What are Public Employees?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Kristen Osborne
  • Last Modified Date: 17 October 2019
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Public employees are people who work for the government. As representatives of the government, they serve the interests of the public. Also known as government employees, public employees work at every level of government and in a wide variety of settings. Work in the government sector is highly competitive as the government usually provides excellent salaries and benefits packages that serve as incentives to encourage people to commit to lifelong careers with government agencies.

The government is one of the largest employers in many nations. Public employees can pursue government careers with parallels in the civilian world, such as working as clinicians for public health agencies, conducting research for agencies involved in environmental regulation, and providing secretarial support to government offices. They can also be involved in careers that are unique to the government, such as working for security and intelligence agencies.

People who work for the government must pass a series of tests before they can be hired. The development of standards for government employees is designed to ensure a basic level of competency while also leveling the playing field. Government agencies focus on finding the people most qualified for government positions, using metrics such as the civil service exam to compare applicants against each other. Applicants must also complete a series of interviews designed to provide potential supervisors with more information about their suitability for a given job.


Many jobs in the public sector require a college degree, along with successful passage of an entrance exam. Public employees must also pass background checks because they handle sensitive information about members of the public, and they are sometimes exposed to information that could pertain to national security. When people enter a position in the government, they are assigned a grade on the basis of their qualifications and promotions move people through a graded system as they acquire more experience and meet performance goals.

People who are interested in careers as public employees can explore agencies they think they might like to work for. Perusing job listings should provide people with an idea of the qualifications they will need to acquire before applying. In addition, they can talk to existing public employees who can provide more information about what it's like to work for a specific agency, as well as what kinds of extra qualifications can be helpful for job applicants. It is also important to maintain a clean criminal record, as a history of criminal activity can bar people from many positions in the government.


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