Public vs. Private? Factors To Consider When Choosing Your Cybersecurity Career Path

Public vs. Private? Factors To Consider When Choosing Your Cybersecurity Career Path 864 486 CyberVista now N2K

Public or Private?

Factors To Consider When Choosing Your Cybersecurity Career Path

Cybersecurity is one of the fastest growing industries in the United States. Unemployment in the space has been shown to be as low as 0%. While there are some nuanced difficulties to breaking into this nascent sector, for the vast majority of qualified candidates, there is a career (or dozens) waiting for you. Before you launch your entry-level job search, one decision you will need to make is whether you will you be looking for a career in the public or private sector. While it’s not uncommon to transition from one sector to the other, workers tend to stay in one sector for 10 – 15 years before making a move to the other side. This post will help to guide your decision to choose your own path in this growing field.

Path Definitions

When folks refer to the public sector, they mean a federal government job. This includes jobs within the dozens of government agencies, including the Department of Defense, or publicly funded non-profit organizations (i.e., 509(a) public charities) that work on behalf of the American people. Likewise, millions of jobs in the public sector also exist at the state and local government levels.

The private sector, by contrast, comprises all enterprises that are not under governmental management. Interestingly, there are private firms that are contracted to support state and federal positions – generally referred to as government contractors.  

Job Roles

Neither sector has a shortage of opportunities, so you won’t find yourself sitting on your hands. In the public sector, the responsibilities focus specifically on information technology. Moreover, your job role may be very specific. Meaning you have a set of clearly designated tasks and you hardly deviate off those responsibilities.

Your day-to-day in the private sector can be a bit more unpredictable, unless you are in a very large and established private company. Smaller private companies tend to employ more generalists who can quickly pivot and learn new skills. Employment in the private sector can offer opportunities for employees to be part of innovative and cutting-edge projects, resulting in evolving job responsibilities. Since many private sector businesses are focused on profits, they may be more open to business opportunities that facilitate this objective. Their protocols can be less bureaucratic, which could increase the likelihood of obtaining funding approval for new projects and corresponding infrastructure.

Job Security

Generally, public sector jobs are harder to secure because there is little to no flexibility in the hiring requirements. These jobs generally require a security clearance which can include a criminal background check, employment history, and personal relationship verifications, polygraph testing, drug testing, and other components. There is a lengthy waiting period (ranging from three to six months) between having your first interview and settling into your new office. The good news is that once you’re in, you’re in. Public sector professionals have the advantage of hardly ever getting fired or laid off. The government is more reluctant to relieve an employee of their responsibilities because it can take up to a year for a manager to terminate an employee. The government has an extensive process of policies, procedures, and appeals to follow in order to terminate an employee. In fact, the Government Accountability Office reported that less than 1% of its career permanent workforce was dismissed due to poor performance. In brief, it takes a long time to hire you and equally long wait to fire you. While you’re not untouchable as a public sector employee, you will experience a strong sense of job security.

Alternatively, applicants pursuing cybersecurity roles for a private organization most likely won’t have to go through such a prolonged hiring process. Unlike the public sector, hiring and onboarding for the private sector follow a much quicker pace – we’re talking weeks instead of months. However, more accessible jobs are not necessarily more secure jobs. Your position might be budget dependent. If the budget gets cut, a merger or acquisition disrupts your department, or perhaps your firm didn’t quite hit its marks for the quarter, you might be out of a job.

Annual Salary and Benefits

Now, the section you’ve been waiting for: compensation. There is a significant difference between the two sectors. The chart below details the pay discrepancy.

Public Sector
Private Sector
Total Job Openings 12,100 273,581
Mean Hourly Wage $38.70 $46.59
Mean Annual Salary $80,500 $96,900
Top Job Titles
  • Cyber Security Engineer
  • Cyber Security Specialist/Technician
  • IT Specialist / Engineer
  • Cyber Security Analyst
  • Network Engineer / Architect
  • Cyber Security Engineer
  • Vulnerability Analyst / Penetration Tester
  • IT Auditor
  • Cyber Security Analyst
  • Cyber Security Manager / Administrator


The public sector salaries operate under the rigid General Schedule (GS) salaries. This means there are set annual increases scheduled and not based on merit. There are also instances where promotions and pay grades will be rewarded due to performance. In the private sector, annual increases are often a standard part of a performance review and depend on the financial health of the company. If a professional in the private sector realizes that he or she will not be receiving an annual increase, it doesn’t mean he or she should give up on seeing a boost in pay. Although, it’s not widely recommended to jump from company to company there are so many openings in cybersecurity that you can likely bring your talents elsewhere. Since private sector professionals are usually employed with no strings attached, they have the benefit to easily transition their expertise to more suitable organizations.


One of the most important factors to consider is the company’s relevance. Ask yourself, do you want a position within a company whose mission you believe in? Cybersecurity professionals working for public sector get out of bed everyday and ultimately serve their country. Besides the sentiment of patriotic pride when working in the public sector, there is often the opportunity to implement real change. The public sector provides some of the most exciting opportunities and projects that could impact the lives of millions of Americans across the country.

Private sector jobs don’t necessarily have a nationalistic hum; however, there are other elements to drive satisfaction. You could work for an organization that’s driven by philanthropy and goodwill, a for-profit businesses, or even become a hired government contractor. The technology-driven world we live and is mostly powered by private sector. From its advancements and accomplishments, the private sector continues to lead the field of consumer-technology. Indeed, the private sector plays an enormous role in consumer-driven businesses – all accessing or hosting personal information. The common denominator is that it is a business imperative to protect client and customer personal information – that’s a pretty awesome mission.

Your Future is Bright

Whether you choose to go the public or private sector route, rest assured that there is a bright future ahead of you. Developing the right skills and experience will allow you to safeguard data and protect systems for the long term. Ready to learn about which certifications will help land your cybersecurity dream job? Explore cyber roles and check out CyberVista’s live online certification training programs! Good luck!