update: moving from a secure government job to a less safe, higher-paying private industry job

It’s “where are you now?” month at Ask a Manager, and all December I’m running updates from people who had their letters here answered in the past.

Remember the letter-writer thinking about moving from a secure government job to a less safe, higher-paying private industry job (#5 at the link)? Here’s the update.

First of all, the information and feedback from all of the comments was overwhelmingly helpful. Hearing the different thoughts and experiences from both sides helped to put things in perspective and plot a course forward.

I took all of the advice to heart and decided to wait to see how the pandemic developed; I also thought about how – as some readers pointed out – I could probably find another job very quickly given that my market and skill set are in high demand, verify and weigh benefits, and to look long-term at my prospects should I remain a government employee. For the time being after writing in, I decided to stay put and see how things went, then possibly make a move later.

This past summer there was an inciting incident at my federal job where all of the credit for the work I had done was put under the name of my male colleague – but I was to continue doing all of the work. When I asked why, I was told, “[Name] has a PHD and we need to give him something to do.” This incident, combined with our leadership forcing everyone to return to the office mid-pandemic even though it wasn’t needed for most jobs, forced me to really sit down and evaluate where my federal career could go and what I wanted for myself.

I had largely charted my own course in the government since I’m in a relatively new field, and I realized I had already reached the peak of where I could go as a federal employee given the current restrictions imposed by OPM. I decided that I wouldn’t be satisfied sitting in the same position for another 30+ years until I became eligible for retirement – I expected and wanted more from myself.

I also heavily considered the pandemic position and my industry – fortunately, I am in one of the industries that has boomed during the pandemic and is growing at an insane pace, so I felt relatively assured in the job security if I were to make a move. I thought as well about a quote from “Not So NewReader”: “I often think of the story of the old man in the nursing home. When interviewed about his life he said, ‘I should have taken more chances. The things I thought were big risks really weren’t that big.'”

I updated my resume and LinkedIn profile with the advice you provided on your website, then applied for several positions. I ended up with competing offers; salary negotiations were very confusing for me as a civilian, since the pay scale is so different from private industry. When initially asked by recruiters about salary expectations, I used your advice from this article and this article – specifically stating, when asked about prior salary, “My duties grew to include x and y, and my salary reflects that.” I also asked for the top of the range I was hoping for and then remained silent – much easier said than done.

I know that the standard recommendation is not to come back with a request for a higher salary than originally requested, but after the fifth interview at one of the companies, where the hiring manager let slip some critical information about the role and my qualifications, I realized that I had originally asked for a number that had very much so low-balled myself. At the next discussion with the recruiter, I let them know that based on the last conversation with the hiring manager, I had realized that given the responsibilities and expectations for the position, I would be more comfortable asking for a higher range and mentioned – truthfully – that I had a competing offer.

The company promptly issued an offer that was a 190% raise – almost 3 times my pay – in addition to a sign on bonus AND a hefty stock offering! In addition to that, the benefits were even better than those I had as a federal employee, which by itself was incredible. Upon hearing the final offer, which was more than I had expected, and calmly letting them know I would accept, I ended the call and cried for a while at the table in my kitchen. I had no idea that the work I was doing was valued so highly.

I handed in my resignation, started my new position, and have no regrets. The amount of stress from my job has been cut by 80%, the benefits are far, far better, and the lives of my husband and I have completely changed. I’m no longer stressed about money, since we’re no longer living paycheck to paycheck, and I am unbelievably happy and excited to start work every day with a company that values equality and me enough to pay me what I have realized I’m worth. It has progressed to the point that my husband complained that I “gush about my new job too much” (he’s very jealous.) Much like the old man in the nursing home, this risk wasn’t as big as I thought it was, and it’s changed my life.

Thank you so much for the resources you provided through this website and for the readers that gave me such wonderful advice!

{ 82 comments… read them below }

  1. The Smiling Pug*

    This is awesome OP!! Gives me hope while I’m currently in the middle of job-searching and negotiating salary.

  2. Enough*

    And a lot of companies like having former government employees. My brother-in-law retired from the government and went to the private sector. So he’s getting the best of both worlds. His son who followed in his foot steps could have worked for the same company but they said take the government job and then come to us with the knowledge and experience that would benefit them. So essentially he took his dad’s government job and will eventually get his dad’s private job.

  3. Jennifer Strange*

    This past summer there was an inciting incident at my federal job where all of the credit for the work I had done was put under the name of my male colleague – but I was to continue doing all of the work

    Flames, on the side of my face…

    1. Shrinking Violet*

      I would so love to hear how Mr PhD is doing now, without the LW to do all “his” work for him.

