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Advice / Job Search / Finding a Job

15 High Paying Government Jobs (And How to Land One)

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Do you get heavily invested in election season? Do the characters on “Veep” or “The West Wing” speak to you? Do you wish your career was making more of a difference in the world? You probably know where I’m going with this: Government jobs might just be the path for you.

Now, very few careers are like how they’re presented on television, and government jobs are no exception. They require grit, a knack for building relationships, and an optimistic and forward-thinking approach, among other things. But the benefits, stability, and salary potential of working with the government might intrigue a lot of job seekers.

Whether you’re considering a career change, getting out of the military, or just finishing college and want to rake in a substantial income, we’ll break down the best paying government jobs available, as well as offer tips for how to get a government job with or without a degree.

The pros of a government job

Government work can offer a lot of job security and stability. Municipal, local, state, and federal services stay standing when private businesses are hit with economic or social turmoil.

That said, a team might close or shift with new administrations, laws, or elected officials (which is sometimes not even a result of a new leader but the employees who disagree with the leader’s new policies). With this job security tends to also come a wealth of benefits, including health insurance, retirement savings, and student loan forgiveness.

Another major factor is the opportunity to make a positive difference, no matter how small. Every role in the government, from software engineers to interns to fundraisers, contributes to the larger mission of improving public services and helping disadvantaged communities—and that impact can often be measured or tangibly felt.

Government workers are particularly motivated and fulfilled when they work alongside or under a leader who embodies their values, or get involved in public works projects that speak to their personal or professional passions.

Read more: 9 Federal Job Search Tips That'll Help You Land That Government Job

“If you’re someone who wants to help communities and add value to the country as a whole, government work is always a good sector to be a part of,” says Olivia Johnson, a Muse career coach who’s partnered with government agencies on DEI initiatives and internship placement. “In most cases, you’re doing something to be beneficial to the lives of others and helping people,” she adds.

How to get a government job with little or no experience

You don’t need a political science degree to break into a government job. In fact, Johnsons says she’s seen people of all backgrounds, be it business, finance, or STEM, land roles in the public sector.

Below, she outlines her best tips for pursuing a career in government.

1. Don’t discount other industry experience

Government bodies function in many ways like companies—with HR departments, operational leads, marketing budgets, and even tech teams. This means whatever skills or knowledge you bring to the table from another job, company, or internship is likely transferable.

“If it’s an IT or technical role on the government side, they’re still looking for the same thing that they would look for on the private sector side,” says Johnson—such as coding expertise, software use cases, and soft skills like communication and time management.

2. But make sure you meet all (or most) of the requirements

Of course, skills are only transferable if they match the job description. Johnson warns that because of how government jobs are laid out and budgeted, they might be more stringent in terms of finding candidates that meet as many of the requirements as possible.

“If they’re saying 5+ years experience, they really might mean 5+ years,” says Johnson. “It’s not one of those, ‘Oh, well if I have four years but I have this, so they might still look at me.’”

3. Think beyond generic government jobs

Government work is incredibly diverse and expansive—not every role is senator, law clerk, or campaign manager. In other words, don’t discount the many opportunities at your disposal that may not fit the definition you have in your head for what it means to be a government employee.

For example, Johnson says, you could contract for a federal agency through a private sector position or as a freelancer. Or, consider STEM fields or social sciences, such as anthropology or archeology—careers many people don’t immediately associate with the public sector.

4. Get your foot in the door any way you can

Johnson advises candidates to try not to be too picky when starting out. An internship or job opportunity at your dream agency that doesn’t exactly match your passions is a good starting point to build your reputation and network. From there, it’s often easier to make an internal transfer or navigate to a better-fit role.

5. Network, network, network

We all know that networking is a powerful tool in your job search. In government, it’s sometimes the only way to break in. So use yours as much as you can, leaning not just on old colleagues and friends but their connections, too.

“If you know somebody that is able to give you some direction or get you talking to the right people or anything of that sort, that could be very helpful,” says Johnson.

6. Be prepared for background checks

Background checks are common for many positions, but they’re expected in government work for obvious reasons. For some government jobs, you may also receive certain levels of clearance into sensitive or confidential information. It’s best to be prepared for these conversations by digging into your own history and gathering the appropriate references or documentation.

Any previous clearances can work to your advantage as well when applying, as they show you’ve been through the process successfully before. “If you are a military veteran or someone who already has government clearances…I would make sure to have that on your resume so they can see it clearly. Even if you have a clearance that has expired, I still would recommend putting it on there,” says Johnson.

Find government jobs on The Muse

The 15 highest paying government jobs out there

The following ranking is based on the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ (BLS) latest mean annual wage data, which was last collected in May 2022.

But keep in mind that certain government jobs—the ones below included—could offer higher, or lower, salaries than listed because of a variety of factors, including the location or budget of the role, or expertise required. (Not to mention, your negotiation skills.) Consider, too, that the best government jobs for you may not pay well at first, but leave a lot of room for growth long term.

