Attracting the best and brightest to work for the public sector requires an insight into why people prefer public over private sector employment. This article looks at what makes people prefer public sector employment in 26 countries. Findings reveal that public service motivation (helping other people, being useful to society) and extrinsic motives (job security, a high income, opportunities for advancement) play an important role in this preference. Still, there are considerable differences between countries. In countries with a career-based system of public employment (rather than position-based system), working in the public sector is seen as more attractive. Download this article in IRAS from the Sage page, or a preprint version from SSRN.