Why work for government?

Many a government job application now asks you to comment on why you want to work for a particular department and/or in a particular role. You may also be asked these questions during an interview. So how to respond?

Some state government job websites ask the question, Why work for state government? South Australia offers six reasons:

  1. Contribute to our state

Included under this reasons is: “Whether we’re shaping policy, changing lives or handling enquiries, we all share the common goal of making South Australia a great place to live now and into the future.”

2. Be part of our dedicated team

This means belonging to a network of capable and forward-thinking people who “help to grow the economy, enforce the law, deliver infrastructure, protect the vulnerable and improve health, education and other public services across our state.”

3. Sign up to our values and embrace our diversity

This covers sharing values, working with people that reflect the diversity of the community, and creating an inclusive workplace.

4. Enjoy flexible working arrangements

These arrangements are important for a positive work/life balance.

5. Pursue new and interesting experiences

As the largest employer in South Australia, you will gain core skills that are transferable to other roles. Plus there are opportunities to move within or between agencies according to interests, ambitions and capabilities.

6. Learn and grow

Recognising the importance of continuous learning and development for progressing careers, there is the possibility of regular employment discussions to review work progress, capabilities, ambitions and development opportunities.

Similarly, Victoria offers six reasons to work for government. These reasons are:

  1. Be part of the bigger picture/Improve the lives of Victorians

This means doing work that matters. Specifically, “We keep communities safe, grow the economy and find solutions to our most complex social problems…We’re part of something more than ourselves, more than profit. We’re part of the bigger picture.”

2. Shape Victoria’s future/Seize your opportunity to contribute

This reason is about responding to change and making decisions in partnership with the people most affected by them.

3. Serve everyone in the community/Embrace diversity in all its forms

This reason is about being part of a workforce that represents all parts of the community so as to ensure services work for everyone.

4. Follow your ambition/Get the support you need to grow

As Australia’s second largest employer, the Victorian government hires for more than 200 occupations across the state. In short, “there’s plenty of room to move around and try new things.”

5. Employee benefits

A list is provided of what an employee can expect in terms of salary, support, and career development.

6. Generous leave

Staff can access many types of leave.

Some of these reasons are not unique to the public sector. Reasons linked to staff benefits may sound too self-interested, even if highly attractive. Yet the reasons do give some clues to why a person might want to work for government, particularly those related to helping the community and being part of something bigger.

These reasons do not help much with giving reasons for wanting to work for a particular department or agency, in a specific role.

Departments may include on their websites ‘What we offer’ sections. Reading these pages can give insight into the specific benefits, working arrangements and conditions, career development opportunities and pathways on offer. For a person starting their career, this information may be reasonable to use. Using this information to justify choices may still sound self-interested, particularly for more senior roles.

Questions about why you are interested in a department and a role are primarily about your motivation. What is driving you in our direction and to this role, rather than another department, even if the same role, or another role rather than this one? To come up with a convincing and genuine response takes some research, reflection, and analysis.


Job descriptions often give information about the department, the division or larger group, and the smaller section where the role is located. Is your interest related to this structure, to the particular work of the area, or the impact the work has? Do you need to look up the corporate plan to identify the bigger picture you are contributing to?


Reflect on your work experience and how it relates to the current opportunity. Do you want to continue some work you have been involved in the results you have already demonstrated? Does your professional identity rest in continuing along a certain pathway? Have you developed skill sets that deliver results and which are transferable to a new context for effective application and further development?


What are the responsibilities of the role and what outcomes are expected? Analyse how these relate to your past experience and skills. What is the value you bring to the role which will benefit your new manager, team, organisation?

By working though this research, reflection, and analysis, you can identify specifically what drives you and what contribution you wish to make. Depending on what is important in the context you are considering, you may be bringing value in relation to customer service, improvements, innovation, efficiencies, expertise, team building, improved morale, leadership. Your response does not have to be long, complicated, or overly-justified. It does need to be sincere, genuine and convincing.

Dr Ann Villiers, career coach, writer and author, is Australia’s only Mental Nutritionist specialising in mind and language practices that help people build flexible thinking, confident speaking and quality connections with people.