I happened to have a career in both the corporate and government. What are the major differences that I observed?
Government organizations are full of checks and balances. All actions are taken within the rules and laws defined by the State. Innovation is given the back seat. The focus is on stability and continuity. Powers and responsibilities are clearly outlined, and opportunities for using your discretion are limited. There is a huge emphasis on public and national good in government organizations.
Corporate entities are driven by profit. Innovation is welcomed, and change is integral to the corporate entity. The focus is on growth, and managers have a lot of discretion to achieve business objectives. Loyalty to the corporation is transient, and you abandon it as soon as you change the corporation. Decision-making is quick. Even in process-driven corporate entities, there is an emphasis on getting results, and you have a lot of elbow room to get results.
In government, an individual is rarely permitted to become indispensable to the organization. In the corporation, the role of the individual is substantial. Risk-taking is rare and not encouraged in government. In the corporate world, the risk is integral to corporate functioning. Winning and losing are both taken into stride in the corporate world.
If I look at this question from a career standpoint, the choice between government or corporate will vary with the individual. Government offers stability and longevity of career. It provides the opportunity to operate on a scale that is rarely available in a corporate entity. This comment is relevant only when you are working in leadership positions in government. A private sector entity equips the individual to handle rapid change. Careers may be shorter in the corporate world, but the individual becomes stronger and more resilient. I see many of my ex-public sector colleagues retire as heads of departments or civil service leaders heading an entire State post-retirement; they rapidly lose their resilience and spend the rest of their life with their grandkids and children. Corporate retirees continue to have an enduring and busy life right to the end.