Government Careers vs. Civilian Careers

Government Careers vs. Civilian Careers

Kyle Stone | GovCentral Contributing Writer

A government career is like a civilian career in many ways: for the most part, you work a regular job while attempting to keep your life, family, bills, housing, car, etc. in order. You will work with other people, have a boss, and have to exhibit initiative if you want to get ahead.

On the other hand, working for the federal government carries much more responsibility. The work that you do directly effects the well-being of fellow citizens, as well as the United States as a nation. Considering that you are a representative of the US government, you must consistently live up to working and presentation standards, and demonstrate exemplary ethics.

Here is a table of some common aspects of life that would be important no matter what you choose to do. In general, civilian life offers more money. But there is a catch: you must first spend more to get yourself educated. You must spend more to travel, stay in hotels, find a place to live, move your things, and pay for health care. The responsibility for you is held entirely by you, whereas in a government job, many things are taken care of: for example, health care, insurance, and retirement funds. Many things are either substantially cheaper or free in the government sector: look at travel and education.

Let’s have a look at some government-civilian comparisons:


Government: With tax advantages and automatic step pay increases, pay is comparable to civilian sector pay.

Civilian: Usually no tax advantages.

Health Care

Government: Federal employees enjoy a highly competitive health insurance program called the Federal Employee Health Benefits Program (FEHB).

Civilian: Depends on employer. Often you must pay your own, or pay partial amounts & co-pays.


Government: The federal government offers both group life and long term care insurance programs. Both plans provide employees with a long-term safety net that is becoming increasingly rare in the private sector.

Civilian: Employers may or may not have insurance plans.


Government: Tuition reimbursement programs, graduate education for defeense employees, flexible spending accounts, and eligibility for thousands of scholarships dedicated to helping government employees pay for their education.

Civilian: Your responsibility. Unless you have an especially nice employer, you pay for all of it.


Government: Most likely you will travel to several spots within a year of becoming hired. Cheaper airline and train tickets for almost all employees of the US government.

Civilian: Many choices, but you pay out of pocket for most all travel options.

Opportunities for Advancement

Government: Excellent! You are challenged by your leaders and peers. The choice is yours if you would like to advance or not.

Civilian: Vary widely. In small companies you may not have much opportunity. In larger companies, you may have opportunities, but often have to work much longer hours.


Government: Excellent! 3-part retirement program includes a social security benefit, a 401(k) type plan, and a defined benefit component based on years of employment and salary history.

Civilian: Vary widely. Most employers will require you to work 35 or more years before retirement.

For more specific information about the benefits of working for the federal government, see our Benefits Overview page.

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