For those who have an interest in working in the defense industry, it is beneficial to understand the mindset and culture, as well as what will be expected.

Defense industry jobs have similar skillsets to jobs in other industries, but there are core traits required to be a successful and valued employee within the Department of Defense. The defense industry is a specialized field, which has expectations and requirements beyond many other enterprises.

The following are the five traits most highly-effective defense industry professionals will possess:


In the defense industry office environment, time management and punctuality are not only prized, they are a firm requirement. There is a very good chance military members, and veterans, will be working in this environment, and they are accustomed to working early schedules and have an expectation of timeliness.


The defense industry is one arena where private affairs can have professional implications. While defense contractors and government employees aren’t held to the same Uniform Code of Military Justice that governs service members, personal indiscretions can impact your security clearance and be viewed as a serious negative on the job. Whether it’s financial irresponsibility or extramarital affairs, defense industry professionals should have character above reproach.


The defense industry supports a very serious mission- defending the nation and supporting the force structure. All work performed is a part of that mission. The expectation will be that successful and effective employees should be mature, dependable and responsible in the execution of their duties. We’ll fall short of saying age discrimination is a factor in hiring, but recent grads without a military background have a tough rode breaking into the defense community. Experience matters.

Ability to Lead (And Follow)

Leadership doesn’t always mean being in charge. Possessing the ability to lead by example, and exhibit consistent and reliable performance, is vital to be an effective and valued defense industry professional. The defense industry offers within a chain-of-command structure. Know where you fall in the hierarchy and be prepared to work within it.


The expectation for a successful defense industry professional is to be ready, able and willing, to take the initiative in their job and responsibilities. Taking the initiative, whether it be coming up with new ideas or solutions, or reaching out to give assistance to team mates, is a highly valued trait in the defense industry environment. Initiative has become more important in an era of sequestration and budget cuts. Hiring managers are looking for professionals willing to work in the trenches, do more with less, and innovate on the job.

Job descriptions don’t always capture the full details of what will be expected once a person is hired. Hiring managers won’t list these traits in their listings (and you shouldn’t necessarily list them in your resume), but you should possess them if you’re looking to launch or advance a defense industry career.

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Diana M. Rodriguez is a native Washingtonian who works as a professional freelance writer, commentator, and blogger; as well as a public affairs, website content and social media manager for the Department of Defense.