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Success Guide for Careers in Public Service

8 Min Read


Careers in public service, or civil service careers, are some of the most fulfilling jobs a person can do. When considering one of these jobs, it’s important to know what defines them, which sectors they cover, the common challenges, and how to get started on your career path. In this career guide, we will tackle common questions about being a civil servant.

What is the Difference Between Private Sector and Public Service Careers?

There are a number of key differences between careers in the private sector and careers in public service. While there is occasionally overlap, and certain jobs fall outside these categories, it is generally easy to differentiate the two based on a few simple criteria:1

Businesses and Government

While private sector work is usually done in a for-profit business setting, public service jobs, as the name suggests, exist to provide specific services to the public. These jobs often fall under government agencies and are not intended to generate a profit.

Services Provided

Goods and services provided by jobs in the private sector are things Americans buy daily, ranging from food to electronics to automobiles. In contrast, the services we receive from local and federal branches of the government have been implemented to ensure everyone has access when they need it.


Funding for the private sector can come from various sources, including business-earned money and loans. While some public service industries rely on revenue, they are generally tax-funded and maintain operations through government support.

What is the Value of a Public Service Career?

Public service has been an essential part of nation-building since the turn of the 20th century. This was especially true in the United States during the Reconstruction Era after the Civil War. Throughout history, there have been landmark instances of public services improving our quality of life, including the passage of laws, the opening of schools, and acts of civil duty. A few examples are:

  • The first public high school, The English Classical School, opened in Boston in 18212
  • The Safe Water Drinking Act was passed in 1974 to ensure the safety and quality of our drinking water3
  • New York City firefighters and police officers responded heroically to the 9/11 attacks, with over 400 sacrificing their lives4

Because public service can be broken down into a variety of industries, we can see its value touch many aspects of our lives. Properly trained and compassionate workers are vital to maintaining a level of safety and quality of life for the public.

Of course, public service is more than educating our children and providing clean drinking water. It is an essential part of civilized society. Whether it’s protection by law enforcement, access to public healthcare, or earning a free high school education, public servants are considered morally necessary to keep society functioning and to promote the greater good.

Examples of Careers in Public Service

Because public service is such a broad category of work, there are numerous career opportunities to choose from. Each career serves the public in a necessary way and provides vital services. Some examples include:

Criminal Justice

Well-trained law enforcement administrators and officers are instrumental in crime prevention. Criminal justice professionals must have strong ethical foundations and a desire to promote justice for all. Analytical, inquisitive types in good physical health are often considered top candidates for leadership positions. Some criminal justice careers include:

  • Chief law enforcement officer
  • Deputy marshal
  • Parole officer
  • Warden

Emergency Management

Emergency management workers play an invaluable role in a community’s preparedness for disaster. They work with individuals across a variety of sectors, including government, military and civilian. Generally speaking, emergency management professionals develop response plans, coordinate emergency personnel, conduct research and facilitate emergency preparedness training. Some emergency management careers include:

  • Emergency management director
  • Emergency exercise planner
  • Infrastructure assessor

Fire and Emergency Services

Firefighters are held in high regard in our communities, and they earn pensions and high salaries for good reason. Firefighters are more than just public servants who extinguish fires. They also have experience as emergency medical technicians and building inspectors. Some even participate in educational community outreach by speaking to children at public schools and adults in their workplaces. Some fire and emergency services careers include:

  • Emergency medical technician
  • Fire chief
  • Fire investigator
  • Firefighter

Homeland Security

The Department of Homeland Security grew from a single entity when first created in 2002 to absorbing several other agencies such as Immigration and Customs Enforcement, TSA, FEMA, and U.S. Customs and Border Protection. This provides an exciting range of public service careers across different sectors of homeland security, including:

  • Border patrol officer
  • Customs enforcement officer
  • Federal Emergency Agency representative
  • Federal Protective Service agent

Challenges to Anticipate in Civil Service Jobs

With any career comes challenges, and civil service is no exception. Challenges for those in public service positions can range from health and safety concerns to staffing issues. Below are a few examples.

