One of the most frequent questions I get is when people seek my opinion once they’ve gotten a job offer and they’re on the fence about whether or not to take it.  It’s a pretty funny situation when you think about!   After putting in all that work on the resume, application, and interview, all of a sudden a guy’s waffling about whether or not he should hold out for a better offer.  This kind of question always reminds me of that old TV game show “Let’s Make a Deal,” where the contestant is given the choice of walking away with a guaranteed cash deal, or risking it all for whatever prize is waiting behind Door Number Two. 

            You can probably guess at the answer I give people, especially when it comes to the entry-level guys looking for their first contract job.  Don’t ever consider yourself employed until you actually sign a contract, and even then I wouldn’t recommend spending any money until that first direct deposit hits your account.  But lately, it seems that a lot of guys are feeling disappointed by the “lowball” salaries that are being offered.  While $65-85k is a pretty nice figure, it’s just not the $1000 a day that they heard the guys from “Blackwater” are pulling in!      

            This is where you’ve got to make your own decision, and I certainly don’t presume to know what’s best for you.  If you’ve got a shot at making that much money at home then stay home, but if you’ve been unemployed for six months and you’ve been parking your Prius at a buddy’s house to throw the repo man off the trail, you might want to re-consider your expectations.  While $65k might seem like a low salary for an overseas security contractor, I can tell you that it’s a whole lot better than earning NOTHING if you choose to stay at home.

            Most of the guys I’ve talked to who’re dead set on holding out for a better offer fail to understand just how many other qualified applicants there are right now, and that all of the recent combat veterans are competing against each other for jobs.  Maybe, just maybe, another company will come along and outbid your current offer, but that’s not very likely if you’re on the lower end of the experience spectrum.  Remember that it’s your experience that counts the most during the hiring process, so the best way to avoid having a veteran contractor snatch your job out from under you is to sign on the dotted line, and the sooner the better!

            Yes, I understand that the entry-level salary might not be as much as you’ve been dreaming about.  So maybe you won’t be able to pay the child support on your six kids and still pop for that new Harley-Davidson Fat Boy, but if you even think about telling me you can’t live on 65 thousand (potentially tax-free) dollars a year then I’ve got to wave the “BS” flag.  Do what you have to do to tighten your belt and live within your means, and see an entry-level contract for what it is:  an opportunity.

            That “sticker shock” is a common reaction when people see lower starting salaries then they’ve been expecting, but there’s good reason for it.  If you haven’t been following the news for the past nine years, there’s apparently some kind of Global War on Terror going on right now.  It’s the longest-running conflict in US history, which means that today’s separating veterans generally have more deployment experience than ever before.  It also means that security companies don’t have to look very hard to find qualified candidates, which creates a situation where the supply of available labor is greater than the companies’ demand for it. Because of the simple fact that there are more available candidates than there are jobs, these firms won’t have to pay out nearly as much money to get people to do the work.  On top of that, you’ve also got to consider that nearly all aspects of the United States’ defense budget have been shrinking due to economic pressures.  This means that defense contractors will have to submit lower bids if they hope to win future contracts to stay in business.  Reducing their costs will include lower salaries for employees, and my personal opinion is that we haven’t seen the pay levels bottom out yet.

            It’s probably time to face up to the facts of life and admit that you’re never going to have a perfect job.  Whether it’s because a job pays you less money than you think you should be making, or if it’s because the health benefits suck, or even if it’s just because your boss is a tool, so long as you’re an employee you’re never going to get your way one hundred percent of the time.  Security contracting in particular isn’t a field where you want to get into the habit of complaining about things because once you start, you’ll never stop.  Between poorly organized travel to and from a third-world mudhole, austere living conditions and the same kind of chow from week to week, you’ll never have to look very far to find something to gripe about.

            Sometimes you’ll just have to suck it up and deal with the fact that everything isn’t always going to go your way, including the starting pay.  I hate to be the one to break it to you man, but that’s life.  There’s a whole lot of other people going through the same situation right now who’re applying for “bridge employment” jobs that they’re overqualified for, just so they can keep the lights on at home.  Your own personal situation probably isn’t all that unique, and if you’re holding a job offer (even a low-paying one) then you’re probably better off than a lot of other folks.

            You really want my advice?  If you’re ABSOLUTELY SURE you can land a security contract with a big name company that will guarantee you $250,000+ per year, paid transportation home every three months, and an air-conditioned single-occupancy trailer, then yeah, hold out for that offer.  And while you’re at it, how about shoot me an email and hook a brother up with a referral

            But if you’re not quite at that level yet, I’d say you need to take the deal that’s in front of you.  You stand to lose out on a lot, since you can never tell just how long it’ll take for Door Number Two to open…