Author Topic: Looking for General Career Advice  (Read 940 times)

Navion33

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Looking for General Career Advice
« on: April 13, 2021, 02:05:24 PM »
Hello Mustachians, I recently found out about the community and wanted to ask for some insight/advice from others about working in government vs industry.

Situation: 25yr old currently working in a Government job as an engineer. I signed on with a contract when I graduated University due to an incentive of lump sum, student loan repayment plan and yearly salary increase. The contract was meant to keep me tied for 2 years (ends this September) and once it is complete I am free to stay or leave. I have already payed off my student loans ahead of time and as well a small car loan, so currently I have no debt and that burden has been lifted off of me.

What I am conflicted with is about the future prospects of career advancement vs. actual work experience. I want to gain actual "engineer" experience in my field and I feel that government sector does not provide that. The government sector on the other hand provides a "comfortable" living which is nice on its own. Would pursuing industry be the best option for both work experience and increasing income? I apologize if this question feels a bit open-ended since I can't pinpoint my problem and I am just generally "lost" on what to do now.

Finances:
Income: 65k
Net Income: 41k
Savings/Checking: 6k
401K: 13K
Investment: 7k


Thanks for reading my rant. Any info or advice would be appreciated!

draco44

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Re: Looking for General Career Advice
« Reply #1 on: April 13, 2021, 02:12:15 PM »
Hi! My initial thought at least is that "government" is a massive employment sector and if you find the associated benefits appealing, you can likely transfer to a different government office/department/agency that gives you more hands-on experience. Similarly, "industry" is also a big umbrella, and moving into any old industry job wouldn't guarantee you get what you are looking for either.

Laura33

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Re: Looking for General Career Advice
« Reply #2 on: April 13, 2021, 02:15:53 PM »
If you do not feel challenged at your current job, go.  Right now, your most important asset is you -- and the best investment you can make is into developing your own skills and abilities so you can command top dollar and/or have your pick of interesting jobs.  This is the time to be pushing yourself, taking on challenges, doing uncomfortable things, taking risks, and all those other things that grow a fantastic life experience and resume. 

I do know some people who work for the government because they are passionate about what they do.  That's not you.  For most other people, the primary benefit of government employment is (1) job security and (2) pension/benefits.  You need neither of those things.  You are young enough and with a good enough educational background and job history to get any of a number of other jobs.  And if you successfully follow the FIRE path, a pension is irrelevant.

I would not recommend chasing the money just to chase the money.  But I would absolutely recommend stepping off the "safe" path when you find yourself antsy and unfulfilled just two years in. 

Navion33

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Re: Looking for General Career Advice
« Reply #3 on: April 13, 2021, 05:08:10 PM »
Hi! My initial thought at least is that "government" is a massive employment sector and if you find the associated benefits appealing, you can likely transfer to a different government office/department/agency that gives you more hands-on experience. Similarly, "industry" is also a big umbrella, and moving into any old industry job wouldn't guarantee you get what you are looking for either.

Thanks for the info. I did not think of transferring between agencies until now. I'll look into and research more about it!

If you do not feel challenged at your current job, go.  Right now, your most important asset is you -- and the best investment you can make is into developing your own skills and abilities so you can command top dollar and/or have your pick of interesting jobs.  This is the time to be pushing yourself, taking on challenges, doing uncomfortable things, taking risks, and all those other things that grow a fantastic life experience and resume. 

I do know some people who work for the government because they are passionate about what they do.  That's not you.  For most other people, the primary benefit of government employment is (1) job security and (2) pension/benefits.  You need neither of those things.  You are young enough and with a good enough educational background and job history to get any of a number of other jobs.  And if you successfully follow the FIRE path, a pension is irrelevant.

I would not recommend chasing the money just to chase the money.  But I would absolutely recommend stepping off the "safe" path when you find yourself antsy and unfulfilled just two years in. 

I have thought somewhat similarly that government jobs are intended for certain people (those close to retirement) or even career fields (I have heard that admin jobs in government are highly sought after when you compare their industry counterparts earnings). I am also in agreement on the pension/benefits... I question the need for me to be enrolled into mandatory Life Insurance, FERS, and other insurances (I have health, dental, vision but rarely even use them).

Thanks for the encouragement. After being with government for 1 1/2 years, I can say it has given me some experience, although not what I wanted, in program management and team leading to add to my resume that will prove useful going forward.

