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Government jobs: What you need to consider and how to apply

By USQ 11 Apr 2019
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If you’re in your second or third year of university, you’re probably starting to think about what you’ll do after graduating and what kind of work you’ll apply for. Have you thought about a government job?

While government jobs tend to get a bad rep (if you’ve seen the TV show Utopia, you’ll know what we’re talking about), there are actually a number of reasons why you should consider government work when planning your future career.

What exactly is a government job?

First of all, it probably wouldn’t hurt to clarify what exactly we mean when we say ‘government job’. According to USQ careers and employability professional Michael Healy, ‘government departments include a massive range of positions and professions, from road workers and gardeners all the way up to CEOs. Having a government job just means that your employer is a government department, whether that’s federal, state, or local’.

The truth is that there are so many different jobs within the umbrella term of ‘government’. This means that if you decide to consider working for a government department, whether local, state or federal, there are plenty of opportunities to find work that relates to your studies, interests and passions.

Common concerns students and grads have about government jobs

  • I’ll be stuck at a desk in an office pushing papers without opportunities to challenge established processes and ideas because of all the red tape.
  • The office work culture in government jobs will be more formal and restrictive than other jobs.
  • My colleagues will have been around for years and won’t do much work because they’re either too comfortable in their position or they can’t get fired.
  • Employers in the private sector may not hire me if I start my career in the public sector, due to sector bias.

Is there any truth to these concerns?

The reality of working in government is that yes, there is often red tape that can make it difficult to initiate change quickly, and yes, this can be frustrating. But this can happen in the private sector as well, as can any of the other common concerns listed above. Similarly, the government sector is no stranger to the changing world of work, and as a result, many government workers are hired on project, casual and temporary contracts.

As Michael reminds us,

‘Government departments can and do get restructured or closed, and things like an economic downturn or a change of government can result in reduced budgets and a tighter labour market.

Although many people like the structure and clarity of government jobs, it can just as easily be too restrictive. Your career progression is strongly influenced by the structures and systems of the organisation. Bureaucracy can also be a challenge: don’t expect things to work quickly, or for you to have much independence in your work’.

Is there any truth that some employers, either public or private, have a bias about hiring people who only have experience in the other sector? Michael argues that,

‘As with any industry, people know what they know and it’s possible that there are hiring managers who prefer people with similar experience. But increasingly, people move between sectors. The public sector now values the skills and experience that comes from working in business, while private organisations will often value the inside policy or regulatory knowledge that can come with work in the public sector. Just be careful not to break non-disclosure agreements’.

Statistic - In June 2017 there were 1,956,800 public sector employees

Unexpected benefits of having a government job

In reality, there are a number of benefits of working for a government organisation. For example:

  • With departments that focus on education, health and social justice (amongst other things), working for government can allow you the opportunity to align work with your interests and values and give back to the community.
  • Because of their breadth and depth, working within government means you have access to many opportunities for career progression. While it can be difficult getting a government job, once you’re in, you will have access to internal opportunities that others don’t.
  • Government jobs tend to allow for a healthy work-life balance in that you tend to get public holidays off, and many have a ‘shut down’ period over Christmas, unlike when you work in some industries like retail or in the private sector. You will also have access to things like maternity leave (sometimes even paternity leave) and higher rates for working overtime.
  • There is often a high level of union representation in government departments, which means there are people negotiating fair salaries, pay increases and generally looking after your best interests.

Michael believes there are even more benefits of working for a government organisation. He says,

‘Government jobs tend to offer a lot of structure and clarity in terms of job roles and career progression, with information such as salary rates and professional level criteria being publicly available. If you’re applying for a government job, you will know exactly what it is and where it fits in the organisation, and if you’re at a certain level, you’ll have a clear idea of what you need to do to take the next step. Also, public sector jobs can often have quite good benefits, such as salary, time off, and health and wellbeing benefits like gym memberships’.

It was Master of Education (Guidance and Counselling) graduate Emily’s passion for state education and helping others that drove her to work in a government school. This is her experience.

‘I have now worked in a government school for 10 years. Over that time, I have felt supported to perform my job effectively and I have had access to multiple opportunities for career advancement. The size of the organisation is definitely a positive. It allows professional opportunities, growth, support and variety.’

While these benefits may range between departments and levels of government (local, state or federal), they are worth considering whether you’re a job seeker hoping to get your first job or a more experienced professional looking to make your next career move.

Statistic - When asked about overall happiness at work, 60% of workers surveyed value job security, 50% value interesting work, 30% value autonomy and 20% value high pay

Tips for applying for a government job

While Michael says the application process will be broadly the same for each level of government in that they’ll all use an online application system and ask for a résumé, cover letter, and some kind of statement addressing the key selection criteria, it’s likely that the terminology and specific criteria can vary. For this reason, one of the most important things to do when preparing to apply for a government job is research.

He says, ‘Government jobs usually come with a good amount of information in the position description, which you should spend time studying. But you should also try to understand as much as you can about the department’s organisational structure, their priorities and challenges, and key legislation or policies’.

When applying for government work, another important thing to understand is the levels in the organisation. Jobs will say which classification they are, and with that little bit of information you can find detailed descriptions of what is expected of staff in that classification.

If you have been lucky enough to be involved in a government-based graduate program, you may already have some insight into how the application process works and what all the different positions and level classifications mean. But if you haven’t, there are other ways to find out more information about the role you’re applying for.

As someone who has been employed by the government for many years, Emily’s advice is that ‘any application process can be stressful. I suggest talking to people who do the job you are interested in, researching what is required and the function of the department. The more knowledge you have when applying for a position allows you to better shape your application to be context-specific. Make contact with the key person adverting the position and ask questions – do not be afraid to make yourself known’.

After doing your research, you’re ready to prepare your application. Michael reassures us that ‘governments tend to provide great advice for job seekers, with detailed advice about how to prepare your application and prepare for an interview. You should look at this as it will usually let you know just how they like things to be done’.

Do not be afraid to make yourself known.
Author profile image of Emily

Other things to consider before applying

One of the most important things to consider if you are interested in applying for a government job is that the recruitment process can take longer than it would in the private sector. Consequently, Michael’s advice is to ‘get the process started as early as possible’.

It’s also worth noting that many government jobs will require a security clearance. Michael says that this could be the case even if you’re applying to work in departments like agriculture or energy, as these departments will often work closely with sensitive information around biosecurity, national security, and intellectual property.

Applying to work for the government sector may also mean you have to meet other requirements, such as health checks. For example, anyone who works in a hospital must have an up-to-date vaccination record, even if they’re working in finance or IT. You may also be required, at least for jobs in the federal government, to be a citizen of Australia or New Zealand.

Whether a government job is in your future or not, hopefully this information has highlighted some of the potential benefits of this type of employment. If you have decided to apply for government work, we hope you now have a solid understanding of some of the things you should consider, as well as some tips to help you navigate the application process.

Still not sure whether a government job is for you? Get in touch with the USQ Careers and Employability team for more information and advice.

Learn more about graduate employability and what it can mean for your future career.
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Australian Bureau of Statistics. (2017). Employment and earnings, Public Sector, Australia, 2016-2017. 6428.0.55.002. Retrieved from

The Foundation of Young Australians. (2017). The new work order: Ensuring young Australians have skills and experience for the jobs of the future, not the past. New work order report series. AlphaBeta, Sydney.