Go big or go home? Might be a good mantra for football but in today’s intelligence and security-cleared job industry, going small might be seen as the new trend. As major defense industry players take budget hits, small businesses are carving out their niche, taking advantage of small business contracting requirements, as well as using their agility to adapt more quickly to government’s changing requirements.
When it comes to security cleared careers – whether they’re in intelligence, engineering or administration – small business opportunities are emerging, and they’re looking for cleared talent. There are also an increasing number of security cleared professionals taking on a role as independent consultants. They’re taking their expertise and putting it to work in the government.
“When a company starts out they will pick a segment of the government sector that somehow correlates to their background,” said Guy Timerlake, co-founder and chief visionary at the American Small Business Coalition. “If they’ve already done their due diligence they will have already put some thoughts into which parts of the government they’d like to pursue – they’ve worked there before, they have relationships there.”
And while it may seem like small businesses would be at a disadvantage in bidding for government business, most federal agencies are actually required to establish goals offering a certain percentage of their contracts to small companies. For small businesses with the right skills and relationships, carving a niche in the federal government can be good business.
Even the defense industry and intelligence community rely on a number of small businesses, offering solutions from cybersecurity to military equipping. Some of these companies work as sub-contractors, doing work on behalf of a larger company, others have government business they manage themselves.
When it comes to hiring, what kind of candidates are small businesses looking for? Typically ones who already have experience working with a government agency, or who can make connections that count. Research and information gathering is key to small business contracting, and so are relationships.
“HUMINT for companies, is networking,” said Timberlake. “It’s not the James Bond style of spying. It’s using open source information to find out what you need to know, and then connecting the dots to give a company what they’re looking for.”
The importance of relationships – both within a company’s walls as well as with external industry partners and government program managers – is one of the things that draws some individuals into small business contracting. Having a current security clearance can also be an advantage in a small business job search, as smaller companies will likely be less likely to take on the time and cost of sponsoring a clearance.
Advantages for working in a small business can include flexibility, a sense of family with co-workers and the ability to shine and be recognized for your work. But you won’t find all of these perks in every small business – small businesses are as unique as their Fortune 500 counterparts. Potential employees will need to research, and ideally speak with a current employee, to get a true picture of what it’s like.
It’s also important not to believe some of the negatives you hear about small business employment – including the idea that there won’t be a chance to “climb the ladder” or that salaries will be less than with larger companies.
With so many government opportunities for small businesses emerging, is it a “safer” place to work in today’s budget crunch? Not necessarily. Larger companies still tend to have more breathing room when budget cuts hit, and while they may not have the flexibility to adapt their business style as quickly, they can also more easily reassign employees to new contracts.
The biggest thing to keep in mind when considering an opportunity with a small business or a large company is whether or not the position, and the organization, are right for you. When it comes to stability, salary and overall job satisfaction, size doesn’t necessarily matter.
Have you worked for both small businesses and large companies doing cleared work? Which was your preference?