Dear PoPville – Best Way to Find a Non Government Job?

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“Dear PoPville,

I’m hoping you or your readers can help with a fairly basic question. So far I have spent my entire adult life working for the federal government and it might be time to move on. The problem is that I have only ever job hunted in the federal government and I’m not sure how to go about looking in the private sector. I’m not even sure where exactly to look for job postings. Is there an equivalent to USAjobs? Does anyone use Monster, etc? I’m clearly at a loss and any help would be much appreciated. Thank you!”

Ed. Note: We recently spoke about temporary employment here.

66 Comment

  • Unless you have reached your 20 years retirement you are an idiot to leave the fed. You can easily move to another department or position to make a change but giving up a free paycheck for the rest of your life is insane.

    Assuming you are not insane then the usual sites hold positions such as Monster, CareerBuilder and Craigslist. Many companies and nonprofits hire through their own websites as well so researching companies you would like to work with is a big help, then search their sites directly.

    • What?? There are plenty of good reasons for leaving the Federal government. The benefits in the private sector can be just as good, depending on who you’re working for, and the pay is typically higher.

      One problem I did run into when I made this transition was that very few employers were willing to consider my government job as relevant experience. Granted I’d only worked for the government for one year after college, but it was in the same field. I was rather surprised that many of them gave greater weight to my summer internsips.

      • Caroline, I don’t know if the pay is higher in prvt sector at all any more, especially at the lower levels. I’ve been in private sector my whole 8 working years, and jobs that would be equivalent to my years of experience are better paying in the government (even/especially DC gov!!). I do agree that benefits are often better/more generous in private sector, but that REALLY depends.

        There has been major wage deflation for younger workers. Those that already had the high/cushee salaries, mostly baby boobers or possibly older Gen Xers, still have that salary if they haven’t been laid off during the recession. But for everyone else, the salaries for even experienced hires can be shockingly low. Companies know that people are desperate and that they can get a good candidate even if they lowball. And with the job market not recovering, they can now keep them longer, too.

        • I think this is a good point. Thanks for making it.

          Thanks to the GS scale federal employees will maintain their salary levels while the private sector can bargain and drive down costs because of high labor supply.

          And I’m young and all of my best earning friends are in the government — except the minor political appointees who seem to actually live below the poverty line.

        • I guess it depends on what you do, but I’ve found private sector to be better paid, even at the entry level.

          The exception being non-profit, but that will always be lower pay.

        • True, there are a lot of variables at play. Hence my knee-jerk reaction when the person above insisted that working for the government is automatically preferrable. If that were the case, my former agency wouldn’t have had such a low retention rate and been scrambling to find more employees.

        • Anonymous @2:46, how long have you been at your current job? It’s a known fact that if you stay at the same place your salary will be lower than if you leave and get the same job somewhere else.

  • The question is how to get a government job. I work in the private sector, but there are a couple of government agencies that interest me. I haven’t had any luck getting in.

    • That is how I felt. Between timing and luck I got one but I did feel like I was sort of flying blind and at a disadvantage for not knowing how the system worked better.

    • Impossible unless you have connections. Majority of the time they already have someone in mind to fill the spot and just advertise it as a formality and to seem as though it is “fair competition”.

  • 1. Watch American Beauty.

    2. Apply at Chipotle (assuming of course that you have fast food experience).

    In all seriousness though I think it really matters what kind of industry you are in. I think most people in the federal government generally just call up subcontractors in similar fields that they have good relationships with and ask for jobs. For instance, hypothetically, if you were in IT, you might have done a project with Lockheed Martin in the past, and you could call up someone you know there and try to feel them out.

    That’s what I’d do anyway.

  • is the best site. It pulls from a slew of other job posting website. Just type in “AssHat” and “20009” and it gives you all the jobs related to being an asshat in 20009 and the surrounding areas.

  • Are you looking to do something similar? You could find out which contractors are currently supporting your agency, or one you’ve worked for in the past, and contact them directly to see if they have any openings.

    Depending on your field there might be a specialized job site out there, such as for tech jobs. In my experience you can find better leads on these than on general job sites like Monster or CareerBuilder.

    But your primary focus should be on networking, whether it’s through professional organizations, alumni organizations, friends, etc. It’s a lot easier to get in with a referral than through a job postings site.

    • Oh, and one more thing. If you have a lot experience and good relationships within the federal government, you may want to consider becoming an independent contractor. That way you can make your full bill rate.

  • The answer to this question can vary significantly depending on what kind of job the OP is looking for. That said, I would think about the type of job you’re looking for, and investigate the companies/organizations that you think you might want to work for. Networking is also a good idea (although I’ve never been very good at it), and professional associations can be a good way to do this.

    • Yeah, OP’s going to get no useful advice without specifying the industry. If you’re a lawyer, use a headhunter. If you work with contractors, reach out to your cotacts at those contractors. If you just want to do something altogether different, pray.

