2022 – Security Clearance Recruiting Trends

I hate talent predictions, especially because they rarely apply to the cleared talent space and if I have learned anything in the last 2 years it’s that everything is up in the air.  However, the one prediction I am 100% confident in making for 2022 is… if you don’t analyze and optimize your recruiting/hiring process, 2022 is going to be very tough year. 

“Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.” – Mike Tyson

I love this quote; it sums up perfectly what defense contractors and cleared recruiting teams learned in 2021. Actually, I can’t really recall a time in my nearly 15 years in the space when I didn’t feel like I was taking jab after jab. Our industry has never been easy, and the only constant is change. RFP’s will be late, proposals will be lost, employees will be poached, and security clearance recruiting will be competitive. If that is not enough in an already resource tight market, now we have to deal with the impact COVID guidelines will have on our workforce and the greater cleared resource network. 

So, in this 2022 prediction list, we are bringing it back to square one. Looking forward, recruiting success will be summed up by the following statement: 

“Your hiring process must be agile, and no matter what your plan, work on your ability to pivot quickly, act quickly and ensure your company is aligned with your recruiting goals and processes.”  

Let’s take a look back at 2021, did you meet your hiring goals? Many companies in the defense space left a lot of budgeted and potential revenue on the table by not executing on their funded and competitive “best athlete” positions. In spite of all of the news of the great resignation, hiring didn’t die, although competition was increased, and slow companies (read process) got squashed. Polygraph positions, especially full-scope polygraph roles were very competitive, but we saw high competition across every clearance level. Offer packages and compensation levels no one thought possible started getting thrown around  as employees were persuaded with counteroffers increasing their salaries by ten, twenty even thirty percent. As an industry, this is not sustainable, and companies should be doing everything they can to prepare for an interesting 2022 in the cleared recruiting sector. 

Here are the major challenges we will face in 2022 when recruiting security cleared talent: 

  • All candidates will have multiple offers – you will be competing for

EVERY 👏 HIRE 👏  EVERY 👏  STEP 👏  OF 👏  THE  👏   WAY 

  • You will lose employees to high offers, COVID protocols or related issues while talent leaves the cleared space 
  • Remote work is here to stay, and employees are looking for flexibility Salaries for cleared talent in high demand regions will increase especially for mid-level technology and software related jobs 

What to do in 2022 

This would not be much of a blog if I just spread some doom and gloom about the market, so I will share a major silver lining. In fact, this is the silver lining that I get so excited about. The solution exists within your company and the biggest impact on these challenges is how you use your existing workforce to adapt, react and execute. Security clearance recruiting is tough, but not as tough as many companies make it. Below is some foundational advice developed from compiling best practices across thousands of positions and clients in the cleared market space. If you are an executive reading this and find some of this information “basic”, trust me your team is missing this. I say this from experiencing these shortcomings while working with some of the largest names in the space.

It’s not you… it’s me! Wait…. actually, it is you.  

There is no way to put this nicely, as it is something the recruiting community has been struggling with in some form or another for the last 10 years, so let’s just rip the band-aid off and be blunt. Yes, the market is tight when recruiting cleared talent, but… the major issues in recruiting cleared resources largely lays within your process and at the feet of your hiring team. Although the problem lives in hiring, the solution comes from the top of the organization and how/if a culture of hiring is fostered.  Your company, like most companies in GOVCON, is putting “cheeks in seats”. Unless You are building something, most likely your company gains (and loses) revenue through staffing contracts. The point here is you are in the recruiting business like it or not, does your team act like it? 

I wish I was here selling you some great AI solution, application or technology that could make your talent acquisition issues disappear and create a larger network of cleared resources, but I am not. Honestly any new tool or technology won’t do you any good anyway if the fundamentals of your hiring game are not on point, but if your fundamentals are on point, you will spend less money on hiring tools, reduce your cost to hire and your time to hire. Everything starts here, square 1… Garbage in, Garbage out. 2022 is the year of process. 

All success and failure in recruiting starts at requirements definition, and from the tens of thousands of security cleared jobs we have worked on, we have seen some companies really nail this, but most really struggle. Just as bad requirements result in bad products, bad requirements lead to bad hiring. 

We have summed this up by focusing on the Why, What and Who of your positions. 

The Why 

Why would someone want to work for your company?

