Happy July 14! If you’re not busy eating a hot dog or setting something on fire (or watching a swarm of drones), you might be envisioning the life, freedom, and career that brought you here ( or the one you’re waiting for to get you there). There is a lot of talk these days about the Great Resignation and the high demand for professionals with specific skills, especially in the area of technology. The adage seems to be that with a strong business sector, it becomes increasingly difficult to attract new candidates to the talent pool. But working in national security comes with its own set of perks, as anyone who has made a career out of it would tell you. There’s something about joining the few, the proud, eager to answer over 100 pages of personal information and have their fingerprints taken as part of the application. For some, it’s hard to imagine a career other than national security. And no, it’s not because they’re crazy. It’s because they know there are unique aspects and experiences of working in national security that you literally can’t fully emulate in the private sector.
When I talk about national security, I’m not just referring to military or government jobs. the national security world includes a community of dedicated defense contractors that help support critical missions. There was a time when individuals felt called to follow one of these paths – but increasingly, you can use your skills in and out of military, government and contract service throughout your career.
Whether you’re planning to serve the government or feeling the call of the big quit, here are five reasons to seek or keep a job in national security.
1. The Mission.
I know I know. How much more snap can you get? But it’s true, damn it – you’ll never find a better mission-centric organization than national security. Even entities or agencies struggling with an identity crisis or growing pains have more mission coming out of their pocket than the average job can generate. If your company isn’t selling you the mission or reminding you of it, maybe it’s time to find an agency or opportunity that will – there are plenty.
2. The People.
You will never meet better people than those you meet while working in national security. In uniform or not, this is a workforce with character, perspective, and a wide range of reasons why they embarked on a career in national security. I had a short and very unillustrious stint as a GS-civilian working for the US military at the Pentagon. Despite my low rank, low position, and limited time, I built a rolodex of contacts that I still rely on today for support, career advice, and expertise. I would like you to find another community where you can give three years to the mission and come back with three decades of relationships. High stakes mean deep contacts. Talk to anyone who has worked in or around the national security space and they’re sure to have a cadre of people they love and support — and know they have their backs. I challenge you to find the same dynamic in the average office in finance or the hospitality industry.
3. Recession-proof income.
Everyone likes to hit the government for less pay than the commercial sector – and that’s often the case for highly technical positions. But the reality is that data shows that in all professions (think administration, communications and services), government often pays more than the private sector. And when it comes to job security, few careers top national security. Now, I know what you’re thinking if you’ve ever endured a government shutdown or faced the stress of a continuous resolution budget cycle, but even then, government employees get paid. When COVID-19 hit, Congress passed legislation to ensure licensed contractors could continue to get paid even in remote work environments. The pay is not always the highest, but sometimes slow and steady wins the race.
4. Cultural experiences.
This was always a big push when I worked for the military – the cultural experiences offered by military service were a key refrain in enlistment pushes. I know, if you’ve served, you’re currently rolling your eyes, but keep in mind I grew up in Iowa, so the cultural experiences had a different vibe. The national security community has worked hard to increase the diversity of its workforce over the past few years, and while it still lags behind the federal government as a whole, when we expand to the national security industry as a whole, you see growing opportunities for a diverse pool of candidates. Once you start a national security job, you will see your openness to different cultures and communities increase. Travel is almost a given in national security, even if it’s just conferences and collaborations in the United States. Again, in my short career at the Pentagon, I have traveled to over a dozen states and two countries. And I learned a new language. They were just acronyms.
5. You can get a job at ClearanceJobs.
Spoiler – I never use articles to say how amazing ClearanceJobs is because if you’ve landed on this page – hopefully you’ll figure it out eventually. But we’re heading into our 20th anniversary this week, so it’s time for me to talk about the beauty of the site. As the largest and most robust vetted networking platform for licensed professionals, ClearanceJobs has been the go-to source for a national security career since 2012. For government contractors and a growing number of government agencies, ClearanceJobs .com offers incredible tools to help connect candidates and employers in the national security space – and all in a secure, password-protected environment. You must have up-to-date clearance to be part of this niche community, and even that demonstrates the national security appeal – once you’ve entered, it’s often hard to imagine applying your skills elsewhere.
The aging of the government workforce is a reality, and the national security community needs an influx of new talent interested in pursuing all the benefits national security careers have to offer. There is much more than can be included in this list.