      Seriously, I’d say about 75% of employment in DC is obtained through a personal network. Everything is about who you know. So start with who you know.

  • I second Indeed. Also to all of you saying the govt pay is better – please note that govt salaries have been frozen and will remain so for years.

    • This isn’t accurate. The only thing that was frozen (for 2 or 3 years I think) was cost-of-living increases.

      Step increases within grade and promotions to higher grades are unaffected.

      • Are the number of promotions the same or have they gone down? Also are more people being dropped down a grade due to the economic climate?

        • I doubt anyone has or ever will be dropped down a grade. Generally the within grade step increases and grade increases have remained the same at my agency as long as you were already on a promotion “schedule.”

          Yet, I am still trying desperately to get out of working for the government.

          • Oh yes it does happen, absolutely. It’s the Fed’s way of laying people off without officially laying them off.

        • In my agency, the amount of promotions have stayed about the same since the cost of living freeze was enacted. And I’ve never ever heard of someone being dropped down a grade, due to the economic climate or any other reason.

          • Ah, I guess your agency doesn’t do it.

          • neither does mine.

          • The patent office does it if you fail to meet your biweekly quotas occasionally.

          • Step one – avoid the patent office.

            On a related tangent, I hailed a cab one rainy morning at 14th and U and my ethiopian driver was driving his cab to his job at the US Patent Office somewhere in Alexandria.
            He said that while he was full time, he only needed to work 4-5 hours a day to get all of his work done, so he bought a cab to earn more money the rest of the day (and he used it to commute).

          • Seriously? They must have relaxed the rules at the patent office since I worked there. We absolutely had to be there 8 hours (our badges kept track of that and supposedly we could be reprimanded for not being inside the office for the proper amount of time), and we usually needed to work overtime because there was such a backlog of patent applications and not enough employees to handle them all. They were quite flexible with the hours, though– a lot of people I knew would work 11am-8pm. You don’t have to interract with anyone so it really doesn’t matter when you’re there.

  • try, all non-profit job listings there. i’ve gotten two positions from it.

  • Wow, you guys are really not helpful.

    This is the best DC job resource list I know. It has slight progressive leanings, but there is alot on it.

    Best of luck

  • If you’re looking for nonprofit jobs, definitely check out

  • Definitely for non-profit jobs. If you went to a big university, your alumni organization may have a job board. If your field has a professional association, they may have job postings.

    I found my current job (non-profit) on the Washington Post’s job site.

  • Why would you give up 100 percent job security in this economy? (Note, this isn’t an exaggeration. Federal workers actually do have 100 percent job security:

    Also, assuming you’re not looking for an entry level job, you’ll have poor luck on the job boards. It’s all about who you know. Especially in this city, and especially in this economy. So you’ll probably need to do some quasi-unethical things like hitting up the private companies your agency interacts with for job leads.

    • Some people actually care about enjoying the work that they do, and may not need 100% job security because they are competent at their jobs. Working with lazy federal workers is the worst.

      • Working with lazy workers, no matter the employer is the worst.

        Government worker does not equal lazy worker.

        • Yeah, you really can’t make generalizations like “government employees have better job security” or “government employees are lazy”. Every company, agency, or department has its own policies and corporate culture, government or not. Some government jobs are more secure than others, just like some private sector employees can get away with being lazy.

    • Maybe he doesn’t need 100% job security? There’s more to a career than that. Besides, the Feds do lay off employees in their own way– they basically drop them down a grade with the hope that they’ll get disgruntled and leave (it usually works). This happened to a few guys I used to work with.

    • me

      Government jobs DO NOT have 100% job security, no matter what USA Today says. We just discussed this at my agency the other day. Defense budget is going to go down, and they can’t recoup all of that by cutting contractors or budget.

      • Jen is absolutely right. I work at a federal agency, and 5 people were laid off about 7 years ago. The positions were eliminated. Tell THEM they have 100% job security.

  • I always thought looking for a job on USAJobs was so f’ing difficult.

    These are the best websites for job searching: (non-profits)

    And, go to your old university/college’s career center. I went to American, we had a great web-based program called ‘careerweb,’ which had entry level & moderately advanced jobs (3-5 years of experience).

  • I moved from Coast Guard (junior level) to private industry. It was a contact, and being open minded about the new career. It was completely different work, but still related to ships. After 11 years in industry I moved back to DC for a government job in a related field. That was contacts too. Talk to your open minded friends in your current job. A lot of times people will have heard of jobs, or even chosen not to take them for whatever reason, and can give you a referal.