      1. AnonForThis*

        Not OP, but this effectively happened to me for half of the same reason (he had a PhD and was very good about whining to his management about being ~sooooo overworked~), and when I gave notice, PhD threw a silent fit, refused to talk to me in person or via email, refused to engage in any sort of project hand-off meetings, managed to get my direct supervisor demoted for supporting me (ah, tenure vs non-tenure), partially resigned/went part-time, and ended the three programs I built and managed in his name as well as the program I managed as my sole official job responsibility. Once he didn’t have his “help,” he took the whole department down and blamed me and my direct supervisor for the programs failing. I suppose he was very effective in hiding his incompetence, because no one left could figure out what the hell happened amid all the rubble. I really hope it went better for OP.

      2. Lady_Lessa*

        Sometimes, PhD means Piled high and Deep. I should know I’m an MS (More of the Same) in a STEM Field.
        Some are good others only in a very narrow field

  4. Pikachu*

    /quote all of the credit for the work I had done was put under the name of my male colleague – but I was to continue doing all of the work. When I asked why, I was told, “[Name] has a PHD and we need to give him something to do.”


    But really, congrats OP! What a spectacularly happy ending. And thank you for linking back to the specific resources you used! I love it.

    1. CatCat*

      Right?! Like what exactly is the “something to do” PhD man has going on here? He isn’t doing the work!

  5. WellRed*

    I’m so curious as to what the critical information they “let slip” was that they came back with an insanely higher offer.

    1. LW*

      They revealed that they had absolutely no one with my level of experience or domain knowledge and were afraid that a specific competitor would get me first.

      1. No Longer Looking*

        I’m glad that they “value you enough to pay you what you are worth” and simultaneously a little angry on your behalf that they initially were happy to offer you right around 50% of what you were worth. Good on you for coming back strong when you got the full picture!

        1. Cj*

          This critical information was let slip during the letter writers fifth interview, so I don’t think they had gotten an offer yet. They had just told the employer what salary they were looking for, and after finding out more, they increased that number.

          Unless I’m reading it wrong, we have no way of knowing what the company would have offered them.

          1. LW*

            You are absolutely correct – I had no solid offer yet, just provided a range that I then adjusted upward!

    2. KateM*

      I was wondering if what held them back was OP asking way too low amount – it could have seemed suspicious.

      1. LW*

        I don’t think so, though it’s a good guess and I’m sure some companies think that way. They hadn’t yet issued an offer to me and my higher range coupled with the competitor’s offer sped up the process.

  6. Anonymous Luddite*

    This is a serious contender for best feel-good update of the year (In my mind, it’s tied with “so we all quit.”)

    Well done, OP.

    1. Petty Patty*

      Yup, I agree as well. Most people making a switch like this would be over the moon just because of the massive salary increase and better benefits. The best part about this is that she says the actual job and culture is great too.

      Do we even *have* a best feel-good update for the year? We should!

    1. LW*

      My agency used the ACQ-DEMO scale. If I’m translating correctly, depending on locale, my job series fell anywhere between a GS 12-14.

  7. LDN Layabout*

    This is a great update (aside from the utter fuckery from her old job)!

    Public vs. private really comes down to being both a personal preference AND it really does depend on the company or section of government you end up at. Classic Westminster joke is that you can spot the DWP employees outside the pub on a Friday because they’re the ones looking miserable.

    I’m very much on the side of public sector for my own career (and I’ve done both) but I know people who would hate it.

  8. Wisteria*

    When I asked why, I was told, “[Name] has a PHD and we need to give him something to do.”

    And this is definitely about being a man, not about having a PhD.

    I am a female PhD. Literally nobody has ever said this about me. In fact, I left my last job bc I was struggling to get entry level Bachelor’s work when I had a PhD and several years of experience, while the actual entry level BS holders were fully committed with more challenging assignments. Yes, I complained. Many times. And then I left bc that’s all you can do sometimes.

    1. ShinyPenny*

      Filled with rage on your behalf, and the OP’s behalf. Hope you also fought successfully for a better next chapter for your life!

    2. The New Wanderer*

      I (female PhD with 20 yrs experience) left my last job when I was again denied consideration for a promotion that less experienced male PhDs got. A month after I left, the team announced they had hired a male PhD from a supplier into the level I was denied. He at least had comparable experience but not my specialized knowledge – I was the only SME in several key areas that current management didn’t consider valuable. The sole female PhD left in the group has one foot out the door too.

      In a reversal from the OP’s situation, I went from industry to government and am now putting all that SME to use in a much more cooperative environment. Turns out, this job is all about those key areas, I’m going to get to be a strategy leader, and I love it. I hope the OP is just as happy in her new situation!