This seems simple, right? Well, let me tell you it’s not. HR and hiring managers are happy to talk about “competitive benefits” that are just standard, “competitive compensation” that is just market rate, and “awesome perks” that are just mandatory BBQ’s that every company offers requiring employees to spend more of their free time at work. Benefits, and good ones at that, are expected as a cost of doing business and really are not a “why” unless they are truly above and beyond. 

Focusing on the candidate “why” is a wonderful way to get into the “make it about them” mentality. Do not expect candidates to automatically want to work at your company, you need to help them want it by rolling out the red carpet. 

Tip: To get to the why, brainstorm with people currently on the program, managers or even the government customer. A 20-minute brainstorm is all it takes to develop an impressive list of “why’s” to include in job postings, interview processes or advertisements. 

Here is what we see in companies that nail the “Why”: 

  • They can clearly discuss their company’s vision/distinction and how the candidate fits in based on their skillset. By “they” I mean everyone the candidate speaks to throughout the process. The impact of a clear and consistent employee value proposition communicated through the hiring process is massive. Where is the company going, how does this role help the company get there and why is their support important? 
  • They make the interview process about the candidate, their potential, their growth and their background. The interview is approached from a “we want you to work here” not a “tell us why you want to work here” approach. 

The What 

Specifically, what will they be doing on a day-to-day basis? 

Again, it seems pretty easy. Well, companies are excruciatingly bad at this and many times default to out-of-date statements of work that do not accurately reflect the day-to-day job. Look at it this way, we have proposal teams that spend months trying to decode what the hell the government is actually looking for when developing labor categories, and then we post that on our website expecting candidates to be able to read it and think “that’s the job for me… SME IV, Engineer I, Test III backend”. 

Here is how to nail the “what” in your job descriptions: 

  • Death to the LCAT – Stop posting labor categories as job descriptions. Take the time to write real job descriptions that describe in detail what the candidate will be doing on a day-to-day basis … hint “cyber security” or “database support” is not an answer. 
  • Think about the job in a 12-month time frame and layout what the potential employee will be doing over the next 12 months. For example: 
    • In the first 90 days most of your time will be spent … 
    • From 90 – 180 the program will be deployed, and you will be supporting… 
    • Within about 6 months to 1 year, you will be providing critical support to… 
    • Beyond the actual job details, talk about the team size and roles, environment, current state of the project, and growth opportunities on the program. 
  • Ditch the technology word soup – For some reason in IT and Software development we are expecting our cleared talent pool to have skills across every single stack, framework, environment, and process. I get that the reasoning behind this is “oh we will take anyone with skills in any of the above,” but that is not how the market reads it. They read it as “Oh they want me to do the job of 3 people”, or “this company has no idea what they are doing”. 
  • Put your marketing hat on, or better yet… pull in your marketing department to help write interesting job descriptions.  

The Who 

Who are we looking for?

Yes really…. Do you know who you want to hire, and who will be capable of performing the job? Hint “I’ll know it when I see it” is not an answer, we need details here people. Think about absolutely required skills and at this point anything desired should be thrown out the window. What is the level of experience one needs to be successful and competent in the role? Oh, and while we are at it, unicorns do not exist, but horses do, and you can glue horns to them and train them to do incredible things. 

Companies that nail the “who” utilize these tactics in hiring: 

  • They understand the pay for the position and have approval to hire at that rate prior to beginning recruiting 
  • They understand the jobs they are hiring for beyond the scope of work and can identify people beyond the obvious great fits that will be successful in a given role. 
  • They get away from rejecting candidates on paper and use the interview process to both sell the candidate and understand if they are capable technically. 
  • They utilize a consistent interview process that focuses on hiring for skill set, proficiency and capability. A consistent process is critical for eliminating bias and making quantitative based hiring decisions. 
  • Once they find the who, they immediately execute. They don’t have a maybe pile and never want to “just see who else is out there.” 
  • They make same day offers – yes really! If you have defined the “who” and you have found the “who” and have budgeted for the “who” – What are you waiting for? Time kills all deals, remember all candidates will have multiple offers and counteroffers. 

2022 is going to be a challenging year recruiting in the cleared space, however by going back to basics and focusing on the Why, What and Who of your positions you will help focus your resources on an efficient process that delivers results. So much of the struggle in recruiting can be summed up by garbage in, garbage out and its time to take out the trash!

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