1. Natural sciences managers

Average annual salary: $163,610

Natural sciences managers oversee the study and development of fields including astronomy, geology, and biology. In the government specifically, these scientists might contribute to healthcare or climate change policies, or hospital or lab research as it pertains to the public (think: the COVID-19 pandemic).

While getting into a lucrative managerial role within the government takes time, you can start by pursuing an internship or entry-level job as a federal scientist.

View natural sciences managers jobs on The Muse

2. Lawyers and judicial law clerks

Average annual salary: $161,680

Aspiring and current attorneys have a lot of career choices at their fingertips—government work being one of them. They can clerk for a local or federal judge, or consult or litigate for an agency, nonprofit, or government think tank. Keep in mind, however, that lawyers in the public sector may not make as much as those in private sector positions. Instead, what drives them is a chance to influence critical laws or governance.

View lawyers and judicial law clerks jobs on The Muse

3. Judges, magistrate judges, and magistrates

Average annual salary: $153,700

Becoming a judge can be a long process for lawyers—hence the steep salary. They have to have several years of practical experience under their belt and a robust network that can help them get appointed or elected. Once there, however, judges command a lot of respect and influence and can often make significant changes to policy or people’s individual outcomes.

View judges and magistrates jobs on The Muse

4. Public relations managers

Average annual salary: $150,030

PR managers ensure important information and policies are seen, promoted, and approved by the right parties, whether it’s citizens, media, or other government officials. If you come from a background in corporate PR, marketing, or communications and want to pivot to a more rewarding mission, government PR at the local or federal level could be a great option.

View public relations managers jobs on The Muse

5. Astronomers and physicists

Average annual salary: $147,800

Aspiring and private sector astronomers and physicists can move to a government-funded lab or agency connected to space exploration, military progress, or civil engineering. A PhD is often a prerequisite for such a job.

View astronomers and physicists jobs on The Muse

6. Industrial-organizational psychologists

Average annual salary: $144,610

While a lot of industrial and organizational psychologists work in the private sector, some collaborate or consult with government agencies on ways to streamline internal processes and make government workers happier and more productive. If you’re frustrated by inefficiencies in the public sector, consider specializing in this field.

View industrial-organizational psychologists jobs on The Muse

7. Software developers

Average annual salary: $132,930

Government services are increasingly going digital, and agencies want to ensure the software they build functions properly, is intuitive and inclusive, and protects citizens’ personal information. Software developers are only growing in demand in the public sector, and can bring in significant salaries if they specialize in areas such as AI or cloud networks.

View software developers jobs on The Muse

8. Air traffic controllers

Average annual salary: $130,840

Air traffic controllers pave pathways for aircrafts, ensuring they keep a safe distance from one another and make it seamlessly to their next location. Many work for the Federal Aviation Administration, which provides training for professionals of all backgrounds.

View air traffic controllers jobs on The Muse

9. Economists

Average annual salary: $128,180

While private sector economists often have a master’s or PhD, economists in the government sometimes enter the field with just a bachelor’s degree. Their research impacts regulation, contributes to economic growth, and compiles crucial data on anything from goods production to labor markets.

View economists jobs on The Muse

10. Medical and health services managers

Average annual salary: $127,980

Medical and health services managers ensure hospitals, healthcare providers, and other medical entities run smoothly. At the federal level, they might fall under a branch such as the National Institutes of Health, or job seekers could consider working in public health at a lower level of the government.

View medical and health services managers jobs on The Muse

11. Political scientists

Average annual salary: $126,140

Political scientists are experts on political systems and assist with anything from welfare reform to election campaigns to immigration policy. Like other scientists, they’ve developed deep knowledge of their field through higher education and research.

View political scientists jobs on The Muse

12. Fundraising managers

Average annual salary: $124,450

Fundraising managers oversee an organization’s money (and whom the money comes from). Through strategic campaigns, they solicit donations or investors that fund certain projects or back certain elected officials. An interest in the financial aspects of government work and background in nonprofit management, marketing, PR, or a related field is a plus.

View fundraising managers jobs on The Muse

13. Commercial pilots

Average annual salary: $123,250

Pilots for the government might transport state or federal leaders, or assist in military transactions. Like airline or private pilots, they must complete training, certification, and practical experience.

View commercial pilots jobs on The Muse

14. Information security analysts

Average annual salary: $119,860

In 2022, the BLS reported that information security analysts were one of the fastest growing occupations in the federal government. And for good reason: They serve as the security backbone of a government agency’s digital presence, protecting the organization from cyberthreats, hacks, and leaks.

“Cybersecurity was definitely a field that was at the top of everyone’s list for some time, and I think still is, but now it’s starting to get a little bit more specialized,” says Johnson. “But cybersecurity is definitely a place that depending on your skill level, could be pretty lucrative.”

View information security analysts jobs on The Muse

15. Administrative services managers

Average annual salary: $115,640

Administrative services managers support the general operations of a government agency, branch, or office. This could involve anything from physical office operations to recordkeeping to scheduling a government official’s appointments. Executive assistants or chiefs of staff in the private sector could easily shift to this role in the public sector.

View administrative services managers jobs on The Muse