      1. Boof*

        Glad you are in a better place! It’s disappointing but I guess unfortunately not really shocking to hear about sexism in government jobs – it’s really about the people in charge, not the sector I suppose

        1. Don't be long-suffering*

          I think The New Wanderer was saying the sexism happened in private industry and she’s doing better in government. But the OP had the opposite.

  9. animaniactoo*

    This past summer there was an inciting incident at my federal job where all of the credit for the work I had done was put under the name of my male colleague – but I was to continue doing all of the work. When I asked why, I was told, “[Name] has a PHD and we need to give him something to do.”

    Perhaps if he needed something to do, they should have had him actually do this work…

    Congrats on getting out of there and congrats on your new job and improved life!

    1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

      Yes, the response from management is was absolute nonsense! If he needs something to do, get him to DO something. They f***ed around and I hope they find out.

  10. LW*

    Thanks so much for all of the kind comments – you guys have me tearing up. I really appreciate your happiness for me and wish you all the best, as well! Thanks for making this community so amazing and supportive.

  11. Chria*

    So OP is now making more money with less stress? Just goes to show that sometimes staying with the devil you know is a raw deal. Take a leap of faith!

  12. TeapotNinja*

    *slow clap*

    What a great update! The only thing I hope you didn’t mention is that you told your ex-employer exactly why you left. For them to give credit for your work to someone else is ridiculous.

  13. PT*

    It’s really fascinating how many “highly qualified” men need someone else to do their work for them.

  14. Sparky*

    This is great to hear! I am a federal employee, and as soon I I reach my next anniversary date (my pension will improve), I will be job hunting too. Good to hear a success story, OP, congratulations to you!

    1. LW*

      I was thinking about doing the same, but did some math. I had 5 months to go until I hit my pension anniversary, but realized that the extra amount I could make on the private side in only 5 months (which was the time to my pension anniversary) was equivalent to what the entire pension value would have been after retirement at 65 up through 80 years old. If I invested that amount instead – which I have – I would end up with 26% more funds during retirement thanks to that investment than with the pension. Hope that makes sense. Point being, make sure you do the math and that it adds up for you, too, either way!

  15. MissDisplaced*

    All of the credit for the work I had done was put under the name of my male colleague – but I was to continue doing all of the work. When I asked why, I was told, “[Name] has a PHD and we need to give him something to do.”

    OMG! That burns me up but living well is the best revenge.

  16. Lizy*

    That. Is. Awesome.

    You have no idea how much it means to me to hear this. I’m taking some incredibly hard and large risks (for me), and it’s so nice to hear it’ll work out.

  17. Candi*

    “all of the credit for the work I had done was put under the name of my male colleague – but I was to continue doing all of the work. When I asked why, I was told, “[Name] has a PHD and we need to give him something to do.””

    No, you’re crediting with something he didn’t do. That’s not “giving him something to do”, that’s pretending he did something he didn’t! I think this is one of the worst doublethink ism/ist sentences I’ve encountered.

    I’m glad you found how valuable you and your work are, OP, and that life is looking up so much for you.

  18. Happy dancer*

    Woooohoooooo! Doing the happpy dance for you! That was an awesome move! :) Made my day just reading this. Many Congratulations! Reassures me that good things happen to those of us who know our worth and go after what we want ….

  19. JN*

    I just love this story. When I graduated college my family was pushing me so hard to get a state government job because of the retirement benefits and job security. I’m so glad I never did. 12 years later I’ve nearly quadrupled my entry level salary and make enough to invest in my retirement on my own rather than depend on my employer for it. Sometimes healthcare benefits and job security can be very tempting but feeling like your work is valued and *not* feeling like you’re counting the days until retirement — that’s a benefit worth weighing just as heavily.

  20. Hasha Fashasha*

    Oh what a great update, congratulations! I worked for my state for 5 years doing low-level work, then 3 years in two small private businesses that I hated, and now I’ve been working for my county for almost 12 years and I’m REALLY contemplating a change, but it’s SO SCARY!!! I’ve been promoted twice and I’m currently an Intermediate Administrative Assistant for a local elected official that heads a 45-person department in the third-largest county in my state, but I only have an Associate’s degree and I haven’t figured out what else I could do yet. I considered finishing my Bachelor’s, but I’m almost 40 and I just don’t know if I have the motivation at this point, but I’m also desperate to do something more with my career. Thank you for sharing your story and your update; it gives me hope that maybe there’s something more out there for me than cubicles and fluorescent lighting for the next 25 years.