BlueHouse

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Re: Looking for General Career Advice
« Reply #4 on: April 23, 2021, 01:57:07 PM »

 I want to gain actual "engineer" experience in my field and I feel that government sector does not provide that.

I've worked at some of the government laboratories, which act as the research arms for the various services.  Most of the engineers working there say they stay there because they aren't just sitting behind computers.  They wear shorts and jeans because sometimes they have to crawl around on the floor to plug in cables or components.  Sometimes they have to wear bunny suits when they work with flight hardware.  And sometimes they have to wear suits and ties when they have to propose new projects to other government agencies or report progress on existing programs.  Most of the engineers have been there from their 20s and stay for decades.  Some work their beyond their official retirements, some retire and then go to work with prior partners at other agencies, and some come back as consultants.  They seem to like the laboratory environment very much.  So depending on your speciality, take a look at the government labs and see if any fit what you're looking for. 

jeromedawg

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Re: Looking for General Career Advice
« Reply #5 on: April 23, 2021, 02:42:06 PM »
@spartana and @robartsd will have some pretty good insight here.

robartsd

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Re: Looking for General Career Advice
« Reply #6 on: April 23, 2021, 04:55:09 PM »
Sounds like it would certainly be worth your while to look around (other agencies, private industries, other levels of government). Find people doing jobs that you think you'd like to do and ask them for an informational interview so you can learn more about the job. This will help you refine your search and learn what qualifications you should obtain or highlight on your resume. It may even help put you in touch with people actually in the position of actually making hiring decisions for the job you want.

Hi! My initial thought at least is that "government" is a massive employment sector and if you find the associated benefits appealing, you can likely transfer to a different government office/department/agency that gives you more hands-on experience. Similarly, "industry" is also a big umbrella, and moving into any old industry job wouldn't guarantee you get what you are looking for either.
I don't know how much easier it would be to transfer between different types of jobs within a government than it would be to simply get hired as a new employee in your target job. Under normal situations, there is no formal preference for current employees (at least not in the system I am most familiar with). There are times when a hiring freeze exemption is easier to get if the candidate is coming from within the same government (more often just within the same agency). You would have the advantage of already being part of the culture which could help interviewers select you as the best fit. Transferring between jobs (or returning to jobs previously held) of the same type at the same level is usually easier as you don't have to compete to be high enough on the list of potential hires - selecting someone who qualifies as a lateral transfer or reinstatement is generally always acceptable whereas new hires and promotions must be selected from a pool of candidates currently on a competitive hiring list - those with scores too low simply are not reachable.

Government is a big sector and there are lots of different types of jobs done by government workers. Within a particular government (federal, state, or local) benefits for permanent staff tend to be similar across all the different jobs and switching job types would generally continue to contribute to the same retirement system.

I have heard that admin jobs in government are highly sought after when you compare their industry counterparts earnings.
My impression is that government pay scales are flatter than private industry pay. For those in entry level government admin jobs, the compensation seems quite favorable over many similar private industry jobs; but the pay increases as one works their way up the system doesn't seem to be as much. This may be in part due to the fact that retaining those at the higher levels is not as difficult because the pension system provides a nice set of golden handcuffs.

HydroJim

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Re: Looking for General Career Advice
« Reply #7 on: April 24, 2021, 07:24:37 AM »
I'm in aerospace/defense. Depends what you're looking for I guess.

Friend A who graduated with me in 2018 and works on the government side just now started making what I made 3 years ago. Granted, the skills/experiences between us are not equal and the gap has only widened since then. Long term, they'll be an expert in that topic and if history holds true going forward, they'll never be out a job. Apparently the gov side also has good benefits but I'm not sure how much better it might actually be. One positive of gov work is it's more 'noble'? in the sense that it's not necessarily profit driven. Friend A gets to do work for the pure science of it whereas I don't often get to fully explore my ideas if I can't justify the return on investment.

I don't get the appeal of government, but different strokes for different folks.

I did a stint as a contractor on the government side of things and couldn't believe the things I saw. I lasted about 2 weeks before I knew I had made a mistake and I was out of there in 5 months time. I'm sure there are pockets of good in certain groups doing certain things, but I haven't seen it yet.

Industry can be just as awful with apathetic people, useless people, useless paper pushing, and general mismanagement. But, I think there is more oppportunity to find cool positions with good people doing good work. In my experience there is a lot more urgency so you're more likely to experience stress or deadlines. That will vary a lot though. Plus, as a rule, you'll get paid more than the government side. I make 70% more than I would on the government side and I'd say 30% is probably the average differential for most people just based on what i've seen.

