Thursday, April 28, 2011

Getting Overseas Contracting Jobs

Getting a contracting job in Afghanistan or the Middle East!
© 2011 Albert A Rasch and
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So You Want to be a Contractor

Recently I recieved a very polite email from a young man desiring to become a contractor out here in Afghanistan. He had found several of my posts on Afghanistan and US Government contracting and got in touch with me with some very good questions. I thought it would be interesting to discuss it and perhaps help a few of you out with some pointers.

He wrote:
"I wanted to write to tell you that I've been reading great stories of your life in Afghanistan for the past few days, and I need a sort of mentor to ask a few questions. I stumbled upon your treasure trove of knowledge at just the right time in my life it seems."

(Obviously a man of good breeding and impecable taste...)

"I was wondering if you have any specific tips on how to get HR to notice my resume at DynCorp from the piles of other applicants. I was also curious about your motivations for going over there, how you got your first position, and how bearable the company is to work for.... I have no problem going with the flow. Anyways, I'd love to hear back from you and hope to buy you a beer in the future! Keep up the writing, and stay safe!"

Getting to Afghanistan

(FYI, I hate beer. Except for cooking with it, that's not bad. Come to think of it, I also like it for making hog mash; my favorite there is Pabst Blue Ribbon.)

Let's get down to the brass tacks of getting out here. First of all, if you're not connected, accept any job offer, from anyone, for any amount of money.

The reason for that is that getting here is the toughest part of the whole thing. If you don't know anyone in a position to help you, you are pretty much at the mercy of job listings on websites like DynCorp, Fluor, Aecom, KBR, etc; and as you have noted, getting noticed is very, very hard. Now, you're a Chemist, so that's close enough to a bug control man as anything else. That's Vector Control so look that up. There is also ROWPU; (reverse osmosis water purification unit) those contraptions need a tech damn near mounted on them. Look that up. You have to apply for everything you remotely qualify for, and maybe ones that you don't, so don't turn your nose up at, for instance, a force protection gig. (Think highly paid Mall Security guard that gets shot at occasionally.) These jobs get you out here where you can establish relationships with other contractors and the Military. That in turn gets you on the inside of the machine. It's all about the relationships.

I got here initially on a connection. The second time on my own. It was difficult trying to get back, but options started opening up after a few weeks. That was a lesson well learned. Now I always have a back-up job close at hand, and a stack of current connections. Just in case.

If you can get an oportunity to be sponsored for a clearance job, TAKE IT! A clearance is worth whatever bullshit you may have to put up with. It can take anywhere from a couple of months to a year to get your final status, but believe you me, it is worth it. So keep that in mind.

Once you're in Afghanistan

Being away from home, family, and friends can be tough. You may or may not have internet, phones, or even a post office. Coffee sucks, and you have to take malaria pills. But in the end,  YOU determine how well your time is spent here. If you stay positive, turn adversity into a learning experience, expect NOTHING and be surprised when you get something, you'll do well here. If on the other hand you piss and moan about the company you work for, the lousy mattress, the food, dust, bugs, or anything else you don't like, AND don't do anything about it, you will hate it here, be miserable, and likely get fired for being a POS. Let me tell you something and try to remember this, don't come here and be THAT guy that everybody hates because he pisses and moans about everything. If you do that, you won't be able to deal, and your stay will be very short and very uncomfortable. (It's ok to be the guy that everybody hates because you're always positive, because they really don't hate you, they're just jealous! Seriously.)

And another thing, there are plenty of bad asses here. If you are one, great. If your not, don't act like one because you will be called on the carpet over it and at best loose a few teeth or at worse loose a few teeth and go home. Keep quiet at first, if you can, and learn the ropes. If I managed to keep all my teeth, and earned more than a little respect, then anyone can.

Overseas Jobs and Recruiters

Getting your resume noticed by recruiters is probably the hardest thing next to trying to build the pyramids out of paper mache and flour glue. Remember, for any given job, there will be hundreds if not a thousand and then some applicants. Unless it is a job that is naturally self limiting like ummm, Environmental Chemistry. Can't be that many ECs that want to suck dust in a God foresaken corner of the world. That and high tech jobs; they're always in demand.

Search carefully for references or contacts to recruiters while job hunting. If you get a name then by golly use it. Start with a polite email and back it up with as many phone calls as it takes to get in touch with the recruiter. Have a plan or script in hand with what you want to say. But be flexible; you just don't know what job listings they are trying to fill that day.

Once you have a good prospect, be diligent and don't be afraid to contact them regularly and check in with them. Make your communiques brief and professional, but make sure they remember you.

If you haven't done so already, make sure you go to my article What Do You Need as a Contractor and go through the checklist.

Again, getting to Afghanistan is 99% of the battle. Once you're here, building relationships is the key. If you make a small effort to do a good job, not just average, you're on the right track to making those relationships. People will notice, believe me.

The other thing to be aware of is that the people that work with you are also on the lookout for better opportunities. Today you work with them, tomorrow they may be gone, and the next day you might work for them! That's the way it is here. So treat everyone with courtesy and respect, you never know when you might need them.

Related posts:
What Does a Contractor Need in Afghanistan?

Best Regards,
Albert “Afghanus” Rasch
In Afghanistan™