  • I would say do your research carefully before making the jump. I spent over a year job hunting and can tell you the private sector job market is especially difficult for experienced workers–even more so if you don’t have an advanced degree of some sort. This market has an abundant workforce of people who are over-schooled and at this time satisfied to be underpaid. Jobs you would think require 10+ years experience are going to those only 2-3 years out of school. If you’re in your mid-30’s or older, you really would be better off looking for a job more to your liking within the government. You’d probably be amazed by the number of people trying fruitlessly to get in.

    That said, a few steps you should take:
    1) Find professional help for your resume or at least buy a book and get someone you trust to review it. It’s very, VERY different from what’s needed for government jobs and you’re just spinning wheels without it. You may be able to get assistance from professional associations, depending on your line of work. But please make a significant time and money investment here.

    2) Go to standard job-finding sites like Monster or Career Builder just to do a key word search to find jobs with your skill set. Read the postings to understand what employers are looking for. Google companies in the area that do what you know how to do and learn about their biz.

    3) Start networking–something everyone should be doing all the time anyway. Let people know you’re looking to make a jump, solicit advice, set up informational interviews. Check out industry groups and discussions on Linked In. So much of the hiring that goes on these days is based on networks. A resume doesn’t even get read unless it comes from a trusted source, which is why Monster and CareerBuilder are generally a waste of time.

    4) In addition to private sector, consider non-governmental, non-profit organizations that interact with, work alongside, or in some other way need the government. There are countless trade associations, think tanks, public interest groups, lobbying firms, PR and public affairs agencies. Pay is not always great, especially in a down economy, but you can’t ignore policy as the biggest game in town. Two great resources are and Latter requires subscription but I think it’s like $5/month.

    Good Luck!

  • You need to be prepared for the sometimes shocking reality of the results oriented private sector where production is expected and the likes of

    Bloomingdale with the first comment above is anathema in the private sector where you really have to work, produce and rise to challenges of the real world or else

    without the stressless easy street of easy spending unearned tax revenues and all the false sense of entitlement working in the public sector seems to breed.

    It’s two hugely different worlds made much more clearly outside of Washington.

    • No offense anon by I don’t have a false sense of entitlement so please over generalizations a lazy.

      I have worked in both public and private sector jobs and it is false to say there is no dead wood in the private sector. Especially, in the large corporations in middle management. Seriously, again with the over generalizations.

    • Sorry, but you’re an ass. I’ve worked public, private and non-profit and have say hands down that the federal government has the most educated, well-trained and dedicated people working. There are deadbeats in every industry, every office, everywhere. That’s life. But you want the best and brightest serving your country and I’m happy to say from experience that you have it. Lucky you.

      • I don’t know about that, but I will say that the military government folk are, across the board, very dedicated and hard working.

      • Definitely true. I’ve worked in the private and public sectors too. Overall, the thought processes and analysis in the government tends to be more rigorous, though assuredly packed with acronyms and jargon. Private sector is overwhelmingly dominated by business school type double speak, cliches, groupthink and nonsense (“what we really have to do for our client is provide value added service by leveraging our exposure to the ___ market with synergies achieved by perspective we bring from our overall perspective from 30,000 feet,” etc.). The problem with the government is that it is possible to just tread water and add nothing. You’ll probably be sidelined into a position where you can do the least harm, but you’re unlikely to be fired. Public sector workers are effective because they are self motivated, not because they face direct incentives or reward for producing more. In the private sector you’d be more likely to be fired. Of course you’d also be more likely to be fired if the boss decides he doesn’t like your hair color.

        • Eh. Public sector worker cliches.

          If this is what you tell yourself to live with yourself, have at it.

  • indeed, simplyhired, and glassdoor (which actually uses indeed’s engine) are all excellent sources for jobs

  • Wow. This certainly doesn’t help the stereotype of government employees.

    Seriously… spend 5 minutes searching the internet. Jeezus…

    • orderedchaos

      Jeez, d., why bother with a such useless comment — just to be a dick? Looking online for 5 minutes won’t yield the same results as asking people for advice; doing *both* might help someone who’s nervous about a big change to get some confidence and make a plan to proceed.

    • I don’t think that’s a fair assessment. The problem with doing a general Internet search is the overwhelming amount of information (I currently do it to help hubby find a new job) you get. To the extent that there is just a handful of websites that the OP can find that would contain all, if not most, of the jobs that he would be interested in, I think it’s entirely reasonable to ask for recommendations from POP readers.

      Although I agree with other comments that he should have listed his field if he really wanted to get super useful information.

  • I’m sure you know this, but there are some creeps on Craigslist. As such be sure to take your home address off your resume when responding to job postings there. And be prepared for the possibility of getting calls from a stalkerish person. I had one of those– the job posting and initial phone called seemed totally legit but next thing I knew the guy was calling me asking how my weekend went and being evasive when I asked about the job.

