Designer Clears Security to Land Defense Job in DC

A Washingtonian looks for a new job in Washington, DC’s defense industry.


Carolyn Stinnette knew her job as a senior instructional designer for a major corporation in the Washington, D.C., area was winding down. The challenges that had attracted her to the position a few years ago did not exist anymore; the clients she had been working with — many of them connected to the federal government and defense industry — were becoming scarcer; and she knew it was time to move on.

But emotionally, she said, it was hard to make the break. She started with baby steps, looking first within her company a little more than a year ago. That process picked up speed in June 2008, when it became clear that a layoff was imminent.

“I really loved my company, and I wanted to stay with them,” Stinnette said. “But what I found was the jobs within the company required that I would have had to move, travel 75 percent of the time or go overseas to high-risk areas, and none of that sounded desirable.” But neither did leaving her company. The company now had her on overhead — that is, not attached to a paying project — so she let her job search lag while she continued with internal projects. She did use this time to network, looking for short-term projects with managers with whom she thought might have upcoming permanent projects, or a wider view of the company for her networking.

But Carolyn was devoting 60 percent to 80 percent of her time on the internal projects, and she knew the timeframe for being on overhead is generally a short one — much shorter than the time she’d already expended.

Looking outside
By late August, Carolyn found it difficult not to spend time worrying about the situation. She talked to her manager. He agreed that her situation was precarious and asked her to shelve the internal projects and concentrate on the job hunt, explaining that while on overhead the clock was ticking to find a new position, and she could use the office during her job search.

“It just struck me walking down the hall one day: ‘It’s time to look outside the company, and that’s OK with me,’ ” she said. Once Carolyn made that decision, she went into high gear. She signed up on every job board she could find that related to her field. “I hadn’t heard of before, but it definitely seemed to be a focused search opportunity in the right direction,” she said.

Once she’d signed up with TechnologyLadder, Carolyn had to refine her tracking methods. She developed a spreadsheet for all her contacts that would prove invaluable for her job search. “I was kind of shocked. Even in the economic downturn, there were lots of great opportunities outside my company; just a different pool, I guess. I could barely keep up with responding to recruiters’ inquiries, and I responded to everyone!”

She proceded to land interviews — and offers. And one offer, which came in late November, seemed like the right fit. “I had three offers, and the position I accepted paid $15,000 less than the other two. But I really liked the manager, there was opportunity to advance, and it was still more than I was making at my last job. I went with this one because I thought it would work out the best.”

Throughout her job search, Carolyn recalled some advice she once received from an older friend. “This person told me that when you think you have found the job of your dreams, when it all looks positive, and you have this great energy, rather than going home and celebrating, you should go home and hit the search harder than you had before,” she said. “He told me it’s wise to keep other ‘irons in the fire’ by continuing to put out more resumes and contact more recruiters, just in case the job doesn’t come through. You won’t waste time getting depressed if it doesn’t work out because you are already on to the next opportunity,” she said. That proved a smart move.

Maintaining momentum
The week before Christmas, just as Stinnette was getting set to leave her previous job to start her new position, the offer was rescinded. There was an issue with the company’s ability to transfer her clearance from her current job to the new one within the timeframe that the new position required. She found herself out of a job before she even started.

However, she had never stopped contacting potential employers. And, she had two things going for her: her detailed spreadsheet of job contacts, and her employment, even though on overhead.

“I was very close to the final layoff date — like several others in my department, I had been on overhead for some time and now, I had finally gotten the actual notice. So, I followed up with everyone who had contacted me,” she said. “I told them I was still interested. When they asked me if I was still with my company, I was glad I could honestly say yes, since I hadn’t left them for the other job. It definitely looks better if you are still working when you are looking for another job — and, I prayed.”

Of one of those interviewing companies, “I thought I’d found the best,” she said. “Even though my clearance would have gone by the wayside, they had good people, an interesting project, and I liked the management, and the salary offering was back in the higher range. I supposed that I was ready to accept a formal offer,” she said.

Carolyn came home from that job interview and went through her notes in her spreadsheet. “As I went through e-mails and voicemails, checking everything on my spreadsheet, I found one last company that had contacted me,” she said. “I had received a voicemail from them over a week before that had fallen through the cracks. I didn’t actually think it was a good possibility, but I decided to return the call simply out of politeness. We spoke on the phone on a Thursday night, then set up an interview for the very next day, again, for interview practice and because I’ve learned that you never know what you’ll find out in the actual interview,” she explained.

In fact, it turned out the interview was very exciting and the job was exactly what she was looking for. It offered an opportunity to grow personally and professionally as well as a decent commute; it required her clearance, and it provided a 30 percent increase in salary.

Carolyn’s new position, with a federal contractor predominately in the defense industry, is much the same type of job that she previously held, “but it takes everything I’ve enjoyed and in which I’ve done well over the last decade and combines it into one job, with a lot of people contact, which is a primary requirement for me,” she said.

The role your instincts play
Looking back over this past year, Carolyn said she believes that all the stops and starts in her job search were an important part of the process. “I had so many false starts, opportunities that didn’t work out, and opportunities that sounded good but about which I didn’t have a good gut feeling,” she said. She explained that it is important to listen to your intuition in times of stress; you don’t want to take just any job even when you are concerned about losing the one you have.

“If you have any red flags, then you should trust your instincts and know it’s probably not a good fit,” she said. “You might be worse off taking that opportunity. When I think back about the fact that I turned down three jobs right before the holidays, and then the job I accepted didn’t pan out, I thought to myself, ‘There’s a reason you turned down those three jobs.’ You don’t want to go on for years searching for a job, but you do need to give it time.”

By the time she found her job, Carolyn had come to the end of her overhead. She was able to use her company’s office facilities and had used her remaining vacation time for pay, but she had no more actual income. She went more than two months without a paycheck between the former job and her first week’s pay on the job she started in early February.

But it was all worth it for her. “If you get the right fit, you’ll excel and progress,” she said. “If you go with a bad fit, you’ll likely have to explain it at your next interview.”