Career Selection Tips for Students and Transitioning Military

Choosing a career path during school or when transitioning out of the military can be a very stressful part of the transition for many students and soldiers. There are more than enough industries and employers who want you, so how do you identify what is best for you? One sleeper option that you may not have considered in today’s job market is government contracting.

What exactly is government contracting?

Government agencies offset their own government employees using contracting companies to supplement their staff, provide consulting services, or build meaningful solutions to help them deliver their critical services and products. The government contracting industry is filled with both large and small companies that are interested in hiring recent students and uniformed personnel because of the training and skills they possess.

Here are four things students and recent graduates should consider when deciding if government contracting is the right career fit:

1.) Know Your Interests and Develop a Roadmap

You are nearing or finishing your schooling / active duty (university, trade, vocational, tech, military, etc) and can choose the type of life you want to live! This is the time to build a roadmap to meet your desired outcomes.

Your best place to start is by knowing what you don’t want to do. That’s right, begin with knowing your boundaries. From there, you can keep an open mind about careers that you hadn’t considered, and would be open to exploring! Be sure that your resume articulates and supports the work you are most interested in. One way to guarantee a good fit is following your passion. There are a lot of government contracting positions full of impactful work with far reaching benefits to the nation and your career. 

Once you begin applying, you’ll soon find your phone and email begin buzzing with interest from government contracting companies looking to fill positions they believe you may be a good fit for. While the biggest question in your mind may be, “How much does the job pay?”, you’ll quickly find that there are many more important things that you’ll need to consider, such as the cost of their benefits package, amount of paid time off, on-the-job training, career opportunities, clearance requirements, position location, and so on. Did you know that many government contractors also offer tuition assistance? Students, I’m talking to you! 

During your research, you’ll find smaller government contractors that emphasize a tight family type atmosphere and some larger ones that emphasize the amount of opportunities they consistently have available for their employees to choose from. Some companies will offer mind-blowing benefits packages and some offer higher compensation, with smaller to no benefit packages that you will completely pay out of pocket for. Your life situation will help you determine what is best for you.

Pro Tip: Develop multiple versions of your resume that are all slightly different and customized to help you expose your experience for the industry and employer you are targeting. 

2.) Do Your Research

Government contracting is a MASSIVE industry where contracting companies are competing for multi-million dollar contracts across dozens of industries. It is important to conduct professional and social research into the companies that you are communicating with.

How long have they been in business? What do their employees say about them? What kinds of contracts have they/are they working on? What happens when your contract comes to an end… will there be an opportunity for another position, or will you be suddenly left unemployed and looking for a new position?

These are just a few questions that you should ask when performing your due diligence if you want to land a great job with a great company. Government Contractors can bring in big pay, but make sure you do your research, so you don’t get burned by a subpar employer.

Pro Tip: Drill down into the company culture of organizations you are talking with. Get to know the people you may work with and how they can support your career progression. LinkedIn, Glassdoor, social media, and job boards like ScuttleGov can help you learn what you need to know prior to talking with anyone from the company. 

3.) Cultivate your Network

One of the things you should focus a lot of attention on is the power of building and using both personal and professional networks. The emphasis on networking might sound like generic advice, but lean in while I share this with you: government contracting is one area where networking is an invaluable tool in finding the right employer and career opportunity. When speaking with different companies, you may realize that the company or position isn’t a good fit for you, but it may be what someone else from your network is looking for. Sharing is caring! 

Set up your competitive edge in government contracting by networking with other members of the community, including alumni associations, industry specific organizations such as AFCEA, and local Meetups who have an emphasis on your professional area of interest. It can make a huge difference in helping you secure a great position, both now and in your future career supporting valuable solutions that support the nation’s infrastructure, safety, and security. 

Check-in with your network often during your search process, and be sure to actively reciprocate, even if it’s with a simple ‘Thank You’. Be unforgettable!

Here are some common times that you’ll want to interact with your network:

  • For insights on who the top government contracting companies are in your region
  • For actual job vacancies in your area of interest
  • To request introductions to people who are at the target company
  • Once you receive communication (in any form) from companies you have applied to
  • When receiving an interview request
  • When you land a great position
  • If you want to help other members of your network, reach out with open positions and offer yourself as a referral

There are many examples of successful networking. The point is simple: build your network, use it, and give back to it. 

Pro Tip: When interested in specific employers, check your network for contacts who work there and can provide a referral. Referrals are much more likely to receive attention than applying through a careers portal.

4.) Explore your interests with an Internship

Internships are a great way to dip your toes in the water without having to commit the early stages of your career to a particular industry blindly. Many government contractors can process security clearances for you while still in school, elevating your value significantly as you approach full time employment. There isn’t an industry as a whole that offers the level of competitive pay and benefits on a scale that the government contracting community does. It’s not unheard of to start your career with a six figure offer (engineering based positions). And many internships offer opportunities for full time employment upon graduation. Beginning your career in an environment you are already familiar with is a GREAT way to accelerate your promotion potential! 

Pro Tip: Smaller government contractors aren’t necessarily less stable than the large ones. Often the large contractors have profitability targets to hit and are faster to release employees when times are tight. Consider organizations of all shapes and sizes!