in the trenches, or even job shadow. Your career’s a marathon, not a sprint, and every experience adds a unique flavor.
Remember, whether you choose the private route or the public highway, it’s all about finding your fit. And wherever you go, bring your whole wonderful self, and make it count!

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