Most people will not stay with one employer for their whole career. This is true in most career fields and certainly true within the Intelligence Community. There are lots of reasons why you might find yourself contemplating another job offer. I recall early in my contracting career working for Ford Aerospace. Then the company was sold and I was then working for Loral Aerospace. Many took the opportunity to leave the company. Contract turnover is another time when folks decide to leave a company. Mergers and acquisitions abound within the IC.  Changes like this are an opportunity to look for something new if you are so inclined. Company culture, benefits, and management are all subject to change. You may also have been looking for a better opportunity, more responsibility, or better pay and benefits. No matter how you arrived at this juncture in your career, there are things to consider as you review a new job offer.

Know Your Worth

This one is fairly obvious, but you need to understand your worth in the marketplace.  If you are not sure, there are a number of online salary calculators to help you see how you stack up. These surveys will tell you what each skill set should expect to make in various locations. Salary is often cited as one of the top three reasons why someone would seek a new job. Make sure that you are being fairly compensated for your degrees, experience level, security clearance, and the anticipated role. Make sure you do an apples to apples comparison…figure out what your weekly salary is and add that amount for each week of PTO and holidays that you have. Do the same for each offer you receive.

Review overall compensation

Salary is just one part the compensation you’ll receive in a formal job offer. PTO, 401K match, and healthcare out of pocket costs – it ALL matters. Sure, salary is important, but your compensation packet includes other elements and you need to look at all of them.  You don’t want to accept a new position at 5K per year more only to find out that your health insurance costs $500 per month more.  How much does the company contribute to your 401K?  Even if it doesn’t seem important today, one day it will matter, so you need to start thinking about these things.

Test the Commute

A long commute is a likely component of any position in the D.C. area. Here is an idea for you: Test your commute during actual traffic times, just as if you were going to work. With traffic, those commute times can really stretch out. Can you live with it, or will you need to look for something else because of the horrible commute? If the commute is long, can you flex your time to when the traffic is not so bad? Also look at apps such as Waze, where you can test out different departure times and see how long the commute will take.

Clearance level of the position

These days, clearances take a lot of time and effort to obtain. Make sure that the new position comes with a place to hang your clearance, or you could end up losing it. Ask about the clearance level of the new position. They will tell you what kind of clearance it requires. Your current clearance will expire after two years of inactivity. If you are unsure or have any questions, speak to your current personnel security rep.

What happened to the last guy?

This is perfectly reasonable to ask.  After all, you are likely to soon find yourself in the exact same circumstances.  Some good answers are:

  • This is a new position.
  • The government hired the last guy.
  • He/she took an opportunity to do X.
  • He/she moved out of the area.

Some red flags include:

  • He did not get along with the government POC (Is this person hard to get along with?).
  • He/she was removed from the contract (OK, what am I walking into…).
  • He she was fired (Why?).
  • Couldn’t get along with supervisor/manager (Again, is this person hard to get along with?).
  • Project is behind schedule or failed to achieve a milestone (What am I walking into?).

Asking the question is the smart thing to do. Understand what you are taking on before you commit, if you can.

Who will my manager/supervisor be and can I meet them?

Sometimes the hiring manager is not the person you will be working with or for. Find out what you can about the person and try and meet with them. Get what clues you can before you make your decision. We have all seen it. Some bosses are great, some are not. Try and find out before you commit to the new role. It is OK to ask people who have worked for the individual in the past. One of the top three reasons people leave a position is because of their boss. I have stayed at a company because of a boss and I have left a company for the same reason. Do your best to not put yourself into that situation. Here is a question you can ask: “What does excellence in this role look like to you?”

Contract status

Contractors have to remain aware of contract status. Contracts are typically recompeted every five years. When is your new contract up for recompete? If you don’t know, you could find yourself out of a job in a few months due to a contract loss. If a contract is not recompeted on schedule, it can be extended, typically for six months or a year. This happens when the government acquisition office is too busy or when the government may be contemplating a change to the contract and other contracts are involved.

Role and Content

I’m sure you know this one, but just in case, make sure you fully understand the role and responsibilities of the new position. There may be some aspects of the job that you have not performed before, but that is fine. The new position could be an opportunity for you to grow technically, managerially, or stretch your communication or team-leading skills. As long as you are comfortable with the challenge, willing to learn, and here is a big one – somewhat humble – you should do fine.

Research – talk to current and former employees you know

Check with someone you know to get an insider’s view of what it is like to work there. You can find out what employees think of the company and you can even get tips on how the interview process might go. Do a little research up front and you will be more informed and better prepared.

You are in the Driver’s Seat

New jobs are great opportunities to practice new skills and contribute at a higher level. Maybe it is a role where you can take on more responsibility, have more time with the customer, or perhaps it is a chance to have a greater impact on the mission. What I tell folks that work for me is that they are in the driver’s seat of their career. No one will look out for their best interests better than themselves. It is then my role to make sure that they know the reasons why staying with my company is the best for their career.  No one knows better than you when it is time to look for something new. You are in the driver’s seat. When you accept a new position, do so fully aware of what you are getting into and be ready to make a positive impact and advance your career.

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Todd Keys is a Program Manager at Cantada, Inc. He has been in the intelligence Community for 30 years, as a member of the military (USAF), and as a contractor for top 100, top 10, and small business federal defense contractors. He has held multiple roles, CONUS and OCONUS, ranging from technician to executive, providing site O&M, system administration, engineering, supervision, contract management, and Capture/BD for the DoD and multiple intelligence agencies.