Tuesday, January 24, 2012

What’s it like to be a….defense consultant?

My job title is:
Subject Matter Expert (SME) / Consultant -  someone who has expertise in a particular area/s pertinent to company projects. For defense/technology companies this can range from politics, transportation, infrastructure, business, communications, military, populations, foreign relations, computer programing, etc.

What does a normal day look like? Is it consistent throughout the year? If you’ve had this position for a while, how have things changed?
A workday could consist of individual research, writing reports, data analysis, group collaboration and discussion, informal team meetings, or formal company meetings with clients. The annual schedule is dictated by individual project schedules so there can be slower days at the beginning of a project and extremely long and hectic days toward project completion. Doldrums and fast sailing – be ready for both.

What other, if any, positions have you held prior to your current job? How did you get to where you are now?
I was hired by my employer while I was in graduate school. They needed someone to fulfill a specific opening and I met all of the qualifications. Many defense/technical companies send recruiting teams to larger universities.

What kind of training/education did you have? What would you suggest? What qualifications/skills/attributes make someone successful in this position?
My educational background was an MA in European History. I would suggest primary majors in political science, history, engineering, or similar fields that develop strong research, writing, and analytical skills. I must also STRONGLY recommend a secondary major or minor in business or perhaps computer science. These are very practical and marketable skills to possess and highly valued in the private sector. Employers want well-rounded candidates who are really good at something but have basic knowledge of lots of other things.

What are the rewards in your position? Challenges? What makes a good day for you?
The greatest reward of these types of positions is that every project is a challenge. They require you to think outside the box and anticipate every eventuality. There is something very rewarding about successful problem solving and seeing a project bear fruit at the end. You can also take pride in the fact that you are contributing to safety and well-being of our country, its soldiers, and its citizens.

What trends or changes do you foresee in the next 5-10 years?
The post-Cold War world is a constantly evolving place in which new challenges to our national security and well-being continue to arise. As a result there is a steady (if not growing) need for SMEs/consultants in the defense/national security sector.

How could a person find out more about your field?
The best way to research this field is to look at the websites of companies or federal agencies that do this sort of work. Google combinations of keywords such as “SME”, “Consultant”, “Jobs”, “Defense”, etc. to find. When you have found companies in the fields you are interested in look for internship opportunities. Also see if these companies will have representatives at career fairs at any larger universities in the area. Finally, NETWORK, NETWORK, NETWORK!!!! When you start to develop contacts with companies or through internships, get to know as many people in your area of interest as possible and stay in touch with them. Also, utilize any opportunity to go to a conference, publish, or speak in public as these are great things to put on your resume and build contacts. Develop as much REAL WORLD experience as you can.

When you were growing up, did you have any interests that you have built into your work?
My personal expertise in my topic began when I was a kid. I researched similar topics within my field while in graduate school. This knowledge and work is what got me hired. Develop an expertise in something that you enjoy and are fascinated with (but also develop a good knowledge base of similar or other broader fields). If you are going to do all this work, some of it should be with something you enjoy.

What obstacles have you overcome to get to where you are today?
The primary obstacles I faced were a lack of business and computer knowledge in the beginning. I was not made aware of the importance of these very practical and marketable skills. I came up to speed on them but I had to do so on my own.

Another obstacle which students may have to face is the content of some of their coursework. Particularly in collegiate history and political science courses there is a strong emphasis on post-modern social theory with social activist undertones. Much of the perspectives that are most valued in the private sector (political, military, economic, diplomatic, etc.) are not taught to the same extent. Students should seek out courses and instructors that do not follow this current trend and take it upon themselves to read and research the pertinent perspectives on their own. In the private workplace, you will have to research all sides of a problem and you will have to make an OBJECTIVE judgment as to what are the most factually accurate sources. This is not a career field for social activists or those who want to rewrite history or reinvent society.

How do your beliefs and values or worldview perspectives impact what you do at work?
A friendly, calm, yet confident demeanor, professional business etiquette, and a Protestant Work Ethic will help someone to excel in this field of work.

Posted by Bonnie Speyers on 01/24 at 01:26 PM

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