Top 5 Ways to Tell a Contractor Apart From a Govie


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So you are working at a government agency and wondering who is a fed and who is a contractor.

Here’s my top 5 strategies:

1) Badge – Yes, it’s okay to stare at someone’s chest…to look at their badge that is. Most agencies have different colors for contractors vs feds. Blue vs Red. Purple and blue.

2) Overdressed – Wondering why someone is wearing a suit when everyone knows it is business casual. And who is that weirdo overdressed with cufflinks. And a Rolex watch……Contractor for sure. Every time….

3) Good-looking – This will get me in trouble. But it’s true. Ever been in the office and wonder, who is the cute new guy/girl? Contractor 90% of the time.

4) Trying too hard – See someone in the hall who is walking too fast. Acting with a chip on their shoulder. On a Bluetooth barking orders. Yeah, they are trying too hard to look cool. Contractor every time.

5) Young – This would kill me when I was in my mid-20s at a gov’t agency. I’d get excited and wonder…wow, who is the new person actually under 30 in our office? Contractor. 90% of time.

You? How do you tell the difference?

Check out some other Top 5’s below

Also here are some other top 5’s of mine:
Top 5: Best Places to Have a Government Job
Top 5: Worst Places to Have a Government Job
Top 5: Tips on Teleworking
Top 5: Gov’t Shows That Should Exist
Top 5: Worst Things To Say in A Meeting
Top 5: Ways To Handle A Broing Meeting
Top 5: Signs You Need A New Job

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Margaret Sarro

Comment by Margaret Sarro 6 seconds ago Delete Comment Ohh funny! I do agree that contractors give off a different vibe (in general). Having been a contractor for ~10 years and now a govie for ~3 years I think I can comment on this topic fairly!

Here’s a couple more ways to tell the difference (and mind you these are qualities of a GOOD contractor…don’t get me started on a bad one or a bad govie for that matter!):

1. They don’t eat lunch and if they do it is usually at their desk while typing
2. They always look interested in meetings (even when the topic could put even the fussiest baby to sleep!)
3. They come in “late” (9am!?! I’m already looking foward to lunch at this point!)
4. They are always looking for ways to “help” since helping means mo’money! 🙂
5. When the “59min” rule is in effect or early dismissal is announced they groan (really nothing worse than seeing everyone pack up and leave or the weekend/evening and having to stay behind and work, but hey that’s why they get paid the “big bucks”!)


Harlan – You are awesome. That’s an outfit.

Obviously not always true…just some observations I noted. Like any stereotypes, only about 75% accurate.

Noel Dickover

So I’m both good looking AND overdressed? I love it! I was wondering what to expect with this list, but definitely some great stuff. Just one add – if the person is closer to 20ish, they are usually not a contractor – they’re an intern.

Andrew Einhorn

This cracked me up. had to comment and add my two cents from a contractor’s perspective:

1. Answers emails quickly and with a _CONTRACTOR included in the .mil address
2. Is sitting in the worst chair, in the smallest possible cubicle
3. Answers all the technical questions like, “how do I find this file on my computer”
4. Is the only one in the office who doesn’t have a coin or other government award (because they aren’t offered to contractors)
5. Is the only one who knows when the cleaning crews show up at night

Sterling Whitehead

@Steve. By pulling together your two statements, I’ve come up with an Anchorman-esque formula: 90% of time, it works 75% of the time.

1) “Obviously not always true…just some observations I noted. Like any stereotypes, only about 75% accurate.”

2) “Contractor 90% of the time.”

Margaret Sarro

Andrew…number 3 is great! When I was a contractor it was like I had a sign on my back that said “Got a stupid computer problem? Ask me!” It did not seem to matter at all that they were paying me a lot of money to do other stuff.

Terrence (Terry) Hill

I agree with all your observations, younger, better dressed, ambitious, driven, and a differenct color badge. I’ve also observed that they prefer not to mingle/associate with Feds unless they are in a position of power. I can’t help but mention their air of superiority as well (maybe well deserved?).

Jaime Gracia

Sending emails over the weekends, or after 5PM is also a sure sign of a contractor. I never bought into the overdressed part. I usually wear what the clients wear. Have not been on site in suits to often, as it gets uncomfortable doing all the things we do that have been mentioned.

Nichole Henley

haha!! I love this post! Def agree on the dressing REAL sharp part, arriving to work later than the govies (which is why most of them know when the cleaning crew shows up— I can tell you what guards work the overnight posts as I get in the office at times at 0530 or earlier), and for some I have met it is true that they don’t want anything to do with you unless you’re in a position of power.

However, I do have a few good more points to add:
-social life! No matter how old, we can always chat about our night escapades or weekend events
-they get my energy. We are both trying to get the work done efficiently
-technically savvy. I’m always learning how to use a new gadget (i phone) or work tool.

Nichole Henley

@ Andrew– last place I worked at, contractors actually had the double-wide desks and NICE chairs while us interns and new govies shared desk space. I guess it all depends on the organization.

One more point! A place I worked at entrusted ALL the cool projects with the contractors. They went on travel EVERYWHERE—even to Hawaii, several times! Never asked a govie if they’d like the experience of the work or the travel.

Faye Newsham

As a contractor, I dress sharp because I’ve been told I’ll get fired if I don’t look at least as good as the best-dressed customer. I arrive later in the day because I’ve already put 3 hours in at the corporate office and am just here for a meeting (with important fed folks which is why I am hurrying and wearing a suit), if you call me “young” I’ll certainly appreciate it, but at over 40, this doesn’t really apply… Good looking? um sure, whatever. I think you may be responding to “new” to the office and “young” more than general appearance. As for “trying too hard” – I don’t know about you, but when I’m on the line for loosing my job or even worse, the contract for my company, at the drop of a hat (or even a whim), I mind my P’s and Qs – wouldn’t you? With that said, I don’t have a phone in my ear, couldn’t afford a Rolex if I wanted one, but if I was on the phone barking orders? It’s because I’m making sure my team is doing what you need and pronto!

As your contractor, I’m worried about where my Tax dollars are going and how I can best get the job done you need me to do. My contract was once downchecked in a customer satisfaction survey because our team “isn’t very social. They are always too busy to chat”. We puzzled over that one… with 3 more projects than we can accomplish at one time, we figured you’d get that we are busy, busy, busy trying to do our best for you!

Eileen Kent

This is one of the best q/a posts – with honest feedback I’ve seen. Your thoughts on both sides of the spectrum are hilarious! I’ve worked on both sides of the counter and I’ve had to wear a suit on both sides and I’ve never had an expensive watch or an expensive car for that matter. But, I’ve found highly enthusiastic people and I’ve found slow moving people who don’t care about their job or their quality of work – on both sides of the spectrum. Anyone who speaks loudly their bluetooth Is rude no matter where you work……in corporations or in government. While this is a lot of fun, the reality is, people are people – and you connect with people who are most like you – in dress, in product/service knowledge, in background and in ambition. Contractors who want to make you look good with solid information and experience are the ones you want to work with for years to come. Contractors who work late and weekends to get the project completed are worth keeping. Contractors who ignore you – and your situation – should be booted. Isn’t that the case whenever you’re the customer?

Hans Hinners

No wonder I have been mistaken for a contractor but I think it is wearing off. I was 28 and a kid when I showed up. I don’t remember having all this white in my goatie. We’ve got GS-11,12 & 13s wearing jeans and T-shirt – What the Frak!