This is a question which many young graduates ask themselves when job hunting, and it is not an easy question to answer. Both sectors offer great advantages and disadvantages and which you choose generally depends on your personality (and what is available at the time).
The public sector means you will be working for the state. One of the main examples of this is working as a Civil Servant. The preconception of this has always been in the UK at least is that it is a job for life. The pensions are viewed as being the best you can get. Public Sector workers have traditionally also got significantly more paid holidays than their private sector counterparts. Indeed the working hours are generally viewed as being very forgiving and family friendly. In return for these benefits, the public sector has always had worse pay than the private sector.
However, many of these preconceptions are now changing in the UK. The job security while much better than in the private sector is no longer guaranteed. There have been mass redundancies due to the recession. While the public sector pensions remain much better; the government is trying to change the pension system so that Civil Servants will make more Contributions. The holiday gap is also growing smaller with the average Civil servant getting about 27 days of paid holidays a year compared with 21 – 25 in the private sector. With some employers such a KPMG offering employees the opportunity to buy more holidays. The biggest difference actually appears to be in the pay scale and the more qualified you are the bigger the difference. According to the Office for National Statistics public sector graduates earn 4.1% less than their private sector counterparts.
So it would seem that although still a safer option than the private sector, things have changed. No longer is the public sector a straight choice between a job for life with a perfect pension for less pay.
The private sector differs from the public sector in many ways. The job security is nothing like that of someone in the public sector. Usually you will sign a contract of 1 to 3 years and your employer has much more freedom to let you go during that time especially during a probation period which is usually around 6 months. Although the paid holidays are not as good as the public sector they still quite often get up to 25 days of paid leave. The working hours are usually higher with nearly every private sector job working from 8 or 9am to 5 pm. The breaks are usually much less generous ranging from 15 mins to 1 hour. The company does not have to provide you with medical insurance or a pension scheme and even if they do, a civil service pension is still the best pension around.
There are advantages though, the pay is usually higher in the private sector, especially for graduates, in some cases much higher for doing exactly the same job. A candidate on a graduate programme for KPMG will typically earn £25,000 basic salary compared to £22,000 for people on Civil Service Graduate Scheme.
So although your job is not as secured and the pension is not quite as good, it does have numerous benefits.
In the current economic climate people are mainly worried about job security. If the job security and pension scheme, which were the main attractions of the public sector, are being eroded then what is the attraction of the public sector? High flyers will usually opt to go into the private sector. People who are more safety conscious and keen on ‘adding value to their community’ are more inclined to go into the public sector.