Government contracting is unlike private industry and federal service, so people often ask: what’s the difference and what are the unique challenges? My response is based on more than 15 years of experience, and comes from working with nearly a dozen organizations and agencies within the Department of Defense.

In the world of government contractors, you’ll find different personalities, styles, and areas and levels of expertise, but if you don’t have the Right Stuff, you won’t go very far in the industry.

So, what is that secret sauce to successful government contracting? To advance your career and make your mark, you’ll have to prove yourself over and over again – there’s no sitting around waiting for things to happen. Having the Right Stuff means going above and beyond and being prepared to roll up your sleeves and get to work in situations that have unique challenges and requirements.  Here’s my take on what a successful government contractor needs to know and be.


Without flexibility, it isn’t a matter of if you will fail, it’s when. Flexibility is in the top requirements for government contractors, and failure to adapt will end a career quickly.

Employees in private industry and federal workers may not have the same expectations and often have more rights than contractors. For instance, Regular Day Off, RDO, is a perk most contractors don’t enjoy. Telework is another example of a benefit government contractors may not be able to take advantage of, even when others do.

Bottom line: Don’t expect anything, or take for granted that you will enjoy the same perks or allowances as your coworkers. Everything is based on how the contract is written, and what the government allows.


Prepare yourself for the worst, and be happy if you are recognized, but government contractors should not expect credit for the work they do. If you’re a person who has to be attributed for their work, you’re not going to make it very far, because government contractors are paid to achieve the mission according to the contract. That often means doing it anonymously and under the radar. Your direct government lead will know, but that’s usually as far as it goes.

Bottom line: Contractors who have the Right Stuff understand their role is to perform tasks and assigned projects in support of the contract. If being recognized is important to you, government contracting isn’t the right job.


Government contracts and projects may only last a year or more, so it’s critical to be a quick study and fast learner to get up to speed to do the job. The DoD is an enormous entity, and each organization and section differ in areas of expertise, requirements, and processes. Having the Right Stuff means self-study and research to learn how to best support and understand the specifics of the job.

Bottom line: Take the initiative and learn what you can to get the job done. It’s a process, so if you have the Right Stuff, you’ll get a head start on what’s going on and how to support the organization.


There’s no quick way to get the Right Stuff. Becoming a successful, excellent, and respected government contractor takes endurance and perseverance. It takes years to gain a reputation and earn the confidence and respect of government leads and associates. You’re there to do a job that needs to be done, without fanfare or even recognition. It takes a special kind of person to endure many aspects of government contract work because it’s unpredictable, ever-changing, and even unstable at times.

Bottom line: There are unique variables in government contracting that make the work incredibly rewarding, but other variable that make it challenging and often times frustrating. If you’re able to gather the endurance to go the distance and ride out the challenges, government contracting is a rewarding and an excellent career, IF you have the Right Stuff.

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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.