I talk to a lot of job seekers interested in jobs in defense and intelligence. Sometimes they are incredibly smart graduate students, ready to launch into an analysis career, or waiting in a long queue to be considered for a prestigious government position. Some of them have already been through the conversation a few times with recruiters.
Recruiter: Do you have a clearance?
Job seeker: Unfortunately, no
Recruiter: Well your resume looks great, but unfortunately we are only hiring actively cleared personnel at the moment
Job seeker: I understand. I need a clearance to get hired, but I can’t get a clearance unless I get hired. Catch 22.
Recruiter: I know. Sorry!
It is a very frustrating chicken-and-egg problem. So, what to do? Here are a few of the tips I give people in this situation, when they are determined to land a job in national security:
- Consider the military as a first step – Often, a job seeker in this situation has not considered the military as an option because for one reason or another they considered themselves ineligible (due to age, health, degrees, etc.). However, the U.S. military is a very large enterprise with a wide array of opportunities. You might be surprised to find you are still eligible for some of the programs if you just talk to a few recruiters. If you score well on language aptitude tests, that can be a great segue to cleared work later on. And if you can’t join the military in uniform, there are a lot of government positions that serve alongside military personnel with less of the age and health limitations.
- Apply for a government position – While government job application sites can feel like a black hole, there are a few things you can do to improve your odds here. You could hire a professional government job career coach, like Corliss Jackson or others, to help you navigate the application process. I generally advise people to explore jobs they want at agencies that are less obvious. Everyone has heard of the CIA, and as you would expect, there is a lot of competition to get in the door. There are myriad programs within government that might be easier to land a first job.
- Don’t search for jobs. Search for companies – All of the companies that do business with the government are publicly listed in the SBA Dynamic Business Search (DSBS). You can search for companies based on keywords that relate to your resume, then visit their website to see if they have open positions. The DSBS is a great place to start to find companies that might not have publicly listed positions, but who might align with your interests and be open to a conversation.
- Search for jobs with the phrase “must be able to obtain” – A lot of defense contracting jobs require clearances. Some don’t. In some cases it is possible to find a job that will sponsor you for a new clearance, but these are hard to find. One of the most common phrases to see in job listings where a new clearance is being sponsored is something along the lines of “must be able to obtain” a secret, or top secret clearance. A Boolean search for this exact phrase can turn up decent results for the specific segment of jobs you need to get the first clearance.
Have more questions? You might want to consider joining us for our career networking events through http://www.TheIntelligenceCommunity.com or reach out to me for a one-on-one coaching session. I’m happy to help.