Are you a Veteran Looking for Info on Government Contracting Jobs?
Start With This Advice from an Army Veteran and Our GI Jobs Staffers
[Click here for a downloadable pdf of 4 Pieces of Advice for Veterans Looking for Government Contracting Jobs ]
Deciding on the next career path after the military can be a very stressful part of the transition for many veterans. One option that many consider in today’s job market is government contracting. So what exactly is government contracting?
Government organizations often use contracting companies to supplement their staff or provide consulting services to help them deliver their services and products. The government contracting industry is filled with both large and small companies that are interested in hiring veterans because of the training and skills they possess.
Here are four things Veterans should consider to decide if government contracting might be a good career fit:
1.) Know Your Needs and List Your Requirements
You are out of the military and can choose the type of life you want to live. Build a roadmap to meet your desired outcomes.
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 résumé. 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 they thought I was perfect for.
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 many 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.
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 benefits packages and some offered higher compensation, with smaller to no benefit packages.
After finishing my transition out of the military, 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.
Veteran Government Contractor Pro Tip: 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 upfront as you speak with different companies to ensure you are looking at opportunities that fit your needs and requirements.
2.) Do Your Research
As I began speaking with recruiters from various contracting companies, I really started to learn a lot about the differences between companies.
Government contracting is a MASSIVE industry where contracting companies are competing for multi-million dollar contracts. It is important to conduct professional and social research into 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 perform your due diligence in finding the answers to if you want to land a great job with a great company. Contracting jobs for Veterans can bring in big paychecks, but make sure you do your research so you don’t get burnt by a bad company.
In your research, make it a goal to discover different dimensions of how contracting works as well as the companies themselves, which will provide a bigger overall picture that you want to combine with your direct experiences in order to make informed decisions. From official information that the companies want you to have on their corporate and social feeds to informal banter and commentary around and about their company, be sure to educate yourself so that you go into this world with your eyes wide open. Do this early so that you can formulate questions for your conversations and gauge your fit when you have the chance to talk with the hiring teams.
Veteran Government Contractor Pro Tip: Conduct your research on web search engines, social channels like Twitter/Facebook/LinkedIn, and their corporate pages.
3.) Cultivate your Network
One of the things they teach us over and over again during our transition assistance program (TAP classes) is the power of building and using our networks. This emphasis on networking might sound like generic advice or a contrived platitude but make no mistake: government contracting is one area where networking is an invaluable 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.
Set up your competitive edge in government contracting by networking with other Veterans. It can make a huge difference in helping you secure a great position, both now and in your future career as a contractor.
Check-in with your network at several points in your search process, and be sure to actively reciprocate, even if it’s with a gratitude 🙌, motivational 💪, or encouraging emoticon 🏁 . Stay memorable! Here are some common places to post and/or communicate with your network in government contracting:
- For ideas on government contracting companies in your industry
- For actual contracting positions in your area of expertise
- Requesting introductions to people (especially other Vets) who are at the company
- When you have identified a company, prior to applying
- Once you receive communication (in any form) from companies you have applied to
- Upon landing an interview
- When you secure a position (depending on security considerations) be sure to issue a “Thank you”
- If you want to help other vets, reach out with open positions to offer yourself as a referral
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. Sometimes contracting positions are already filled with referrals before or right as open positions are posted because of the competitive networking that occurs.
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.
There are so many examples of successful networking that we could write another standalone article with user stories about this alone. For instance, one of our GI Jobs staffers knows a former Marine who had a contract that fell through in 2018 immediately after extensive training, paperwork, and his travel to the middle east. Another contractor on that assignment happened to refer him to another company, where he still was in mid-summer 2020.
Veteran Government Contractor Pro Tip: When applying and interviewing with contracting companies, check LinkedIn and other social networks for contacts at the company who can provide a referral.
4.) Be Resilient, Focus, and Prioritize Relationships
Stay in touch with and expand your professional network. This an essential part of your career in government contracting now. As a Veteran in government contracting, your prior service branch provides you the advantages of membership of a globally-recognized organization. Despite inevitable challenges, this is one powerful source you can draw from for the rest of your career to find opportunities and build relationships that can grow stronger over time.
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.
Understand that the world of government contracting is filled with some great organizations that are doing the right things to support our government agencies. Like other industries, it has a few bad players that will use dishonest techniques to misuse their most important asset, which is you.
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 happens to our careers, or they can be a source of great frustration. There are times that they might be both. Accepting the right position and moving forward in this industry involves knowing what is important to us, researching organizations and their opportunities, and using our networks and other tools available to us to find the right fit. As with all things in life, an unwavering focus and resilience will see you through to your goals.
Veteran Government Contractor Pro Tip: Maintaining resilience, focus, and a strong network will see you through to future opportunities throughout the rest of your career.
This article has been modified to meet updated editorial standards at GI Jobs, which includes the augmentation of material that reflects the expertise and experiences of our US Veteran staffers.
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 military transition experiences with the hopes of helping others navigate through their own transition.