It’s generally pretty hard for prior service military and law enforcement heroes to make the switch to working for a private company, but I’d like to take a few minutes to explain why that is. Quite simply, it’s about MONEY. See, since private companies operate with the ultimate goal of making a profit by providing their services, they always try to keep their financials at the heart of every business decision. A soldier might get treated almost like another piece of government property, but a private security contractor is treated as a piece of human capital. When companies merge or acquire other firms, they consider their new employees as additional assets.
It should really come as no surprise then, that hiring on new employees is seen as making an investment in the company’s future success.
One of the most basic rules of business is that “This Stuff Ain’t Free”, and that rule always during any company’s hiring process. The time that a hiring manager spends interviewing candidates is lost working hours, when he could be doing more productive things like making money for the company. And don’t forget about all that time they’ll have to put in training the new hire as well! Now this might not be a big deal for a high-turnover business like McDonald’s, where they keep training costs to a minimum by putting pictures of the food on the register buttons, but overseas security contracting is a high-overhead business. Expenses like sponsoring you for a security clearance, a pre-deployment physical exam, or even the basic fill-the-cup drug test are all overhead costs that a defense contractor is responsible for paying in order to meet its staffing requirements. And let’s not forget about the couple of thousand bucks that your plane ticket will cost, along with all the gear that’s issued out to you and all that time you’ll have to spend in training and testing prior to deployment.
The reality is that a company dumps at least ten grand into their overseas contract employees even before they put any boots on the ground. So if some new hire deploys, then stays for only a month before they decide it’s not their cup of tea and quit, the company has just tossed away a lot of money. Just like a good financial advisor will seek to protect their clients’ funds by finding safe investments, program managers will always look for ways to protect their company’s investment in you. Sometimes this comes in the form of a completion bonus that’s paid at the end of your contract. Sometimes an employee will have the cost of their plane tickets (both ways) deducted from their final paystub. That’s the way business is done, and that’s why you read the contract before you actually sign it!
But back to the application process. Your job during this time is to put on your 5.11 business suit and think like an executive during these phone interviews. When it comes time to sell yourself, don’t allow a recruiter to have any doubt that hiring you will yield a good return on the company’s investment. (In the business world, that’s called ROI for short). So here’s a couple ways for you to do just that:
-First, remember that the best way to prove you’re capable of doing a job is to have already done it. Make sure to update your resume to note any previous deployments or periods of overseas work. Use a phrase like “successfully completed 6-month contract” if the length of your employment isn’t obvious. Also, note any previous military deployments as well, even if it’s to a permissive country like Qatar or Kuwait. The main thing here is to show that you fully understand the hardships of what you’re getting into, and can stick it out for the length of the contract.
-Next, remember to think in terms of building a career rather than treating your contract work as just a single job. If you’re thinking about doing more than one or two years of contracting, even if it’s with another company, mention that to the recruiter! Assuming that a particular program is still being funded, successful performers will almost always have the option to renew their contract after the initial term. Companies love doing this because it’s basically like getting double dividends from their investment. You might stay for two or three years, but they’ve only had to come out of pocket for those hiring costs once.
-Moving along, don’t forget to square away your personal life while you’re waiting for the phone to ring. Things like getting married or divorced recently, having a new kid, or even moving to a new area are red flags that show that you might not have a steady home life. It’s been my experience that the guys who are constantly worried about what’s going on back home are the ones who end up breaking their contract and heading back early. Be prepared to answer the question, “What does your family think of your decision to work overseas?” If you haven’t asked them yet, you might want to go ahead and do that!
-Next, while you’re PT-ing your butt off and hitting the range every day in anticipation of that first job offer, don’t neglect those tiny little legal details that can completely derail your gravy train. Got your passport yet? What about a will and a power of attorney? Um, yeah, that’s what I thought. Go ahead and unplug your Xbox and get started on all of those today. All recruiters are going to ask if you have them. If you don’t, you’re just not a serious candidate for the job.
-Last, and maybe most importantly, make sure to present yourself as a team player. One of the hardest things about bring deployed is just getting along with the other contractors from day to day. When you see the same faces all the time, even the littlest character traits will get on your nerves. It’s up to you to show that you’re mature enough not to get into fistfights (or knife fights!) with your co-workers. Also, make 100% certain that you’re not giving off any indicators of the dumb shit that’ll earn you that one-way ticket home for sure. Drinking too much, drug abuse, and sexual or racist garbage all falls into the above category. Remember, it’s a lot easier for a company to just move along to the next applicant than it is to deal with firing you because of some dumbass mistake.
The bottom line for any business is its financials. If you want to join up with an outfit, you’ve got to be able to convince them that as an employee, you’ll be able to provide a great return on their initial investment of hiring you.