How long should you stay in your defense contractor position?
Gone are the days that company loyalty is valued above all other aspects of the employer/employee relationship. Mega corporations and fast-changing needs have created an atmosphere of turnover, especially among some of the leading defense contractors. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, but can lead to active employee involvement in creating their own opportunities for success and advancement. It can essentially put you in the driver's seat of your career in a way that didn't exist in the past. We see many pros and cons of defense contracting, but it always boils down to what is most important for you.
Defense contractors rank high in this field of expectation. I'm not saying that the executives exit stage left quickly, but technical in-the-weeds employees don't come with lifetime assignment labels, and they shouldn't. The very nature of contracting involves short- and long-term work. Now defense contractors often maintain a set of continuously renewed contract work, but this does not necessarily mean definitive eternal employment. If you read our post about defense contractor positions for veterans the following information should help you decide on your length of contracting.
With all that said, how long you should stay in your position depends on a couple of things.
- What are your goals?
Did you take a defense contract position because it was a dream to work with X employer? Perhaps you want to work on aircraft and the contractor gets you closer. Or was it the pay?
All and any of these reasons are completely reasonable. You have to consider what term of employment with the defense contractor gets you closer to your goals.
- Have you used or do you plan to use company education benefits?
Many companies, especially defense contractors, have wonderful education benefits. However, usually these require a specific amount of time with the company following the completion of the class. This varies from six months to two years. If you are working on a degree and plan to take continuous classes using the company benefits, pay close attention to these policies. If you leave before the policy tenure is completed, you may find yourself owing the company for any expenses they paid on your behalf.
- Has another opportunity opened up?
Perhaps you've received an offer from another company or a government position has opened up and you are wondering, "Is it in bad taste to leave now?" Whatever amount of time you have under your belt, I recommend pursuing discretely any opportunity that gets you closer to your goals or interests. Remember, opportunities are just that, and can fail to actualize. Considering them and giving them your professional due diligence is never a bad thing. If it does actualize and you find yourself with an offer on the table, it may have taken a considerable amount of time to get that far and you'll already be in a respectable position of tenure.
As a general rule, I suggest committing to at least two years to any employer, one year if the position wasn't quite what you thought it would be and six months in difficult situations (problematic team integrations for example). In any situation, a hostile work environment is never worth your time and only you can be the one to make that sort of determination.
Take a close look at your goals, consider the pros and cons of defense contracting positions, but most of all trust your gut instinct. Any employer should value you and the work you do just as much as you value them.