A career in government contracting and acquisition lets you keep the best parts of military life and ditch the rest

It's like being a CEO, treasurer, logistician, and lawyer all wrapped up in one. That should sound familiar to any former NCO.

If you’re like most servicemembers, you probably have a complicated relationship with military life. The camaraderie, structure, and sense of mission are seldom replicated in the nonmilitary workforce. Though you may sometimes wish you could slide your hands into your pockets, walk on the grass, and sleep in later than 05:30 a.m. on a weekday. 

When transitioning to post-military life, veterans often want to continue serving an important mission and stay connected to military culture. It’s why many find that next mission as first-responders in their community, or protecting our nation’s border with homeland security communities. 

A sometimes-overlooked industry is contracting and acquisition, which is appealing to more and more veterans because it enables you to stay tied to a mission-driven profession regardless of if you’re working for the government, a defense contractor, or as an SBA-certified business.  

If you think contracting isn’t glamorous, just remember, the federal contracting budget for FY 2020 exceeded $600 billion. Who do you think spends that money? The short answer — contracting officers. They’re a unique breed — part CEO, treasurer, logistician, and lawyer all wrapped up in one. That should sound familiar to any former NCO.   

They gather project requirements — put those tactical acquisition skills to use — then issue the request for proposals, analyze bids, and award and manage the contract which can range from hundreds of thousands to billions of dollars. It’s the kind of responsibility that takes a mission-driven leader. 

To those unfamiliar with contracting, entry may seem daunting, but Task & Purpose is here to guide you. Use these tips to get acquainted with the fantastic world of contracting and acquisition. 

Assess Your Career Options

The first (and arguably most important) step is to decide if a career in contracting is a good fit. Take some time and do your research. If you’re still in the service or near a military/government facility, seek out a few friendly people in contracting positions who are willing to talk candidly about it. You can also read up on it online. One of the best resources is the Federal Acquisition Institute, where you can learn about career development and progression, opportunities, and required training.

Add “Civil” to your “Service” 

There’s a “brain drain” happening as baby boomers are retiring in droves and the ranks of contracting officers are dwindling in the government. Agencies are looking to the next generation. This is where you come in. The government has a veterans preference points policy, giving veterans special consideration for federal jobs. Plus, you can apply years of military service to your Federal Employees Retirement System (FERS). Once in the civil service, it’s common to transfer between agencies because procurement is a competitive service that’s nearly universal in each agency — plus you won’t have to compete with the general public for those positions. A bachelor’s degree isn’t always a prerequisite to work in government contracting and acquisition, but specific training is required — which is often funded by the agency. Once you’re on the “other side,” you’ll be expected to continue learning to meet additional education requirements for advanced positions. It’s a tight knit community and senior contracting officers often mentor their newer team members so they can help take on more as they master complex aspects of contracting and acquisition. 

Go Public 

On the flipside, some of the largest and most technologically advanced corporations — like Lockheed Martin ($48 billion in government contracts) or Boeing ($28 billion in government contracts) — rely on contracting professionals to “win the bid.” Many recruit contracting officers away from agencies. But you don’t have to always think so big. If being your own boss speaks to your inner entrepreneur, veteran-owned small businesses are on the rise. Whether helping government agencies administer contracts or getting your business on the GSA schedule to bid on contracts for service — there’s usually a “set aside” that contracting officers are required to earmark for small businesses owned by veterans, disabled veterans, or women-owned small businesses to name a few. 

Upskill through Education 

Juggling education and your active-duty requires a commitment, but it’s far from impossible, provided you can find a flexible and accredited university that will meet your educational needs. American Military University provides a course that is taught by industry experts (many from the military), and the curriculum is assessed and optimized by industry advisory councils. Whether you’re a veteran or on active-duty, you have the opportunity to build upon your qualifications with a program specifically geared to the contracting and acquisition discipline. You’ll learn entirely online, so you have the flexibility to complete your degree without disrupting your current obligations. You’ll be joined in classes by many other military-connected peers because AMU is the #1 provider of education to the U.S. Armed Forces (based on FY 2019 DoD tuition assistance data) and U.S. Veterans (based on VA student enrollment data). 

AMU provides a holistic view of the process and criteria the government uses to assess and award proposals guided by the Federal Acquisition Regulations (FAR) and Defense Federal Acquisition Regulations Supplement (DFARS). The program covers strategic planning, acquisition management, budget development, and joint contracting. Students will graduate having learned about the acquisition cycle, contracting procedures, audits, and Joint Theater Support Contracting Command. Housed within AMU’s Dr. Wallace E. Boston School of Business — the program also leverages popular concentrations like management and accounting to round out relevant business skills. 

If you’re interested in learning more about government contracting or obtaining a degree, visit your local education center or click here to learn more.

This article is sponsored by American Military University

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