After Iraq, how hard will it be to find a civilian job?

(FORTUNE Magazine) – Dear Annie: My daughter is about to be rotated home from Iraq and plans to leave the Army and look for a civilian job. She has just a high school education but also has some paralegal training and experience and a high-level security clearance. What are her chances? -Minnesota Mama

Dear MM: In a word, fantastic. Sizable chunks of the Department of Homeland Security's $450 billion 2005 budget are sitting idle due to a dearth of people with security clearances. The feds report a backlog of about 250,000 applications for clearances, which could take up to two years to process. In the meantime, those already cleared are sitting pretty. Evan Lesser, who runs a job site called, estimates that some 60% of available openings requiring security clearances are in high tech and call for expertise in web design, systems analysis, software engineering, or network security. But the other 40% are in "anything you can think of, from graphic design to sales and marketing to clerical work. In government buildings where employees have access to sensitive data, even folks who come in to fix the air conditioning need security clearances."

Because of the shortage, companies are paying a premium. Lesser notes that among online postings for comparable jobs, salaries for those that require a security clearance are often $20,000 higher. "It may be tough in the Midwest, though," he says. "Your daughter should job-hunt in San Diego, Washington, D.C., or anywhere else with a heavy concentration of defense contractors."

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