I hate to start off an article with a gripe but you know, it seems like every time I visit one of my more outlying work sites I hear this same conversation:
Fat government stooge: “Hey, so you’re the new guy, huh? Aren’t you a little young to be working on this project?”
My work site manager: “Uh…he’s not a new employee, sir. He’s my boss.”
Look, I get it already. Even though I just had another birthday last week I’m still a young dude, and I realize that I probably look even younger than that. A couple of gray hairs have found their way into the mix but I guess everyone working in defense contracting can feel my pain there. But anyway, today I wanted to talk for a minute about one of the most common concerns that I hear from people wanting to get started in overseas security contracting: “Am I too old (or too young) for the work?”
Let me start with the youth of the nation. Yes, there is a possibility that you can be too young for a particular job. Even state security guard licensing has a minimum age requirement, most commonly 18 or 21. With overseas contract positions, the reason you’re probably going to encounter an age restriction is because the customer requested it. For whatever reason, most job postings that I’ve seen carry the standard 21-and over disclaimer, although a few positions in teaching or mentoring assignments might set the minimum cutoff as high as 26 or 27 years old.
One possible reason for a minimum age requirement is that both the government customer and the security company themselves are seeking a certain level of maturity from their applicants, particularly in the wake of the bad press that has plagued contractors in recent years. For the higher-paying or more senior-level jobs, however, enforcing an increased age minimum is just one more way for a customer to control the quality of applicants coming into the program. No matter how much pressure a recruiter might be feeling to get his slots filled, there’s no way he can fudge his way around an absolute age minimum, since a person’s date of birth is pretty much non-negotiable. On the other hand, if the contract standards for employees were to use some loose wording like “this job requires eight years of professional experience”, Recruiter Bob might be tempted count someone’s time working the fryers at Mickey D’s back in high school towards this overall figure.
So yes, all you Justin Bieber fans, there is a good chance you might be turned away if you don’t meet the requirements of the contract. Suck it up, wait a few years, and use the time to get yourself some career skills that will make you more in demand. But for you old-timers (I still say that anyone over 40 counts as old), you’re in luck! There’s no such thing as being “too old” to work as a security contractor.
No company of any size is going to allow their recruiters to actually ask your age during the hiring process, since it opens them up to potential liability from claims of age discrimination. What they will ask is that you’re over 21 years old (or 26 or whatever this contract requires), and then they’ll leave it at that. Oh sure, they can probably guesstimate your age just by looking at the dates on your resume, but that really doesn’t matter much.
I realize that I probably don’t say enough about the good parts of working as a security contractor, but one thing I really appreciate is that there’s not much age discrimination in this field. A person can either get the job done or they can’t, and their age usually has nothing to do with that. For example, if a company’s PT test calls for you to run an obstacle course in under 2:30, all that matters is the time written down on the score sheet. 2:29 and you’re in, 2:31 and you’re out.
Oh sure, you might feel a little bit of my pain when people raise an eyebrow at you for showing up to training in those orthopedic shoes and white Sansabelt pants, but don’t feel bad, everybody’s bound to get picked on for something sooner or later. During my own pre-deployment training for Iraq I actually met two guys who were seventy-plus, and both of them still passed through all of the company’s qualifications. Granted, the first guy was a retired Marine/retired cop/ retired bodybuilder who could probably still kick my behind if he had a mind to. The second dude wasn’t so high speed, but he still made it through all the PT and psychological testing so who am I to judge? (I’ll admit, I did laugh a little at the way his seabag rattled because it was so loaded down with his prescription meds!)
So yeah, your age doesn’t matter to people nearly as much as your abilities. I’ve worked with a dude my age who had to do pushups on his knees, and I’ve worked with a guy twice my age who could keep up with me on any run we went on. The most common age-related obstacles that hold people back from getting hired can usually be corrected with the right amount of effort and energy, so once again that’s your responsibility as an applicant. If you don’t think that you’re in good enough shape for the job, stop drinking beer and do a doggone situp once in a while. If you’re worried about passing the shooting quals, get some new bifocals and go to the range more often. If you’re concerned that your high blood pressure might keep you from passing a company’s physical, make an appointment with your own doctor before you even apply.
Look, decades ago companies might have been looking to increase their return on investment by hiring mostly younger candidates who would stay with the firm for years, but that’s not even a concern when you’re hiring folks on a contract basis. So instead of worrying about how your age might negatively impact your chances of getting hired, put that energy into making yourself a more attractive candidate. If you concentrate on picking up the skills that a company needs (and eliminating any possible reason for them to turn you down), eventually they’re going to have no choice but to hire you for that first contract.