Let me ask you this: have people been telling you that you’re crazy for wanting to work as a contractor in Iraq or Afghanistan? That’s a pretty normal reaction from the civilian side of the house, but one thing they need to realize is that defense contractors actually do their best to keep the crazy people out of this business!
One of the basic requirements for most armed positions overseas is that you successfully pass a psychological exam as a condition of employment. Typically these tests are administered early on during the hiring process, just because the company doesn’t want to waste money buying a plane ticket for someone who won’t be able to work. I should also add that no one really wants to work with a nutcase, so if you’ve been feeling a lot like Private Gomer Pyle from Full Metal Jacket, please do us all a favor and just stay home.
The best way to look at psychological exams is to see them as just one more employment requirement hoop that you have to jump through. From that perspective, you’ll greatly increase your chances of passing if you put enough effort into preparing yourself beforehand. If you’re not familiar with the type of exam used then there’s no way in hell you’re going to represent yourself well. Keep this in mind, too: one of the largest demographic groups to consistently fail standard psychological tests are veterans who’ve recently returned from overseas deployments. Sucks for them, because these guys are the ones who’d have the best chance at landing contract security jobs!
The information below is by no means complete, and you should remember that I have absolutely no qualifications to be writing this article except for a single Psychology 101 course that I slept through back in college. Still, forewarned is forearmed, so once you start getting contacts from company recruiters you should probably start working your Google-Fu to research the following psych tests:
-The MMPI (Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory) is one of the most commonly used psych tests for high-risk positions. Police and Fire Departments, even Air Traffic Controllers rely heavily on this one. The MMPI is commonly used because it’s specifically designed to identify possible personal and social maladjustment, but it also doesn’t hurt that it’s fairly cheap and simple to take. The most recent version has 567 questions with true or false answers, and it can take anywhere from 1 to 3 hours to complete. The goal of the test is to establish a profile of the candidate, which can then be used to see if they’re suitable to work in high-stress positions.
Like any standardized test you should take as much time as you can, read through all of the questions carefully, and answer them honestly. I also recommend running a Google search for “Sample MMPI questions” to see what pops up, just so you know what you’re getting into. I was able to find the first 75 questions of the most recent exam, things like “True or False: I like mechanics magazines. T/F: I am easily awakened by noise. T/F: I do not always tell the truth. T/F: My soul sometimes leaves my body.” None of these are trick questions, so the key is just to be as honest as possible. If you’re thinking about trying to sway your results by putting down answers that you think the psychologists will want to hear, keep in mind that the questions are rigged to prevent this. If you go this route you’ll actually fail the test by coming across as deceptive.
-The personal interview is another one of the most common assessments, and this one isn’t brain surgery either. Just like any other job interview it’s a chance for a psychologist to sit down with you one-on-one, usually for about an hour or so, and basically just pick your brain to make sure that you’re not a wacko. You can probably expect to be asked what experience you’ve had that would contribute to your success on the contract, what your family thinks of your decision to work overseas, and how you deal with stress.
Like any other job interview you should do yourself a favor and put some effort into your appearance for this one. It’s definitely not a good idea to show up smelling like alcohol, and you should probably choose to wear a collared shirt instead of that “Infidel Crusader” t-shirt with the ripped-off sleeves. And I know how bad you’re burning to get started on growing that SWEET contractor beard, but it probably won’t hurt your chances any to shave on the morning of your interview.
The most common things that might cause you to be deemed unsuitable during this type of interview are having a loner attitude, unresolved conflicts at home, potential cultural bias, or problems with authority. How do I know this? Because Dyncorp was kind enough to put all this information up on one of their recruiting websites! Seeing that should be enough to convince you that companies want to bring you on board, and that no one’s looking to purposefully wash you out during the hiring process. Still can’t bring yourself to believe that? Just remember that every candidate who has to be turned away for failing a psych test represents lost money for the company!
-Finally, I want to mention one other common test, the Holmes and Rahe stress scale. I’ve never actually seen this one used for security contractors but basically it’s a quick checklist of stressful life events, things like going through a divorce, having the death in the family, or whatever. A person takes the test by marking off which events have happened to them in the past year or so, and each event is worth a certain point value. The way it works is that if you have a certain number of total stress points in one year, you’re much more likely to experience severe medical problems as a result of your stressful circumstances.
The reason I wanted to throw the stress scale into the mix is because a good number of the life events listed are also common reasons why people end up breaking their contracts and going home early! This is particularly true for first-timers, so you should know that you’re going to be watched pretty closely if some of these life events apply to you. I DO NOT recommend lying about your status, but you should be prepared to discuss your situation and how you plan to deal with things when you’re half a world away. If you don’t feel like you can handle that right now, maybe this just isn’t the best time for you to break into security contracting.