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Is a Move to the Private Sector in Your Future?

Thinking about leaving the Federal Sector? You are not alone, with the Internet explosion and specifically the cybersecurity challenges we are facing today, many of our colleagues are leaving their federal jobs to join private companies across the globe and embarking on new careers. However, a major move like this should not be taken lightly…there are many things to consider including: is it worth it, how do I go about it…. what about job security? These questions along with a host of others will be explored as we discuss the ins and outs of a potential transition to a private sector career.

Vesting – In order to be eligible to receive at least a partial FERS retirement benefit there is a five year creditable civilian service requirement. If you have 5 years or more of federal service when you leave you will be able to collect a deferred annuity at age 62 for life. You will also have the option of either retaining your Thrift Savings Plan (TSP) account or move it to your new employer’s plan; this is a critical component since you may wish to ensure your TSP is retained if you plan on eventually returning to federal service. The FERS benefit booklet provides a wealth of details and information on vesting, contributions, benefits and more.

For example, if you worked 20 years in federal service and had an average high three year earnings of $100,000 a year your benefit at age $62 would be $20,000 a year for the remainder of your life. Your annuity would be adjusted annually for cost of living increases.  This defined benefit is worth retaining and it complements your Social Security, TSP, and other retirement savings that you would have from your new employer. Many choose to cash-in their FERS accounts when they leave and years later regret they gave up a fixed annuity for life. Secondly, if they cash it out and end up back in federal service they have to repay the amount withdrawn in order to have the years you worked previously in government added back to fund your FERS retirement.

It should also be noted that in your new private sector job survivor and disability benefits would not be available until the required 18 months of civilian service has been achieved.

Reinstatement Rights  – If you have at least three years of federal service you have certain reinstatement rights and it is easier to return to federal service. Reinstatement allows former federal employees to reenter the Federal competitive service workforce without competing with the general public. Former federal employees may apply for any open civil service examination, but reinstatement eligibility also enables you to apply for Federal jobs open only to status candidates, those already working in government.

Salary Statistics – review potential salaries from the Occupational Outlook Handbook for the following groups:

Some major reasons for making the change from government to private sector include: better compensation, a change in work roles, flexibility and/or work and life balance, or a major life event. Many employees are in demand, and particularly those with law enforcement, intelligence, leadership and cybersecurity expertise. Given this, those wishing to make this change must rewrite their background and experience to fit the private sector; becoming more of an entrepreneurial spirit while meeting the needs of a global corporation are usually expected. With a faster pace, focus on productivity and profit, additional responsibilities and greater accountability, government employees must understand all of the changes surrounding a potential private sector position.

On the positive side, you will find a solid work ethic in the private sector as employees work to get the job done, and in fact, the rewards can be significantly more than what you experienced in the federal sector.

On the challenging side, you can expect longer working hours, and adoption of new skills and new challenges. You will certainly want to do your homework, research companies of interest, weigh the pros and cons, and take into consideration personality, cultural and logistical changes as well.

Early career planning, solid mentors and relationship building are critical components when making a shift. Career counseling is a must to navigate this type of change; reach out to others within your personal and professional network for advice, guidance and support. In many cases, moving to the private sector can not only satisfy financial goals and objectives, but can also offer great flexibility (closer to home and/or part time hours). By doing your homework, determining whether to work for a small or larger company, a service or product based firm, or type of role, planning is key. In addition, talking with government colleagues who already moved to the private sector can prove extremely helpful; listen to their challenges, pitfalls and positive outcomes in order to take everything into consideration for a comprehensive decision.

Be sure to address your financial situation; can you afford to take a risk at this time in your life should the new job not go as expected; is there an opportunity to return to your former agency through the use of reinstatement rights as mentioned previously in the article?

Transitioning to the private sector can be scary, but extremely rewarding with the right planning. By staying connected, taking your time, and doing your own research, you can land that (next) dream job, easily.


References & Career Planning Tools 

The information provided may not cover all aspects of unique or special circumstances, federal and postal regulations, and programs are subject to change. Our articles and replies are time sensitive. Over time, various dynamic human resource guidance and factors relied upon as a basis for this article may change. The advice and strategies contained herein may not be suitable for your situation and this service is not affiliated with OPM, the postal service or any federal entity. You should consult with school counselors, hiring agency personnel offices, and human resource professionals where appropriate. Neither the publisher or author shall be liable for any loss or any other commercial damages, including but not limited to special, incidental, consequential, or other damages.

About The Author

Dr. Donna Day is a Manager at the Department of Defense, where she has been for more than 30 years. With a background in Information Assurance, Customer Engagement and Marketing, more recently she has been studying Cyber security Policy and Management at the University of Maryland, University College (UMUC). She earned her Doctor of Management, Master of Business Administration, and Master of Science Degree in Technology Management at UMUC and received her Bachelor of Science Degree in Marketing at the University of Baltimore. Dr. Day is also an Adjunct Professor at Norwich University in Vermont, where she teaches Cyber security, Critical Infrastructure and Information Assurance courses to a myriad of students, worldwide, from across the intelligence community. A published author, Baltimore Ravens fan, and life-long learner, she enjoys writing, traveling, cooking, and most importantly, spending time with her family and friends.