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Infiltrate the defense industry

Intelligence for landing a lucrative new career

By Laura Jeffrey - Special to Military Times

September 29, 2008 & January 2, 2009:10:08 EST

You may be getting out of the military, but career experts say smart job seekers won't stray far.

That's because civilians working in the defense industry can earn, on average, as much as $30,000 more a year than the average American worker, and literally thousands of defense-related jobs open up every month.

The Defense Department alone had more than 508,000 civilians on its payroll as of July, and the job-search site advertised 85,000 jobs for security-cleared individuals in the defense industry — both private and government — in 2007.

Skills learned in the military make such jobs prime opportunities for service members on their way to starting civilian careers, especially since a "large majority" of defense jobs require some level of security clearance, according to Clearance’s ClearanceJobs’ Evan Lesser. If you have a clearance or are in a position to easily qualify for one — as are most recently honorably discharged veterans — you're way ahead of the pack.

In a survey released in 2008, Lesser's job-matching company found that security-cleared employees in top-paying defense-industry jobs earned an average of 22 percent more than their non-cleared counterparts in other industries. The survey's average salary for cleared workers nationwide was $72,803, compared with $40,690 across all occupations, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Here's what defense-industry experts advise for landing a civilian career in a field you already know you love:

Build your network

Who you know really is as important as what you know when it comes to finding a job in the defense industry, said Mark D'Ermes, senior associate and recruiter for Booz Allen Hamilton, a strategy and technology consulting firm headquartered in McLean, Va.

"A very large percentage of people get their next position through their personal network," D'Ermes said.

Retired Air Force Col. Mike Williams echoed that strategy.

"Contact everybody you know and let them know that you're getting out," said Williams, who got his job in operational and technology solutions for defense technologies company Raytheon after retiring in 2006. "Tell them when you're leaving, send your résumé and ask for advice on how to make it better." Williams used Air Force Association conference-attendee lists to help build his network.

Follow the money

One smart way to find a job in the defense industry is to monitor defense contracts, the job-search site advises. The contractors that receive awards are the ones that will be hiring. Look for updates as frequently as daily at

Have a job-specific résumé

All the regular résumé rules apply — and then some, according to Defense Systems & Intelligence Careers Magazine. If a job appears to support military operations directly, then emphasize your military experience, including ranks and paygrades, the magazine advises. If the job supports nonmilitary agencies, focus instead on skills and knowledge because rank figures in less — and officers in particular may be regarded as "generalists rather than specialists."

Be a problem solver

Particularly if you're looking for a job within the intelligence community, emphasize problem-solving skills, advises CEO William "Bill" Golden.

"Intelligence, and the need for intelligence, is ultimately tied to `problem solving,' " Golden writes on the site. "Your success in finding a great career opportunity hinges on matching your skills to a specific organization that is solving a specific problem."

Start working on obtaining a clearance

If you're getting out without a clearance, it's possible to obtain one down the road. You can't apply for a clearance on your own, so look for jobs with the federal government or with a defense contractor that has positions for non-cleared employees, Golden writes. Once you're on a private company's payroll, apply for positions within. If it's the right type of job, your employer may sponsor your clearance application.

Follow up

Take the initiative to follow up if you don't receive a response from a company you've applied to, Williams advises. When he mailed or e-mailed his résumé to a company, he noted in the cover letter that he planned to follow up with a call.

"In most cases, within an hour of that phone call, I then had a response to my résumé," Williams said. "Always follow up with a phone call because that's what breaks [your résumé] out of their very overcrowded inbox."

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