Editor’s note: The content of this article has been provided by Jake, an active private military contractor (PMC) whose last name will remain anonymous. The following information is meant to provide an inside look at the current state of the PMC job market and provide tips for those looking to enter the market.

When talking about security contractors, there are a couple of things that should be known. First, PMCs are not mercenaries. Intrinsically, a mercenary is a foreign professional that is hired to fight for another country. There are other important legal nuances between a mercenary and a PMC that lawyers and other experts have hashed out and will continue to hash out as long as there are lawyers and other experts. For our purposes, however, just know that the guy at the bar telling a girl he is a “merc” is likely compensating for something.

To the dismay of most veterans trying to break into the PMC arena, the times of Blackwater running the streets of Baghdad for a thousand dollars a day are no more. The market has matured and the contracts are trimming down. The government is no longer interested in throwing money at their problems in the same way they were a decade ago. Knowing that, don’t be surprised when you hear the heartbreak story of the guy whose contract, after only four months into his first gig, was canceled. There is not much job security in this world and there’s even less empathy when the government decides to close a contract. But don’t lose heart. There is still good money to be made — if you know where to find it.

When Erik Prince, the founder of Blackwater, got his black eye in the Senate the government began to reconsider the political opportunity cost of relying on PMCs for security. Yet, the market appears to have shifted instead of disappearing. Military intelligence, both collectors and analysts, are finding themselves in some lucrative post-military positions.

When comparing gigs, know that not all contracts are created equal. Some contracts pay their people by the day, by the hour, by the job, or with a salary. It is not uncommon to find a contractor who is actually an employee. This was the case on my first contract – benefits and all. The duties can also vary significantly. Some people seem to exist solely to collect a paycheck, grow beards, and complete their online MBA. Other contractors are in a uniform, sweating through the heat of the day while standing at a checkpoint contemplating where they went wrong.

Although the discussion deals with the overseas security aspect, most contractors do not fulfill security requirements on a base. In war zones, some might not even carry a weapon. Most contractors, in fact, are foreign nationals. Anyone who has deployed with the military knows about the Indians and Nepalese cooking at the DFAC or the Ugandan guards at the PX.

The PMC world seems to blend the difference between the corporate world and the military, so it is no wonder that it is often an easy transition for veterans. But buyers beware, the blend is not always a thing of fairy tales. A contract can take all the obnoxiousness from the military, such as issued uniforms, and blend it with the penny pinching of enterprises. My first contract followed AR 670-1 (the Army’s grooming and uniform standards) and had military-style uniforms that were expected to be pressed (I never did). The supervisors had NCO chevrons to denote their rank and we followed AR 670-1’s haircut and shave policy. No-shave chits were not authorized. Another contract I worked on required close-toed shoes. Once that hurdle was overcome, it was about the big boy rules I had expected. It just depends on the company, the client, and the leadership.

A good way to get a glimpse into the culture downrange is by the posted hiring requirements. The posted minimum standard is not always strictly adhered to, especially in areas that are contract critical. That being said, if they will accept two-years of service in the reserves and a GED, don’t expect to be growing a beard with GRS in Tripoli.