This article might not be what some people want to hear, but here goes anyway.  When you finally do get that first job offer, you need to remember that the annual salary isn’t everything.  Yeah, you heard me right!  A six-figure income is great, but how much of that money will you really get?  A lot of first-time security contractors only see the dollar signs, and forget to focus on the language of the actual contract itself.  Don’t be that guy!  Read through that contract at least twice before you sign, and if there’s anything you don’t understand, ASK!

                If at all possible, I recommend asking the recruiter for a copy of the contract before you even leave home.  This way, you can review it at your leisure and make sure that everything matches what the company told you.  It’s unlikely that a recruiter would lie outright, but all too often they forget to mention certain things if you don’t ask.  If getting your hands on a copy of the contract isn’t an option, try to find others working the same job through social networking forums like Secure Aspects.  The other users might be able to clue you in to the real deal with work duties, living conditions, etc.  If you see something about the job that you just can’t live with, it’s better to decline the offer before you start.  It’s awful hard to get home from a war zone, and quitting halfway through a contract will be a huge black mark on your resume.

                But when you finally do read through your first contract, make sure to focus on these key things:

PAY-  I don’t mean just the annual salary, but also the frequency of it.  Will you get a direct deposit each month?  If so, how soon will it begin?  I’ve heard of guys who didn’t have their direct deposits set up properly, and had to go almost three months before that first check hit their bank.  Also, is your pre-deployment time paid for as well, such as time that the company requires you to be in training or medical evaluations?  And is any portion of your regular pay withheld for any reason?  A lot of companies do this so that they can pay “completion bonuses” at the end of the contract, basically creating a huge incentive to keep employees from quitting in the middle of their contract.           

TRAVEL EXPENSES-  You should never, NEVER, have to pay for your own plan ticket to a third-world country.   If a company doesn’t have their travel logistics in place where they can cover this expense, you probably wouldn’t want to work for them anyway.  Also, look to make sure that the company will cover your airfare home at the end of the contract, and out of the country during vacations.  These policies will vary some from company to company, but it’s important that you know what to expect so you can plan your finances.

PROHIBITED BEHAVIOR-  Let’s say a soldier has some alcohol shipped to him in Afghanistan and gets caught drinking.  The kid will get punished, maybe busted down a rank at the worst.  But let a contractor get caught with booze, and he’ll be out of a job the next day.  No company is going to bother with counseling a short-term, expendable contract employee, and they’re going to ship you out rather than make their business look bad.  Things like drinking alcohol may be prohibited, as well as using drugs, having personal weapons, committing safety violations, behaving in a harassing manner- the list goes on and on.  Make sure that you know what standards you’re being held to, even if you don’t personally agree with them.  If you can’t live with them, don’t sign.

                But hold on for a second.  It’s not all bad news!   Before you give up on security contracting altogether and start poking around on the internet for loss prevention jobs, there are a lot of positive things too!  Make sure to take note of these things when you’re reviewing an employment contract.  No one’s going to call this stuff fringe benefits, but they definitely make a low-end salary seem a lot more appealing.

                CLEARANCES-  Is this company sponsoring you for an initial security clearance, or for a higher-level clearance than you currently hold?  If so, think twice before passing it up because of the salary alone.  A lot of employers won’t sponsor your clearance, especially if their vacancies need to be filled immediately, so here’s a huge chance to make yourself a lot more hireable.  Also, jobs that require clearances generally tend to pay a lot more than those that don’t, so you might want to bite the salary bullet and make an investment in your long-term career.

                WORK LOCATION-  Is your work location spelled out in your contract?  If so, look it up on a website like Global Security.  If it’s one of the bigger bases in theater, there are probably a lot more companies with ongoing projects, which means that you’ll have a lot of opportunities to network and make contacts over the next year.  Even if the job offer seems low, you should consider how much getting a foot in the door is worth to you.  

                FUTURE OPPORTUNITIES-  Sometimes it’s funny to think about career opportunities when you’re a contract employee, but they’re out there.  Completing a year in a static security job could easily lead to a second contract in a supervisory position, for example.  Just like any other job, security contracting offers a lot of opportunities to progress through the ranks as slots become available.  Also, if your first job offer is from a bigger company with hundreds of contract worldwide, you’ll have a lot of chances to work in other locations in the future.

                So what’s important to you?  This is your career, after all, and you’ve got to make your own choices.  But before you decide, do as much research as possible, and always read the fine print!