Sunday, June 14, 2009

Getting a Job in Iraq or Afghanistan

I've been asked a couple of times about how to go about getting a job here in Iraq.  There are quite a few options available.  Your choice will depend on who you are and what you want to do.

The first thing to consider is that there are fewer jobs in Iraq every single day.  The military is drawing down.  Contractors are being terminated or redeployed or otherwise encouraged to go home.  The big flood of money and work that we poured into Iraq to stabilize it, and get it back on its feet again, is coming to an end.  I'm going through a drill right now on spending what very possibly could be the last big pot of project money to come to the Corps of Engineers in Iraq.  Meanwhile, we in the Corps are sending people back to the States nearly every day.  Our military forces have a deadline of December 30, 2011, to pack up and leave, and we're already working toward that goal.  Even the Embassy, which will be here for the long term, doesn't have a whole heck of a lot of jobs available.  Still our key end date is  two and a half years away and there are lots of things that need to be done before then.  

The first question you need to ask yourself is whether you want to work as a government agent, a contractor, or an NGO associate.  There are pluses and minuses to each. 
- A US government person makes pretty good money.  You get a decent salary and then get danger pay and locality pay on top of that.  Most importantly, from my own personal viewpoint, is that you're a decision-maker.  You make the decisions on projects.  Another nice benefit is that once you've got a federal job, the job security is pretty good, and it's much easier to get the next position if something happens to yours.  On the downside, the hiring process is slower than molasses.  From the time I first applied to the State Department to the time I stepped off the plane in Baghdad was ten months.  
- The US government doesn't have enough people to do the jobs that need to be done, even if it hired everybody that applies.  So we turn to contractors to provide the support needed, from running the DFACs to doing the engineering analysis for hundred-million-dollar construction projects.  Contractors make obscene amounts of money, at least by my rather modest standards.  On the downside, contractors are supporters and enablers, not decision-makers.  As an example, I'm working on quite a few different projects, including two construction jobs, management of a program that does a lot of things for local governments out in the provinces, and determining how to get a big slug of money into contracts that will benefit Iraqis around the country.  I have several contractors who support me on all these issues.  One does the day-to-day micromanagement of the funds for that program I manage.  She keeps me informed on progress and problems and makes recommendations on what to do next.  But she doesn't decide, I do.  Then she carries out whatever it is I decide.  And she's probably making twice what I am.  So the question to you is, do you want the decision-making authority, or the money?  One thing to keep in mind is that one reason contractors make a lot of money is that they have almost zero job security.  Their contracts can be terminated at a moment's notice.  I've literally had contractors be given 24-48 hours that their jobs were gone and they were being sent home.
- The final group is non-governmental organizations, or NGO's.  They come in all types.  I have had little contact with them so I can't really say much.  They're in between government organizations and contractors: they have their own missions (say, helping rebuild Iraq's medical infrastructure), the people who work there are decision-makers, they're pretty highly paid, but their jobs can be gone in an instant.  In my limited exposure to them, I found them to be very independent, very highly qualified people, who took job-hopping and sudden massive life changes in stride.

So how do you get a job with one of these groups?  Well, the best way is the same as at home: by knowing people.  That's not the cop-out it sounds.  When you're hiring a new person, are you going to go with somebody you never heard of, or will you go with the one you worked with sometime previously?  Usually you'll go with the one you know.  

Once we get past that, most companies, including the US government, use the internet.  Most federal jobs are posted on, which is run by the Office of Personnel Management.  I can't even begin to tell you where to go for civilian companies.  I would just avoid professional job placement services like the plague - it seems to me that they're in business to get your money, not to get you into a job.

Most of the questions I've been getting are about getting a job in Iraq.  As I mentioned before, Iraq is winding down.  On the other hand, people and jobs are flowing into Afghanistan.  I did a quick search on for Afghanistan and it came up with 148 jobs.  And when I went through the Corp's training program, most of my fellow students were on their way to Afghanistan, not Iraq.

So Afghanistan is growing and Iraq is drawing down.  You can still find a job somewhere over here.  Just be ready to be away from home for long periods of time, live in strange places (like my own shipping container), work incredibly long hours, have no place to go when you're off duty, have slow mail and problematic internet connections, and no access to alcohol (if you work for DoD).  And possibly be a target for a variety of bad guys who'd like nothing better than to kill you in some spectacular fashion.  Sound like the dream job?


  1. I don't know...this article kind of motivates me! Sounds glamorous really ~ there is a strange phenomenon going on here at home. Most feel helpless, like there will not be another time to be a part of something big...significant. Many feel like they need to do something to "feel alive" and that maybe as a civilian, it would be less difficult. The difference between the military and civilians working there is the uniform only. In so many ways, you folks must remain more flexible and optimistic than those of us with matching britches.

    The part that concerns me ~ We as Americans often fool ourselves that we are invincible and can survive any attempt on our life. It is real danger, that does real damage physically and psychologically in Iraq...if it were my son, my nieces or a friend, I would support the decision, Iraq and Afganistan need good people that are committed for the long term, not folks that scare or become disappointed easily. The difference this type of experience brings to someones' life is not measured any other way.

    All my best in all that you do Mister Rohde. My mind, heart and prayers are with you all in ITAO.


  2. The Thunder Run has linked to this post in the blog post From the Front: 06/15/2009 News and Personal dispatches from the front and the home front.