If you’ve ever been involved in the interview process, it can be hard to put your finger on the reason why one candidate shines a little brighter than the rest. While personal biases can draw us to one person over another, it’s not the only thing that makes one candidate stand out in a sea of resumes that list similar skills and experiences. Some might call it the X factor, but if you want a more specific name for it, it’s called an entrepreneurial mindset or attitude. Entrepreneurs know that it’s not enough to have a good idea. You need the drive to take that idea and turn it into a reality. You have to be willing to go the extra mile, solve the seemingly unsolvable, fail, and get up and try again. The national security industry needs dreamers. But they also need entrepreneurs who can make those dreams a reality.

Characteristics of an Entrepreneur

According to Merriam-Webster, an entrepreneur is someone who risks their time and money to start a business. It’s true that the national security industry needs small businesses and startups on the scene. However, what they need more of are the entrepreneurs at heart, inside the federal government and contracting companies.

What does someone with an entrepreneurial spirit and attitude look like?

1. Cross Disciplined

Some may call this a jack of all trades but master of none – or even a generalist, but often, this is someone who understands the broader picture. They may even be multi-disciplinary or just have a smattering of work experience that has shaped their level of expertise. Some have depth, but others have breadth.

2. Transferrable

There’s understanding the broader picture, and then there’s the ability (or should I say agility) to jump into different roles as the situation calls for it. If you’re entrepreneurial, you have zero qualms about jumping in wherever you’re needed. It also means developing those different skillsets so you can pitch in and help when the situation calls for it. You may not be the long term solution but you can transfer easily.

3. A Planner

You don’t have to be a real Type A, but you do have to be able to plan and schedule. Thinking ahead is a key ingredient in being an entrepreneur. And that trait is an asset to organizations. That’s the trait that identifies future contract opportunities and revenue streams. That’s the difference between employment only through the life of a contract and a job that spans multiple projects with the same company.

4. A Connector

Everyone has a story – and that includes organizations. Entrepreneurs see the connections between the people and the companies. Sometimes, that means offering mentoring to a coworker or finding your mentor. Or it means networking with subject matter experts, clients, and business partners. But it’s all about building and maintaining relationships.

5. Ownership

The entrepreneur doesn’t wait for a boss to tell them when and how to grow. To be an entrepreneur, you have to be adaptable. You have to innovate and be resourceful. Wherever you are in your career journey, you control where you want to go. The entrepreneur makes their own opportunities.

Curiosity Helps Too

Another key way to stand out – especially in an interview – is to be curious. Ask questions. Organizations are often willing to train candidates who show curiosity and a willingness to learn. You may not be the perfect candidate on paper, but you can show how willing you are to learn and to grow.

And once you get your foot in the door, that curiosity can take you even further. Learn about different areas in the company and how they all work together. You never know where you might land later in your career.

But Don’t Be That Guy

We all know that die-hard coworker who lives and breathes for the organization. There’s being a champion for your company, and then there’s being the person that no one wants to actually work with. Or worse yet, there’s the coworker who takes on everything and doesn’t delegate to others. Be willing to jump in and help and try new things, but a good entrepreneur knows when to pass tasks off to the experts. Come alongside and work with your team – just don’t steamroll them.

Do Work That Matters

If you’ve got that entrepreneurial vibe, you don’t have to start a business to put it to good use. Contractors and federal agencies alike need the movers, shakers, and innovators to make things happen in national security. One of the top reasons cleared candidates say they stay in national security is because of the mission. It’s meaningful to feel like your work matters. The DoD may have a big budget, but the work that gets done has the ability to push the envelope and save lives.

If you weren’t born with an entrepreneurial mindset, work on cultivating it. Your career will benefit from it – but so will national security.

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Jillian Hamilton has worked in a variety of Program Management roles for multiple Federal Government contractors. She has helped manage projects in training and IT. She received her Bachelors degree in Business with an emphasis in Marketing from Penn State University and her MBA from the University of Phoenix.