Every job has its pros and cons and government contracting is no different. I moved to DC to be a State Department contractor and while I wouldn’t wish the experience on my worst enemy, it did pay the bills. Whether or not you decide to be a contractor is probably a mixture of personal preferences and circumstance. I know people who swear by contracting and love it– wouldn’t take a government job if they were offered one; then I know people who are stuck contracting but ache to be a govie. At any rate, here is an indisputably complete and well thought out list of the pros and cons of the business:
Pay – Most contractors get paid way more than their government counterparts, though admittedly their benefits aren’t as good. Still, if you’re young and ambitious, money might be a bigger incentive for you than good health care or a pension.
Easy To Get – Getting a government job is a job in itself. If you can get through the horribleness that is USAJobs, you still have to wait seemingly forever to actually hear if you’re even being considered for a position. Contracting companies, by comparison, are generally pretty quick in selecting job candidates.
No USAJobs – This website is the worst of the worst. Landing a paying job without ever having to type ‘usajobs.gov’ into your browser is a huge pro. Certainly most contracting company websites aren’t anything special, but by virtue of not being USAJobs they seem like a gift from God.
Agility – It sounds weird, but not being part of the bureaucratic government system means that it can be much easier to change jobs as a contractor. Where government employees have to fill certain criteria to move positions, you can just switch contracting companies at your whim.
Work/Life Balance – Though you’ll be treated like the scum of the earth by your government co-workers, you’ll still be working the same hours they do. If there’s even a whisper of a rumour of freezing rain you’ll be enjoying a paid leave day. Not too be overlooked.
Dealing with Government Employees – There seems to be a civil war between government employees and contractors. Govies look down on contractors as subhuman scum and treat contractors with derision– at best. What makes it worse is that usually all it takes to get a contractor fired is for a govie to make a complaint about them.
Fired on a Whim – Unlike government employees, who seem to be able to get away with murder and not get fired, contractors are fair game. You can be out on the street in a day with no explanation– so be sure and put something in the bank.
Can’t Milk the System – Lets face it, some government employees work their butts off. Quite a few others, however, don’t seem to do much of anything at all. It’s incredibly frustrating to perform the same duties as a govie, but not being able to milk the system like they do. You’ll be slaving away while your govie co-worker is taking offsite ‘training’ courses for 2 weeks a year. Govie coworker decided to take a 3 hour lunch– boss won’t say a word. Your lunch runs one minute too long and you’re liable to get a talking to from all three of your bosses.
No Rewards – Even though contractors seem to work way harder than a lot of govies, they are ineligible for most of official rewards. It can be more than a little demoralizing to watch your much lazier and ineffectual govie co-workers getting awards while you’re not even invited to the ceremony.
Bosses – Bosses are bosses and they all kinda suck. But as a contractor you usually have multiple bosses of varying degrees of influence. When I was contracting I had two ‘Team Leaders’ who I was supposed to listen to, then a ‘Branch Chief’ who would tell me to do stuff, and then on top of all that I had a ‘Programs Manager’ that I had to report to. Don’t get along with all of them and your life can get real miserable really quickly.