Want to Work for the SEC? Here's a Window into Life There

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If you're thinking about working for the Securities and Exchange Commission, here's a resource you might not know about: a highly detailed survey of how SEC staffers feel about their work, available on the agency's Web site.

Sentiments might have changed since the data was collected in August and September of 2008 - shortly before Lehman's bankruptcy brought the simmering financial crisis to a boil, and before the Madoff scandal socked the SEC with its worst black eye in years. Still, the 17-page document is loaded with information job-seekers rarely get to hear about a prospective employer. And unlike paid sites where you can see people anonymously dish about firms they work for, it's free.

In general, the responses indicate widespread positive feelings about overall job content and workload, pay and benefits, but much dissatisfaction with things like opportunities for advancement and creativity, and fairness of pay and promotion decisions. All in all, not much different from what you'd expect within a government agency.

Morale Declined From 2006 to 2008

What I found most interesting, though, is the document's side-by-side comparisons of SEC staffers' answers with how employees of all federal agencies answered each question. It also shows how SEC staff answered each question when the same survey was carried out in 2004 and 2006.

Compared with those earlier polls, the 2008 numbers show sentiment fell sharply on many of the 63 questions. For example, the question, "Awards in my work unit depend on how well employees perform their jobs," brought a positive answer from just 35 percent of SEC respondents in 2008. That compares with 45 percent in 2006 and 47 percent in 2004. It's also below the 2008 government-wide figure, which came in at 41.4 percent.

Diminished morale in 2008 may have less to do with the financial meltdown than with budget cuts imposed by the deregulation-minded Bush administration. For instance, the commission employed 10 percent fewer enforcement attorneys in 2008 than in 2005.

The Bush-era cuts have since been restored and then some, and the commission is now rebuilding staff in enforcement and other divisions.

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