“No one ever seems to notice me unless there’s a problem. The government’s only concern is that the work gets done on time. After that, it’s almost as if they want me to disappear.”
That’s the quote of the week, brought to us courtesy of one of my employees. And you know what? The guy’s dead on. There’s a lot of disdain for contractors in the security industry, and it’s even more pronounced overseas. The enlisted soldiers look down on you, saying that you’re nothing more than “hired guns”. The officers seem to resent your presence, if only because they can’t understand where you fit into the chain of command. Even with GS civilian employees, there’s an attitude of superiority over contractors, which shows itself in an “Us vs. Them” mentality.
These differences spread beyond the individual employees, too. Contractors outnumber military service members by about 2 to 1 in Iraq and Afghanistan, but there’s no USO for contractors. No medals or memorial holidays, either. Hell, our own government can’t even tell us with any accuracy how many contractors are currently serving overseas, much less how many have been injured or killed in the line of duty.
That’s the reality of the work that you’re trying to get into: If you stay in security contracting for long enough, there’s a very strong chance that someone is going to treat you like garbage.
But OK, enough with the sob stories. Here’s the good news: You’re indispensable. Yes, it might seem like you’re only being hired on to do a job- nothing more, nothing less- but that’s because you are. Contract work is much more focused on completing one specific, (usually) short-term project, as opposed to the career emphasis of the military service members and government civilians. When you go to work for a contractor, you’ll be expected to accomplish your mission successfully, then go away. Private security companies, and especially the individual employees, can be easily replaced according to the needs of the customer. Working as a contractor is a portable career, but there are a lot of advantages inherent in this that don’t get enough attention. For example:
-Let’s say your first contract is just a completely horrible experience. The work isn’t what you expected, and you can’t stand the people or the company. Well, all you have to do is suck it up and stick it out for one year. As long as you complete your contract and leave in good standing, you’ll probably be able to make contacts and sign on somewhere else that’s more appealing to you. Compare that to the government types who show up to work miserable every day for 30 years, but refuse to leave for fear of losing their retirement benefits!
-Consider the type of people that you’ll be working with. People who know they’ll have to get re-hired every few years are much more likely to put more effort into behaving professionally. A person who knows he’s going to have to pass a physical fitness test every year or risk losing his job is much more likely to stay in good shape, which can only make your team that much safer outside the wire.
-Last, remember that the project-based nature of contract work can provide you a huge amount of personal freedom. If you plan ahead and manage to save up enough money, you can easily spend two or three months backpacking around the world between contracts. Even the most senior government employees would be hard-pressed to score three straight months off, but these extended rest breaks are routine for security contractors. Those unemployment gaps in your resume between contracts aren’t seen as a negative by recruiters; rather, they show that you know how to relax and are in the business for the long haul.
Look, there’s very little you can do about government employees who are bound and determined to act like jerks. You’re going to find them in every job, everywhere. The best advice I can give you is to remember that those guys couldn’t do their jobs if it wasn’t for you, and to keep counting down the days until your next vacation…