Happy Fourth of July! If you’re not busy eating a hot dog or setting something on fire (or watching a drone swarm), maybe you’re contemplating life, freedom, and the career that got you here (or the one you’re waiting on to get you there). There is a lot of chatter these days about the Great Resignation and the high demand of professionals with specific skillsets, particularly in technology. The adage seems to be that with a strong commercial sector, it’s growing harder and harder to attract new candidates into the talent pool. But working in national security comes with its own advantages – as anyone who has pursued the career field would say. There is something about joining the few, the proud, the willing to answer 100+ pages of personal information and get their fingerprints done as a part of the job application. For some, it’s hard to imagine any other career than one in national security. And no, it’s not because they’re crazy. It’s because they know there are unique aspects and experiences of working in national security that you literally cannot completely mimic in the private sector.
When I talk about national security, I’m not just referring to military or government jobs. the world of national security includes a dedicated defense contracting community who helps support critical missions. There was a time when individuals felt called to pursue one of those tracks – but increasingly, you can take your skills in and out of military, government service and contracting throughout your career.
Whether you’re considering government service or feel the call of the Great Resignation, here are five reasons to pursue or keep a job in national security.
1. The Mission.
I know, I know. How much more cliche can you get? But it’s true, darn it – you will never find a better mission-focused organization than national security. Even entities or agencies beleaguered with identity crisis or growing pains have more mission growing out of their back pocket than the average job can generate. If your company isn’t selling you the mission or reminding you of it, maybe it’s time to find an agency or opportunity that will – they are plentiful.
2. The People.
You’ll never meet better people than the ones you come across working in national security. In or out of uniform, this is a workforce with character, perspective, and a diverse range of reasons for why they took the plunge into a national security career. I had a short and very unillustrious stint as a GS-civilian working for the U.S. Army at the Pentagon. Despite my low rank, low position, and limited time, I built a rolodex of contacts I still rely on today for support, career advice, and expertise. I’d care you to find another community where you can give three years to the mission and come back with three decades worth of relationships. High stakes mean deep contacts. Talk to anyone who has worked in or around the national security space and they are sure to have a cadre of people they love and support – and who they know have their back. I dare you to find the same dynamics in the average finance or hospitality industry office.
3. Recession-Proof Income.
Everyone likes to hit on the government for lower pay than the commercial sector – and that is often the case for highly technical roles. But the reality is the data shows that across all occupations (think administration, communications, and service), the government often pays more than the private sector. And when it comes to job security, few careers beat national security. Now, I know what you’re thinking if you’ve ever endured a government shutdown or dealt with the stress of a continuing resolution budget cycle, but even in those instances – government workers get paid. When COVID-19 hit, Congress passed legislation to ensure cleared contractors could continue to get paid even in remote work environments. The pay not always be the highest, but sometimes slow and steady wins the race.
4. Cultural experiences.
This was always a big push when I worked for the Army – the cultural experiences offered by military service were a key refrain in enlistment pushes. I know, if you’ve served, you’re currently rolling your eyes, but keep in mind I grew up in Iowa so cultural experiences had a different vibe. The national security community has worked hard to increase the diversity of its workforce over the past several years, and while it still lags behind the federal government at large, when we scale out to the national security industry at large you see growing opportunities for a diverse applicant pool. Once you start a job in national security, you’ll see your aperture increase to different cultures and communities. Travel is almost a given in national security, even if it’s just to conferences and collaborate stateside. Again, in my short Pentagon careers I traveled to more than a dozen states and two countries. And I learned a new language. It just happened to be acronyms.
5. You can get a job at ClearanceJobs.
Spoiler – I never use articles to talk about how amazing ClearanceJobs is because if you’ve landed on this page – I trust you’ll eventually figure it out. But we are headed into our 20th anniversary this week so the time is right for me to talk about how amazing the site is. As the largest, most robust cleared networking platform for cleared professionals ClearanceJobs has been the go-to source for a national security career since 2012. For government contractors and a growing number of government agencies, ClearanceJobs.com offers amazing tools to help connect candidates and employers in the national security space – and all in a secure, password-protected environment. You have to have a current clearance in order to be a part of this niche community, and even that demonstrates the draw of national security – once you get in, it’s often hard to imagine applying your skills anywhere else.
The graying of the government workforce is a reality, and the national security community needs an influx of new talent interested in pursuing all of the benefits national security careers have to offer. There are far more than what can be included in this list.