Slower security clearance processing times are forcing recruiters to exclusively source already cleared candidates, and are also promoting the use of referral programs and signing bonuses. In addition, high demand is creating high churn in security cleared candidates, according to a new survey from ClearanceJobs. Once the scourge of recruiters everywhere, ‘job hopping’ is normal among cleared candidates.

Sixty-one percent of recruiters surveyed said slower processing times have caused them to change their hiring practices. A whopping 85 percent of recruiters are now focusing their recruiting efforts on candidates who already have an active federal security clearance.

Which hiring strategies are recruiters using?

Fifty-one percent of recruiters surveyed said they are using signing bonuses, and 78 percent are using referral programs. Ranking hiring strategies and incentives in order of effectiveness, recruiters listed referral programs as number one.

“Over the last year, delays in processing for new final clearance have really tightened the number of cleared professionals available,” noted Stephanie Benson, General Manager of “ClearanceJobs has seen a big increase in the number of cleared jobs on our site in the last two years as well, which indicates hiring is definitely up in the cleared sector. The shrinking cleared candidate pool combined with an increase in cleared hiring is really putting the squeeze on the defense hiring marketplace.”

For the first quarter of 2016, Secret clearance investigations took an average of 116 days (74 days is the goal), Top Secret investigations took an average of 203 days (114 days is the goal), and Periodic Reinvestigations took an average of 227 days (195 days is the goal).

“It has changed the way I recruit,” noted Jill M. a recruiter who responded to the survey. “I no longer even look for applicants who do not have a current clearance.”

Many recruiters noted the hiring strain isn’t just affecting their ability to source – it’s affecting their companies’ bottom lines.

“We can no longer hire people needing an interim clearance which means we cannot provide the number of employees our government customers need,” noted one respondent.  “If we could have filled the positions prior with only those with clearances we would have but the demand for high level technology SME [subject matter experts] is so high and the pool is so small we have to recruit candidates who do not have clearances. Now every contractor is at war stealing each others employees and this is also going to negatively impact our government customer.”

Even for companies who are able to sponsor clearances, keeping candidates interested during a months long onboarding process is a serious struggle.

“It’s certainly a morale suck,” noted one respondent. “We have several employees sitting in a bullpen waiting for clearances. They are isolated from the rest of our staff inside the SCIF. Extra attention and engagement efforts should be used with these employees….We have one employee who’s been waiting for a year and a half.”

If You Hire Them – Can You Keep Them?

It’s not just recruiters who are exasperated by the delays. Applicants (even those already onboarded) are second-guessing their decision to accept a position only to wait months – or years – for a determination.

“This will impact my professional development and stunt my earning potential, as I will have one year employed without any real measurable accomplishments to report,” noted a recent visitor to ClearanceJobsBlog. “The not so shocking secret among many of us forced to sit in the uncleared area is that we are always on the lookout for another job. We are no longer convinced that staying here is in our best interests.”

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Lindy Kyzer is the director of content at Have a conference, tip, or story idea to share? Email Interested in writing for Learn more here.. @LindyKyzer