So, you want to get into the clearance world? As someone who has faced this challenge the past couple of years, I do not claim to have all the answers but I have observed a number of successful and not-so-successful cases and I believe I have a few insights to share. I have seen others experience and have gone through myself the frustration of applying, waiting, and sometimes getting rejection for cleared positions. In a worst-case scenario, I knew someone that waited over three years for his clearance! (He finally got it and has a great job at Booz Allen)

The best analogy I have for job searching, generally, is that of the busy parking lot. Finding a job is like finding a spot in a full parking lot on a Friday evening. Getting that spot sometimes means being at the right place at the right time. The lucky ones might get a spot immediately while others are left to search on and on. Sure, the aggressive drivers might have a leg up, but in the end sometimes you are better lucky than good. This explains why I have seen individuals with average credentials obtain higher-paying or more substantial jobs over other, more qualified applicants.

While the current economy and budgetary environment are problematic, do not be discouraged! There are still a number of things one can do to increase one’s marketability.

First, forget the soft skills like writing and management. These skills, while valuable, are relatively common among graduates. Look to build skills that are indispensible. If you are not an engineer or scientist, consider learning a foreign language. The U.S. government has multiple lists of critical languages and we need skilled analysts and interpreters more than ever before.

Second, network directly with recruiters. You can send your resume out to a thousand people and get a thousand different responses on what is a “good” resume. In the end, it is the recruiter’s’ opinion that matters. Learn what kind of resume format they are looking for. Hint: They should be able to look at your resume and know exactly what job you are looking for. Remember, they have to look at thousands of applications a week.

Third, go to intelligence career fairs. Yes, you will be sized up by what type of clearance you have, but the career fairs give you name recognition. This is how I obtained my current job.

Fourth, be willing to apply for internships. There are internships EVERYWHERE in DC. Even these are highly competitive. I find that more and more think tanks and agencies are hiring straight from their pool of interns rather than from the batch of fresh applicants. Internships are a great “in” for aspiring recruits.

Most of all, have patience, and be persistent. Just like that busy parking lot this holiday season, even in a crowded job search there’s a great job out there if you combine the right skills with a little luck. So, good luck and happy hunting!

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Richard Lim is an Infrastructure Protection Analyst at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Prior to this, he served at the White House and the Department of Labor and graduated with a Master of Public Administration at the Maxwell School in Syracuse University and the University of California, San Diego. He is a published author and blogger.