Trying to decide which direction to go when considering employment options for after the military can be a very stressful part of transition for many veterans. One option that many consider in today’s job market is government contracting, and the industry is filled with both large and small companies that are interested in hiring veterans because of the training and skills they bring to the table. Are you thinking about a position in government contracting? Here are four things to consider.
Know What is Important to You
When I began my transition from active duty, I wanted to find a position where I could maximize the skills I had built during my time in the military. I poured my heart and soul into translating my skills and creating a great resume and I posted it on a number of job boards and websites.
Soon my phone and email began to go crazy with interest from government contracting companies looking to fill positions, which they thought I was perfect for. And so began my introduction to the wide world of government contracting.
As I began speaking with recruiters from various contracting companies, I really started to learn a lot of the differences between companies. Some were smaller contracting agencies that emphasized the close-knit company atmosphere of their organization. Some were larger agencies that emphasized the amount of work they consistently had available for their contractors. Some positions were long-term positions where the contract would not end for more than two years and some were short-term positions for less than one year.
Some companies offered robust benefit packages and some offered higher compensation, with smaller to no benefit packages. While the biggest question in my mind going into my job search was, “How much does it pay?” I quickly began to realize that there were much more important things that I needed to consider, such as the cost of their benefits package, amount of paid time off and the anticipated length of the contract.
After going through transition, I definitely wanted to find something long term with good benefits that would help me support my family as I did when I was on active duty. Knowing what’s important to you means taking the time to think about what you and your family need to be successful. Be honest and up front as you speak with different companies to ensure you are looking at opportunities that fit your needs.
Research, Research, Research
So exactly what is government contracting? Government organizations often use contracting companies to supplement their staff or provide consulting services that help them improve their services and products.
With that being said, it is important to know that government contracting is a HUGE industry where contracting companies are competing for multi-million dollar contracts. Needless to say, it is important to do your research about the companies that you are communicating with.
How long have they been in business? What do their employees say about them? What kinds of contracts have they/are they working on? What happens when your contract comes to an end? Will there be an opportunity for another position, or will you be suddenly left unemployed and looking for a new position?
These are questions that you must ask and do your due diligence in finding the answers to if you want to land a great job with a great company. Contracting jobs can bring in big paychecks, but make sure you do your research so you don’t get burnt by a bad company.
Tap into your Network
One of the things they teach us over and over again during transition classes is the power of building and using our networks to help us. Government contracting is one area where this is a valuable tool in finding the right position. When speaking with different companies, I realized that while one company or position wasn’t what I was looking for, it very well may be what someone else is looking for.
I made sure I referred friends and other people in my network to job opportunities that I came across that I either wasn’t qualified for or wasn’t what I was looking for. I also made sure I responded to emails and voice mails, as recruiters from different companies can also be a valuable part of your network.
As I shared opportunities with friends, they also shared opportunities with me. We all belong to one of the greatest networks in the world and we have to make sure we are using it and participating in it to the best of our ability. It can make a huge difference in helping you secure a great position, both now and in your future career as a contractor.
Accept the Right Position
After 12 years of service, I separated from the Army and decided to enter government contracting. I spoke with numerous companies, did my research and found a position with what I considered a good company. I asked the right questions and negotiated what was important for my career. I was impressed with the promises they made, and I felt it was a great opportunity.
I showed up to my first day and learned that the contract was in the proposal process, but there was nothing to worry about. As the official end of the contract quickly approached, I had been with the company for less than 30 days. I began to discuss other opportunities in case the contract was not awarded, and I was assured there was another opportunity that I would be moved to.
Unfortunately, the company did not win the contract and the position I had been promised did not exist. I immediately found myself unemployed after having spent about 30 days employed with the company. Needless to say, I was furious because I felt like I had put my trust in a company that was less than honest with me. Luckily, I was able to use my network, research and skills obtained in my career to land my dream job with an amazing organization where I can continue to grow in my career.
Government contracting jobs can be the best thing that ever happen to us, or they can be a source of great frustration. Accepting the right position involves knowing what is important to you, researching the opportunity and the company, and using your network to find the right opportunity for you.
Understand that the world of government contracting is filled with some great organizations that are doing great things to support our government agencies. It is also filled with companies that will use dishonest techniques to misuse their most important asset, which is you. Taking the time to commit to the right opportunity will help you find success in the world of government contracting as you advance your career.
Jamaal Wheaton is a recently transitioned Army veteran with more than 12 years of active duty service. He is the founder and owner of the Wheaton Group, a public relations firm that specializes in being a voice for veteran- and military-related issues. Jamaal currently works as a government contractor for the federal government and shares his personal experience of transition with the hopes of helping others navigate the through their own transition.
Have you accepted a defense contracting and need to know the right time to move on? Check out “How Long Should You Stay in Your Defense Contractor Position? We Break It Down!”