Criminal Justice

  • Police officers need to be in good physical and mental health to conduct their work effectively. Various health conditions can add complications to the job, and officers should always be vigilant. As reported by the International Journal of Emergency Mental Health, “police officers have one of the poorest cardiovascular disease health profiles of any occupation”5
  • It’s vital to train officers on how to interact with the mentally ill. Based on a report by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, about 43% of state and 23% of federal prisoners reported some kind of mental health issue6

Emergency Management

  • One of the primary challenges facing emergency managers today is communication between agencies, crews, and emergency dispatch centers. According to the Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), “CISA has subject matter experts located across the country to engage stakeholders and address the complex issues facing the emergency communications ecosystem”7
  • Maintaining systems for notifying the public of small incidents doesn’t always prepare an agency for a larger-scale disaster. This makes it crucial for emergency procedures to be well-rehearsed8

Fire and Emergency Services

  • EMS workers have incredibly fast-paced and stressful jobs that require quick action. This can prove challenging, especially during a natural disaster or widespread emergency situation
  • Staffing can be an issue in fire departments, and a lack of workers can result in longer response times during emergencies. Long work hours can also result in burnout, which is another contributor to longer response times9

Homeland Security

  • Human trafficking is a constant global threat and a challenge to those working in homeland security. According to a report by the International Labor Organization, in 2021, approximately 27.6 million people worldwide were estimated to be in forced labor at any given time10
  • Changes in global migration can make border patrol work a much more complex issue, and ensuring proper protocol is followed is key11

What Do Careers in Public Service Pay?

Careers in public service can be both fulfilling and lucrative. And since the work is consistent, there are always jobs available for those who want to pursue them.

  • Criminal justice: The median annual wage for police and detectives was $69,160 in May 202212
  • Emergency management: The median annual wage for emergency management directors was $79,180 in May 202213
  • Fire and emergency services: The median annual wage for firefighters was $51,680 in May 202214
  • Homeland Security: The average salary for a border patrol agent was $68,550 in 202315

How to Begin a Career in Public Service

Each area of public service offers a rewarding career avenue that promotes a peaceful, civil society. The Anna Maria College online Master of Public Administration (MPA) program offers specializations in criminal justice, emergency management, fire and emergency services, and homeland security.

With demand booming for each specialization, it’s never been a better time to continue your education. If you’re interested in a public administration career, but unsure what area you want to focus on, Anna Maria College also offers a general track that provides you with the knowledge and tools to enjoy success in a variety of roles.

Learn How You Can Make a Difference Today


  1. Indeed. “A Guide to Public vs. Private Sector Employment.” Retrieved October 9, 2023, from
  2. The Bronx Chronicle. “First Public High School: English Classical School.” Retrieved October 9, 2023, from
  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Drinking Water Standards and Regulations.” Retrieved October 9, 2023, from
  4. NYC 9/11 Health. “Rescue & Recovery Workers.” Retrieved October 9, 2023, from
  5. National Library of Medicine. “Health Disparities in Police Officers.” Retrieved October 9, 2023, from
  6. Bureau of Justice Statistics. “Indicators of Mental Health Problems Reported by Prisoners: Survey of Prison Inmates, 2016.” Retrieved October 18, 2023, from
  7. Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency. “Emergency Communications Coordination Program.” Retrieved October 18, 2023, from
  8. criticalarc. “Emergency Management Challenges & How to Overcome Them.” Retrieved October 9, 2023, from
  9. TheBigRedGuide. “Addressing Labor Shortages in the Fire and Rescue Services.” Retrieved October 10, 2023, from
  10. U.S. Department of State. “About Human Trafficking.” Retrieved October 10, 2023, from
  11. Department of Homeland Security. “Department of Homeland Security Issues Quadrennial Homeland Security Review (QHSR) Detailing Strategy to Stay Ahead of Evolving Threat Environment.” Retrieved October 10, 2023, from
  12. Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor. “Occupational Outlook Handbook: Police and Detectives.” Retrieved October 10, 2023, from
  13. Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor. “Occupational Outlook Handbook: Emergency Management Directors.” Retrieved October 10, 2023, from
  14. Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor. “Occupational Outlook Handbook: Firefighters.” Retrieved October 10, 2023, from
  15. Payscale. “Average Border Patrol Agent Salary.” Retrieved October 10, 2023, from

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