It all depends what you're looking for and what you want to do. The hardest part is finding a good position doing good work on a good team. I find it very hard to tell 100% what you're getting yourself into from an interview so sometimes you just have to take that risk.

spartana

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Re: Looking for General Career Advice
« Reply #8 on: April 24, 2021, 10:39:51 AM »
@spartana and @robartsd will have some pretty good insight here.
I don't think I have anything to add as I didn't have a job that had a private sector equivilant (environmental law enforcement/compliance) that I started after 12 years in the military. However I found my job pretty satisfactory and really enjoyed it. There were many more options to do lateral transfers within my agency or others that were not open to the general public or anyone not currently employed with the gov. So there were many more opportunities for advancement of lateral moves with fewer competition.for job openings.

Fishindude

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Re: Looking for General Career Advice
« Reply #9 on: April 24, 2021, 02:21:31 PM »
If you do not feel challenged at your current job, go.  Right now, your most important asset is you -- and the best investment you can make is into developing your own skills and abilities so you can command top dollar and/or have your pick of interesting jobs.  This is the time to be pushing yourself, taking on challenges, doing uncomfortable things, taking risks, and all those other things that grow a fantastic life experience and resume. 

I agree with this and would add, that you can likely find a better job and better pay in the private sector.

clarkfan1979

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Re: Looking for General Career Advice
« Reply #10 on: April 24, 2021, 06:45:48 PM »
My step-dad is CEO of a small environmental engineering firm. They design water drainage plans for residential communities. I think there are maybe 15 full-time engineers and 5 part-time that are more niche. The expectation is 50 hours/week and two weeks vacation. Your job is your life. I don't understand how anyone can do this their entire life. Maybe they love their job? Is is possible to love it that much?

I am a Social Psychologist and teach at a community college. Humans are wired to seek out social status because thousands of years ago those with more status in the group were more likely to survive. Employers try to sell status to employees. In my opinion, this is a very bad trade because it doesn't really mean anything. In my industry, some faculty will take less money to work at a "prestigious college".

I prefer to be paid in money. I use that money to buy assets so I can buy some of my time back. However, to each their own. 


NorCal

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Re: Looking for General Career Advice
« Reply #11 on: April 24, 2021, 08:17:35 PM »
First piece of advice:  Apply and interview elsewhere!

Applying and interviewing is free.  You don't know what the alternatives are unless you look.  Some employers may love to have you, and others may not hire people out of government.

You don't know what you're missing unless you look.  You can always say no to a job offer.  In fact, I've found that saying "no" to an offer is a very satisfying experience.  It helps you realize that your current job is something that you are affirmatively choosing.

Second piece of advice:  Don't be afraid to take a risk (assuming you can afford to take a risk).

I've taken a few big risks in my career.  I went from the military to Silicon Valley.  I went from mega-corp to tiny startup.  I went from startup to a boutique consulting firm.  Now I'm a stay-at-home dad. 

Sometimes those risks worked wonderfully.  Other times they ended in total disaster.  Heck, I gave notice to one company a week before they were busted by the feds and charged 50 employees with defrauding the government.

But every time I took a risk, it set me up for something better.  (To be honest, they were better jobs, but equally miserable).

Maybe you'll find the government is a great place for you.  Maybe you'll find something better.  Fast forward a decade and you'll probably be doing something that you don't even know exists today.

Goldielocks

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Re: Looking for General Career Advice
« Reply #12 on: April 24, 2021, 08:24:33 PM »
Definitely ask at work about how you can get the qualifying experience to obtain your PE.

 If you are not doing "real engineering" then I assume your current role is not on the "PE" track.... but some government engineering roles are and it is not a red flag to your boss if you show interest in getting it, even if it means a lateral move to a "real engineering" role somewhere.

You should also start interviewing elsewhere, but mainly to gain understanding in what jobs are out there, to help you decide.

robartsd

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Re: Looking for General Career Advice
« Reply #13 on: April 26, 2021, 09:33:02 AM »
Definitely ask at work about how you can get the qualifying experience to obtain your PE.

 If you are not doing "real engineering" then I assume your current role is not on the "PE" track.... but some government engineering roles are and it is not a red flag to your boss if you show interest in getting it, even if it means a lateral move to a "real engineering" role somewhere.
This is great advice. Supervisors in government jobs are supposed to be concerned about their employee's career development. Asking about getting experience to qualify for the PE exam should be taken as a positive indicator by your supervisor.