Industry Employment Outlook – Defense

Play Some “D” for Uncle Sam  |  Veterans can find patriotic and lucrative careers with defense contractors and agencies

Published in the January/February 2013 issue of print Search & Employ®

If you enjoyed your time in the military, and you want to stay in the business of defending our country, then the defense industry might be just what you’re looking for. Positions in this industry offer excellent salaries, and the mission of a defense contractor or agency often offers a lot of interaction with active-duty military.

A quick peek at a few defense contractors’ websites will show that they are always looking to hire qualified personnel – even when the economy is riding a rollercoaster. Even better, with new contracts popping up all the time and new needs hitting federal agencies, new defense-related jobs open up on a regular basis.

Plus, there are opportunities within the federal government that are a good fit for skills and experiences acquired in the military. The Department of Defense (DoD) alone employs roughly 800,000 civilians. The federal government’s job site is USAJOBS. To search for a job in the DoD, go to When you get to “Agency Search,” select one of the “Department of Defense” listings.

Retiring and separating servicemembers will have a leg up when applying for defense jobs because nearly every job with a defense contractor or the DoD requires a security clearance – something those men and women likely already have. And this is where a good payday comes in. According to various reports and surveys, in 2011, the average salary for civilian workers at jobs that required security clearances was more than $90,000. That number will be even higher in places with a higher cost of living – such as Washington, D.C., and its suburbs. For United States citizens who have security clearances and work outside the country, that salary average jumps to more than $130,000.

Education also counts. Cleared individuals with master’s degrees make nearly twice as much as those with only high school diplomas.

Defense contractors and agencies are eager to hire veterans not only for their skill sets and their security clearances, but also their personal characteristics such as self-discipline, initiative, and leadership. For the veteran, a career in the defense offers interesting work, good pay and benefits, the prospect of long-term employment, and an opportunity to continue to contribute to our country’s defense.

All of that sounds good, but veterans shouldn’t join the industry without understanding that U.S. defense companies are now bracing for leaner times, lower profit margins, and tougher negotiations and bidding for government contracts. The Pentagon has been tasked with getting smaller and spending less. That has left industry executives with a growing sense of apprehension about the future, especially given the end of combat operations in Iraq, the potential withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan by 2014, and mammoth federal deficits.

The Pentagon’s efficiency and acquisition reforms are pressuring companies across the industry to make their organizations leaner and to sell off unprofitable units. Many firms will also have to accept more risk and lower profits on the shrinking number of defense contracts that are up for grabs. Many contractors are predicting their revenues will be flat in 2013, even after better-than-expected results in 2012.

But even if the budget does decline and profit margins come down from current rates of around 10 to 12 percent, the overall level of defense spending will remain high. There’s still a lot of money in defense work, and the positions are relatively low-risk in an economy that isn’t exactly booming. Veterans simply need to do their homework when it comes to picking a company to join.

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About the Author

This article was written by Jay Myers