    • The only jobs I apply to on CraigsList are ones with a company name, company site, and company e-mail on them. (I’ll double-check the site to make sure that the job’s being offered there.) Anything with an anonymous CraigsList e-mail address (or anything that says [email protected]/gmail/yahoo/ and no company information on it gets ignored. In this day and age of identity theft, it’s not worth it to apply to a blind ad or anything that looks sketchy.

  • Wow, I find it hilarious that even in DC people thing feds do nothing and are somehow rolling in cash with our plush benefits. I certainly wish I were. I know for a fact that in the private sector with my education and experience, I’d make more. But some of us like public service. Even more laughable is when you work at the Pentagon and see military officers not complete their tasks, go to the gym for 3 hours in the middle of the day, and leave early every Friday yet bitch about how lazy federal employees are.

    Also, this is my third federal job and management is DEFINITELY the problem – just like in the military, in the Feds, those who are driven and hard working get frustrated by their leaders so leave instead of get promoted.

    But either way, good luck!

    • Spoken like a 20 year old. I’m so unhappy because my boss is a big meanie and doesn’t empower me the way my doting parents did.

      • I wish I were 20. Or even in my 20s. More like standards, which feds are held to per law and many others aren’t. There are people with PhDs working for the government that have to clock in and out every day at their office. It’s “standards” just to have them on paper, not to have them actually create any sort of quality output.

  • There are lots of myths about working in the federal government. One is that federal workers are overpaid compared to the private sector. Nearly 75 percent of federal workers have an associate/bachelor/post graduate degree or some college education, compared to 54 percent in the private sector. And most of the degreed jobs do not get paid more than they would get in the private sector.
    Pay for most jobs has been frozen for the next two years (at least). And the plans being discussed for long-term debt reduction include cutting pay by 8% through increased contributions to the retirement system. No question there are benefits to federal employment. But it’s not the path to riches, unless your federal job is being a Senator or Congressperson.

    • Your benefits and job security are better and result in a much better long term wealth creation. Ignoring benefits is what the unions are pushing because it obscures the enormous price being paid for little or no relevant work.

  • According to this report from August 2009:

    The average compensation of wages and benefits for the Federal civilian workforce of more than 2 million is now $120,000.

    While the average compensation of wages and benefits of the private sector workforce that pays the taxes which supports the livelihood of the public sector employees is $60,000:

    Just an observation and I don’t want to get really off topic, but to help the PoP reader that writes in exploring a job change into the private sector,

    but since January 2009 when this administration took office in the White House, there are now more than 200,000 more federal civilian employees within the public sector while there are now more than 2 million fewer private sector jobs.

    That’s the record.

    With a fiscal crisis at hand, instead rising to the occasion and growing the private sector that provides for everything and everyone, this administration grows the federal government even more, unsustainably and worse instead of demonstrating leadership resorts to the easy street of the politics of blame, inciting class envy and dividing Americans:

    The reader that writes in should be prepared to find a lot of competition for any available position in the real world private sector with near 10% unemployment.

    • Except that the average compensation of the private sector also includes McJobs. if you compare those with college educations and above, the private sector pays more.

  • Unlike many of the posters here, I will actually attempt to answer your question:

    1. Are you looking to actually change careers, or do the same thing you do now in the private sector? Career change is extra hard right now, and a non-profit may be a good way to go. Disadvantage is crap pay. If you want to stay in the same industry, check out your resident contractors. Keep in mind that contractors are hiring fewer people these days, so getting in the door is harder than ever. And you probably won’t make much more money, I’m a contractor and would make more money going fed but I like the flexibility I have as a contractor.

    2. The websites that everyone has mentioned are useful, but I’ve found it’s best if you go direct to a company that interests you. Also, do your research on They have great insider info on what it’s actually like to work somewhere.

    3. It bears repeating – connections are everything. Exploit your network. If you don’t have one, build one. The best way to get a job in a bad economy is to know someone, and I would argue that it’s the only way in this town.

    4. Keep in mind that federal skills don’t always translate well to the public sector. The fedgov is more content to move at a snail’s pace, both from a managerial and technological standpoint. My husband, a private sector IT consultant, laughs at my client agency’s IT issues, because they are very ten years ago. Be sure that when you look at the private sector, you sell skills that don’t tie you too specifically to the fedgov. Talk about leadership/management skills, project, execution, writing proficiency, etc.

    Good luck!

  • According to a report from The Cato Institute from August 2009:

    The average compensation of wages and benefits for the Federal civilian workforce of more than 2 million is now $120,000.

    While the average compensation of wages and benefits of the private sector workforce that pays the taxes which supports the livelihood of these over paid public sector employees is $60,000.

  • I forgot to mention that offers a subscription discount to government employees. I don’t know how they do it, but I always found jobs posted there before they were listed anywhere else

  • Depending on what field you are in, there are tons of government contractors out there that you could easily get a job with based on your govt experience. (Finance, defense, IT, HR, engineering) Once you are in the company you could try to switch to the commercial side of consulting.

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