    1. SofiaDeo*

      Hasha, can you start to take a single class a semester, transferable to finishing your Bachelor’s? Outside as well as in your current skillset, to explore what other things might interest you? Like, if you do bookkeeping stuff look at Accounting, and IT, and Business Management. Take a writing class. Take a language, especially if your county is multilingual, or find companies that interest you that are international. Maybe take an aptitude test, to see where that leads you. In my case, I was a healthcare professional who had an aptitude for logic. And I liked the classes. Which led to computer courses, which then led to database administration and finally Senior Management Consult with an IT specialty. I never got an IT degree, just kept taking classes (that I enjoyed, it wasn’t a grind). I likely could had negotiated a higher salary with a degree, though, so I urge you to consider it for yourself. Anyway, since I had an aptitude for this stuff, I liked it and did well. Compared to when I tried Sales (which I do not have much aptitude for).

      So maybe by taking a class here and there, and working towards your Bachelor’s (for those pesky places that automatically prefer higher degrees, and will pay you more if you have them, or are at least working towards them), it will help you find a passion.

      1. Hasha Fashasha*

        That’s all excellent and well thought-out advice; thank you so much for taking the time to respond! I’m actually enrolled for two classes starting next month, but I’m fighting with myself about actually doing it. I know that sounds stupid, and it sounds even more stupid when I tell you that I have something like 80 CU’s out of approximately 120 CU’s done already, but I’m on the autism spectrum and general burnout is a huge problem for me and seems to be getting worse as I get older.

        For me, my autism means that I’m extremely logical and have an aptitude for writing and editing, but I haven’t done those things in a professional setting beyond business letters, emails, and simple marketing materials. I took years of Spanish classes in high school and college and I have a very decent base of grammar and vocabulary, but I have trouble translating on the fly when speaking and listening and I don’t practice enough to get better. I’m asked to use my Spanish skills periodically at work, but I don’t feel comfortable enough to be much help beyond asking simple questions and directing them to someone more helpful, usually with the help of Google Translate.

        My Associate’s degree is in accounting and I do love numbers, but I’ve been with the government long enough that it would be difficult to take any kind of near-entry-level position in a different industry and not have to take a pay cut. My autistic ‘special interest’ is maintaining my personal budget and finances using You Need a Budget and I’ve been satisfyingly successful, but I haven’t been able to translate that into an employment situation.

        Your kind comment will probably be the kick in the pants that I need to actually take these classes next month, so thank you again for taking the time to respond to a very conflicted stranger. The commentariat here is among the best I’ve seen anywhere on the ‘net.

        1. Not a Goose*

          Chiming in to encourage you to do it! I recently went back to grad school at the age of 37; having the real-world experience is invaluable and will give you an advantage on your 20 year old classmates. There’s a saying I like, “The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago. The second best time is now.”

          I would suggest maybe just doing 1 class at a time until you know you can handle the workload, esp if you are working full time. I was working part-time and taking 2 classes and it was *really* overwhelming, esp. at the end of the semester which coincided with my work’s busy time.

  21. Stoppin' by to chat*

    Wow, congrats OP and thanks for sharing your update! I work in cloud computing in the private sector, and I have this hunch while reading both your letter and update that you might be working for my employer. We have amazing benefits, and it’s a very well-known technology company. Or maybe not. It’s a big world out there! I’m so glad you found a better place to land!

    1. LW*

      It’s a small world sometimes and it’s always possible! If you think you might know me, you should mention Ask a Manager to me. Even if you’re thinking of someone else, I’m sure whomever it may be would love this site as a resource.

  22. SofiaDeo*

    I also add my vote for this to be at least a contender (my actual vote is for *winner*) of the best feel-good update of the year! Your story is so uplifting and inspiring, thank you for sharing your awesomely happy news. Truly. Made. My. Week.

    Alison, if you don’t already have a “best update of the year” poll (AAM newbie here), please consider adding one for next year with results posted the very end of December? It would be a wonderful way to usher in the new year…..

  23. Cosmerenaut*

    All the YIKES to your old job. I wonder why/how they thought misattributed credit due to sexism was going to fly better than a lead balloon. Did they offer you anything to “sweeten” that “deal”? Maybe a ride on a unicorn that passes rainbows and ends pandemics with its innocent tears?

  24. Critical Roll*

    It always amazes me the sexism that can fester in the federal service, which has Very Strict Rules and Serious Consequences about that sort of thing to an extent that’s rarely found in the civilian world. Yet it takes so little for that behavior to continue.

    Also, taking credit for someone else’s work isn’t actually doing something, so. There’s that.

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