Continue to Serve Your Country with Defense Contractors and Agencies

You may be turning in your uniform at the end of a stellar military career, but that doesn’t mean you have to stop serving your country. The Defense industry is looking for people like you – men and women who already understand the military and its missions. Defense jobs offer excellent salaries, and the mission of a defense contractor or agency often offers a lot of interaction with active-duty military. Even better, because new contracts are approved all the time, defense-related jobs open up on a regular basis.

A quick peek at a few defense contractors’ websites will show that they are always looking to hire qualified personnel – even when the economy is riding a rollercoaster. Plus, there are opportunities within the government that are a good fit for skills and experiences acquired in the military. It is no secret that businesses throughout the country value those skills, but the defense sector will be especially attractive to those who still want to do their patriotic duty.

Retiring and separating servicemembers will have a leg up when applying for defense jobs because nearly every job with a defense contractor or the Department of Defense (DoD) requires a security clearance – something you likely already have as a servicemember. And this is where a boost in pay comes in. The average salary for civilian jobs that require security clearances can be $5,000 to $15,000 higher annually than for similar jobs that do not require clearances. That difference is greater in places with a higher cost of living such as Washington, D.C., and its surrounding suburbs, and less for places with a lower cost of living. For United States citizens who have security clearances and work outside the country, the salary difference jumps even more. Over 5.1 million U.S. citizens hold security clearances (more than the entire population of Norway); more than 1.5 million of them work for private companies.

Education also counts. Cleared individuals with master’s degrees make nearly twice as much as those with only high school diplomas.

Defense contractors and agencies are eager to hire veterans not only for their skill sets and their security clearances, but also their personal characteristics such as self-discipline, initiative, and leadership. For the veteran, a career in defense offers interesting work, good pay and benefits, the prospect of long-term employment, and an opportunity to continue to contribute to our country’s defense.

All of that sounds good, but veterans should not join the industry without understanding that defense firms are bracing for leaner times, lower profit margins, and tougher negotiations and bidding for government contracts. The Pentagon has been tasked with getting smaller and spending less. That has left industry executives with a growing sense of apprehension about the future, especially given the end of combat operations in Iraq, the further withdrawal from Afghanistan, sequestration, and mammoth federal deficits.

The Pentagon's efficiency and acquisition reforms are pressuring companies across the industry to make their organizations leaner and to sell off unprofitable units. Many firms will also have to accept more risk and lower profits on the shrinking number of defense contracts up for grabs. Many contractors saw their revenues flatline or decrease in FY2014, no surprise after similar numbers in FY2013. Modest declines are being predicted in most places for FY2015, but that could change according to international situations.

But even if the budget does decline and profit margins come down from expected rates of around 10 to 12 percent, the overall level of defense spending will remain high. There is still a lot of money in defense work, and the positions are relatively low-risk. Veterans simply need to do their homework when it comes to picking a firm to join.

Joining a defense-related government agency is also an option, one that will likely come with even better job security. The DoD alone employs roughly 736,000 civilians. The federal government’s job site is USAJOBS.

How to get a job with a Defense Contractor

  1. Be a U.S. citizen. Almost all high-paying U.S. defense contracting jobs are held by U.S. citizens.

  2. Get a security clearance. Nothing is in more demand within the U.S. defense contracting community than someone with a security clearance. This is especially so since 9/11. The good news for you is that one of the easiest ways to get a security clearance is through military service.

  3. Network. It’s true all over the civilian job world – it’s who you know. There are very few people who get a job with a defense contracting firm without knowing someone. Make sure you attend job fairs, sign up on websites where contractors discuss contracts, and talk to contractors on military bases. Tell them you are looking for a job in the defense contracting world. If you can, check in with them once in a while to see whether they are hiring.

  4. Tailor your resume. All the regular resume rules apply, but if a job appears to support military operations directly, make sure you list your military experience in detail. If the job you are targeting doesn’t directly support military operations, focus on your skills and knowledge.

  5. Be a problem solver. Emphasize your problem-solving skills because those will translate into nearly every job in the defense industry. Make sure you include at least one example in your resume or cover letter, and be prepared to cite several examples during a job interview.

  6. Serve in the U.S. military. The good news is that if you are reading this article, you likely can already check off this requirement. Most U.S. defense contracts are managed by former military officers, commonly lieutenant colonels or equivalent.

  7. Know your stuff. You must establish technical credibility. While it is true that former battalion commanders typically are the program managers for defense contracts, it is also true that former sergeants are typically doing the more detailed work.

  8. Be willing to relocate. If you don't care about your location, then you will have a much easier time finding a job working in the defense contracting arena.

Saturday November 14, 2015

This article appeared in the January-February 2015 issue of Search & Employ Magazine