Getting into government contracting: a promising career you never considered?

Government contracting can be a very lucrative career ... photo by CC user Ein Regierungs-Mitarbeiter via the government of Liechtenstein (public domain)

Have you ever considered government contracting as a career? If you are hardworking and tenacious in temperament, a smart analytical thinker, and one who knows how to recognize and seize an opportunity when it arises, then a career in government contracting could be a pleasant surprise to you.

With so many different career paths open to us these days, sometimes it’s hard to know which route to take. The way we live and work in the new millennium has changed – a single job for life is an outmoded concept, and the notion of having multiple careers throughout our working life is no longer unusual.

Whether you are just starting out in the world of work after graduation, or perhaps thinking about changing direction in your career, the field of government contracting is one with enduring employment attractions. Imagine working for the US government, one of the biggest, dream customers in the world. Those who manage to get into government contracting and make a success of it rarely look back. The opportunities are there, so if you think you’ve got what it takes, here are some guidelines to get your research started.

The dream client

The US government has a big shopping list, spending around 300 billion dollars annually on a huge variety of products and services ranging from helicopters, to buttons, to bridge building, and pest control. If you could take a piece of that action for your company, you could be guaranteed regular, reliable income if they are satisfied with your service. The scope for making great deals with a client as massive as the US government is enormous, and enterprises that learn how to secure such contracts are set for the future.

Fair trade

The government likes to award its contracts fairly, and there are special arrangements in place that allow smaller companies, those with ethnic or minority backgrounds, female-run companies, and others to compete on level playing fields with bigger contractors. If you are able to do the job successfully, government contracts are great because they are regular and reliable payers, and when they are satisfied, repeat business is usually the reality.

Know your stuff

Working in the field of government contracts demands a certain, specialist skill set. There are many rules and regulations that require navigating. For some smaller companies or operators, the best route into this kind of work is through sub-contracting; this way you can learn on the job how the system works, without having to learn all the ins and outs for compliance that your main contractor does. Alternatively, gaining specific qualifications that put you ahead of the competition, such as contract management degree programs, are a wise choice for those who want to go far down this career path.

Get familiar with the way government departments let their needs be known. Publications such as Commerce Business Daily announce news about which departments need what – if you can match up your business or service with their need, things could get interesting pretty quickly.

Some small businesses prefer to use the services of independent specialists and consultants in the field who know all the tricks and shortcuts to winning government contracts. Going down this route may cost more money and time, but in the long term it is often a wise investment because small businesses trying to navigate and comply with the regulatory challenges often fail through lack of system knowledge.

The right pieces of paper

Earning all the right certifications for your particular field is a great way of moving forward fast in the career of contract management. As well as through degree programs, your progress in the industry that supports federal government will be smoothed by commercial certifications relevant to the sector you cover. Anything that sets you apart from the competition and puts you in a stronger position in terms of experience, commercial know-how, and up-to-date training, will stand you in good stead. To earn priority status for bidding on federal contracts, it is often the case that proof of relevant certification is required. However, it is worth going the extra mile because in contract management, those with the most extensive certifications earn on average an extra $10,000 to $25,000 annually. Sounds like a good enough reason to focus on getting certified!

Learn the culture

The process of landing lucrative federal government contracts is different from commercial deals. As you’d expect, the bureaucracy of government dictates that hoops are jumped through, rules observed, and regulations stuck to. In a sense, contractors have to learn to play a game, familiarize themselves with what they need to do to comply with government demands, and work to fit in and satisfy all and any stipulations.

With government contracts, there’s rarely a hard sell from the outset; it is a gentler form of procurement that takes place. Charm, stealth, and impeccable research will place you in a stronger position to win contracts than pushy sales tactics. Remember who you are dealing with – they have a massive pool of contractors bidding for their business, so your approach requires intelligence, patience, and respect.

What could you do?

You could work internally for the government on the procurement and management of contracts, or you could work privately assisting contractors to win business commercially supplying services to the government. Whichever side of the fence you are on, the opportunities for career advancement are good.

You could sell airplane parts to the US Air Force. You could run support programs for young offenders. You could collect government debts, perform landscaping, catering, building maintenance, uniform supply, payroll management, credit checking, collecting parking violation fines – the list is endless. Imagine the federal government as a mini microcosm of Planet Earth, where mirror images of most services and products will be required at some point – usually on a grand scale. If you have expertise in any area, the chances are there’s a government contract in the offing for that sector. Do your research and hunt down opportunities on the Federal Business Opportunities website.

Working as a government contractor is something many people dismiss, simply because they don’t know the first thing about it. Arm yourself with the information, forget the misconceptions, and forge ahead on your new career path – who knows what great heights you may achieve?