Government Contracting 101

Jul 05, 2011 -
When I tell people I work in government contracting, the response usually comes in the form of a question. 'What exactly do you do?' or 'Does that mean you have top secret security clearance?' are some of the common things I get asked. There are also many misconceptions about the work environments. When people hear about government contracting, they often assume:
  • Positions are always short-term
  • Security clearances are always required
  • The application process will take months
  • Dress codes are strict and you always have to wear a tie
That last misconception may be a requirement when meeting with federal customers, but when it comes to government contracting, the task orders you work on are not always short term, and many positions do not require security clearances. The process of getting a job with a contracting company often takes the same amount of time as it does with any other company; however, security and background checks can cause delays in the hiring process.

The stuff I wish I knew when I started

Apart from answering questions from others, when I first started working in government contracting (I focused on task order contracts, but there are lots of different types of contracts out there), I had many questions of my own. It's a broad field, and I wasn't clear on the scope of the work. But really, a government contract is just what it sounds like. Your company places a bid on a government opportunity after a process of capture management, business development and internal audits to ensure it can complete the task. If the company wins the contract, contractors begin working on contract execution or task orders depending on the contract type. Once your company has won the award, you will have a solid timeline of how long your company has to fulfill the contract, but this doesn’t mean that employees will be left behind at the recompetition of a contract -- even if the same company doesn’t win it again. Contractors can often transfer to a new contract regardless of which company wins it, and this is where networking becomes crucial.

Effective networking can help you get the contracts you want

Networking will help you continue on with the project or find opportunities in other areas of government contracting. Whether you network at a job fair, a contracting teaming event or when representing your company as a potential contractor with federal agencies, it is important to keep communication flowing. In a recent article, "Get An Insider's Look at Relationship Building and Past Performance," Victor Holt, president of V-Tech Solutions, and Jay McCargo, president of ARServices, outlined a process to make the most out of networking events:
  1. Go home and mine the business cards you collected. See what relationships you have with that company, or research the company to find possible points of interested on which to build a relationship.
  2. Follow up. Don't just say "Hey, nice meeting you." Instead, see if there's something you can glean from them to trigger another conversation, whether over the phone or face to face.
  3. If this is a person you might reach out to later, send an email. If it's someone with whom you want a more active relationship, send a handwritten note.
  4. If possible, provide the person with something of value. If you have information you can get to someone who's looking for it, get it to them quickly.
Though contracting jobs are often noted to be in the Washington, D.C., area, companies all over the world are often seeking employees. That is why sites like GovWin and others can be useful resources for finding jobs and teaming opportunities with other contracting companies if you can’t meet in person. Still have more questions or interested in connecting with other government contracting professionals? Join us for an online networking event next week to discuss best practices, the importance of having an elevator pitch, challenges facing federal and government contracting employees and more. Elliot Volkman is the community manager of GovWin, a Deltek network that helps government contractors win new business every day. He can be reached at elliotvolkman@deltek.com or follow him on Twitter @thejournalizer.