YOUR RESEARCH GUIDE TO A CAREER IN DEFENSE
The top 10 Defense Government Contractors in Fiscal Year 2016 - October 1, 2015, to September 30, 2016
- Lockheed Martin Corporation – $31,267,111,575
- The Boeing Company – $15,766,378,131
- General Dynamics Corporation – $11,292,327,262
- Raytheon Company – $10,647,039,161
- Northrop Grumman Corporation – $6,722,432,805
- United Technologies Corporation – $5,838,557,127
- Huntington Ingalls Industries Inc. –,$4,138,679,759
- L-3 Communications Holdings Inc. – $4,099,653,404
- BAE Systems plc - $3,856,812,911
- Humana Inc. – $3,309,938,770
How to get a job with a defense contractor
1. Be a United States citizen. U.S. citizens hold almost all of the high-paying jobs in the defense industry.
2. Get a security clearance. No one is in more demand within the U.S. defense-contracting community than a job seeker who has a security clearance. The good news for you is that one of the easiest ways to get a security clearance is through military service.
3. Network. Make sure you attend job fairs, sign up on websites where contractors discuss contracts, and talk with contractors on military bases. Tell them you are looking for a job in defense contracting. 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 does not 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. You likely can check this one off now, because you are reading this magazine – which is produced for transitioning and veteran job seekers. Former military officers, commonly lieutenant colonels and equivalent, manage many defense contracts.
7. Know your stuff. You must establish technical credibility. While it is true that former battalion commanders and equivalent 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 do not care about your location, then you will have a much easier time finding a job in defense contracting.
Opportunities in Defense
JOIN UNCLE SAM'S DEFENSIVE PLATOON
The desire to serve our country does not “transition out” of most men and women when they leave the service. The uniform, the deployments, and the saluting may go away, but that passion and that drive – fundamental characteristics of servicemen and women – stay with them. The defense industry deeply values these traits, and it needs people who already understand the military and its missions. So if wearing different clothes every day to work sounds pretty good, and you still want to do your patriotic duty, check out the defense industry.
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 regularly.
A quick peek at a few defense contractors’ websites will show that they are always looking to hire qualified personnel – even when the economy seems stuck in third gear. Plus, there are opportunities within the government that are a good fit for skills and experiences acquired in the military.
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.
More than 4.2 million U.S. citizens hold security clearances, down 5.9 percent in fiscal year (FY) 2015, which began on October 1, 2014, and ended on September 30, 2015. That followed a 12.3 percent reduction in FY 2014, after a peak of 5.1 million with clearances in 2013. These reductions are a result of an effort to reduce costs; and, in recent years, many government agencies have reevaluated who in their organizations – and in defense-contracting firms – really need clearances. More than 1.5 million of today’s cleared citizens work for private companies.
Educational attainment also affects the income of cleared individuals. People who have master’s degrees earn nearly twice as much as those with only high school diplomas.
For the veteran job seeker, 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 have been 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.
But how will the policies of president-elect (when this article was written) Donald J. Trump affect defense spending and employment in the defense industry? The public – and veteran job seekers – will have many of the answers during the first 100 days of the Trump presidency, when the administration declares its policies and the legislative machinery of Congress begins to act on them.
The Pentagon's efficiency and acquisition reforms have been pressuring companies across the industry to make their organizations leaner and to sell off unprofitable units. Many firms have also had to accept more risk and lower profits on a shrinking number of defense contracts up for grabs. Many contractors saw their revenues flatline or decrease in FY2016, no surprise after similar numbers in FY2014 and FY2015. Many industry experts have predicted modest declines for FY2017, but that could easily change when Trump takes office.
But even if the defense budget declines and profit margins level out at an expected 10 percent, the overall amount of defense spending will remain high. There will still be a lot of money in defense work, and the positions will continue to be 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 745,000 civilians. The federal government’s job site is USAJOBS. To search for a job in the DoD, go here. Click on “Department and Agency,” then “Show Additional Department and Agency Search Options,” and select one of the “Department of Defense” listings.
Best of luck in your job search, and thank you for serving in the Armed Forces of the United States.
By Jay Meyers