When it comes to searching for work as an overseas security contractor, people usually head straight for the big household names: Monster and Yahoo! when it comes to job boards, or the websites of big companies like Xe or Triple Canopy. When I’m doing my career counseling I see it all too often: an applicant will have a great skill set, but is spending too much time looking in all the wrong places. That’s a big reason why today, I’d like to talk about finding contract work with one of the biggest employers in the world: THE US GOVERNMENT.
It might sound a little stupid at first, an aspiring security contractor looking for jobs with the Big G, but trust me, the work is out there. Open up a second browser window and surf on over to USAJOBS.Gov, and let me show you a couple things.
First, click on the link for Advanced/International Search. Got it? Then enter your search term. Let’s start with something simple like “Iraq”, “Afghanistan”, or “Security”, then hit the search button to see what comes up. I was playing around online the other day and pulled up several hundred related positions just by varying these three keywords, not even looking at what might be available in the more developed countries.
Take a couple seconds to scroll down through the listings. A good number of the jobs that are currently available are for skill sets like intelligence, engineering, or project management. These are usually in constant demand, with the exact number based on the current schedule of projects that are being performed worldwide. More importantly, take note of how many jobs have titles like “Advisor” or “Specialist”. A lot of these positions are direct parallels to a military MOS, so these can be huge opportunities for you folks who are making the transition from military to civilian life. There’s a good chance, especially if you’re looking at a job posting from the Department of Defense or directly for one of the individual branches of the military, that you’ll find an exact match for your skill set.
When you’re reading through a job posting, take notice of the “Position Information” section, where it says if the job is a full-time position or for a set term. Often the full-time stateside gigs might be filled before they’re even posted, for example if the hiring manager has a buddy that he’s trying to hook up. That’s not real different from how it works in the private sector, but you should avoid pinning your hopes to a job opening if there’s only one vacancy listed. Focus more on the listings that say “several” or “many” positions available, or else stick with applying for temporary positions.
Temporary or “term” federal positions are a lot less competitive simply because most job seekers tend to steer away from portable careers. These positions are usually based around an initial one-year length of service, but here’s the thing: you can always choose to extend your employment after that time, just so long as the manager is satisfied with your work and the project is still being funded. Except for the employer’s name on your paycheck, it’s almost no different than working for a defense contractor!
Well, there are some differences. Let’s start with the pay. Overall, it’s been my experience that government positions usually pay a little more than in the private sector, but that’s not always reflected in the salary range. You might have to do a special kind of Federal math to see the big picture. If you notice a wide range of salaries for a position advertised on USAJOBS, that’s because each job involves a base salary plus additional bonuses for Hazard Pay and a Post Differential depending on where in the world you are. In Iraq or Afghanistan, just those two things alone add up to an extra 70% of your base pay. Also, some hourly positions include allowances for working overtime and nights shift. Compare that to a typical security contract, where you might be expected to work for three months at seven days a week and twelve-hour shifts, all at a straight hourly rate!
It’s not just the money, though. For better or worse, Federal employees have it good when it comes to benefits, even the ones working on a temporary basis. There’s usually a good deal more vacation time available too, plus the G offers more compensation for travel expenses during your scheduled rest breaks every few months. Combine that with the option to participate in the Thrift Savings Plan 401(k) program and the chance to count your “contract” work time into your years of Federal retirement, and all of a sudden even an entry-level job as an administrative assistant is starting to look pretty good!
Look, it’s not my intention to throw all of this in your face by pointing out how good the government folks have it while you’re out there struggling to find that first job. My goal here is just to point out an avenue of employment that you might not have considered. Even working for the G in a temporary position is going to look great on your resume, and during the hiring process your military service will earn you a huge boost from veteran’s preference.
Still not convinced? Well, even if you’ve got your heart firmly set on earning your stripes by running convoy escorts with a private contractor, you should at least spend a few minutes browsing through USAJOBS for comparable positions. Remember, the ultimate customer on most contracts is going to be the government, so it’s best if you’re already familiar with their performance standards and the language that they use.