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What are the advantages and/or disadvantages of working in a federal job as opposed to a job in the private sector?

Ever since I left the Navy, I swore that I would never spend another moment considering a job with the federal government of the United States. Now that I've finished the first major leg of my college education and am anxiously preparing myself for graduate studies, I'm starting to open up to the possibility once again that a government job might be something to look into. It might be that I want to have more of an involvement in helping to shape environmental and social policy, or perhaps it's the presumption that there's more job stability that makes it a somewhat more desirable prospect. Maybe it's just that, as one of the millions of unemployed Americans desperately seeking any means of employment, I'm trying to expand my horizons and not rule out working for the government.

The problem is that I've got a short list of my own pro's and con's, some of which are based on an ignorance of what may actually be involved in the process of applying for a federal job. And since I've been more interested in getting into nonprofit work because of my political and personal interests, I wonder if a federal job is really going to be the best way for me to put my passion for environmental and social justice to the best use. I'm not exactly trying to get rich, but I do want to be able to support myself, pay off my student loans, and get some adequate health insurance.

I wanted to pose this question to the SoulPancake community, aimed mainly at anyone else in the States, but also open to citizens of other nations who may have some advice for me. If you've worked in either a government or non-government job, can you offer some pro's and con's on these employers? If you've ever worked for an NPO or NGO, even, pro's and con's of that kind of job would be appreciated, as well.

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What do you think?
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