When it comes to benefits, cleared candidates are surprisingly practical. In a recent ideal employer survey, professionals with active-federal security clearances called out healthcare and health benefits, retirement or 401k, and salary as their top three most ideal benefits – far and above anything else, including telework, tuition assistance or training.

The candidate survey asked simply, ‘What employer benefits are most important to you?’ No qualification was given as to what kind of benefits needed to be provided, and none were suggested. Respondents had three open form fields to indicate their choices, and the top responses were:

  1. Health/medical benefits (159 responses
  2. 401k/retirement (114 responses)
  3. Salary (44 responses)

Other responses included telework/remote work options, bonuses, and tuition assistance – but those numbers were significantly lower. When it comes to why clearance holders were so practical, the age and experience level of the candidates may be a factor. Eighty percent of respondents had 10 years of work experience or more.

“What I’ve found is that the demographic you poll will have an impact on the ranking of benefits,” said Luke Mann, Talent Acquisition Lead with the Technology Services Sector at Northrop Grumman. “Given that your population [of survey respondents] had 10+ years of work experience, I’m not surprised at the answers. Especially given the fact that they were experienced folks with roles that required a federal security clearance. Most folks who have a clearance aren’t able to work remotely too often, as they need to work in a SCIF or at a minimum be plugged into a secure network, so telework probably isn’t at the top of their list.”

Mann notes candidates typically ‘tier’ their benefits – and practical perks will almost always take top billet.

“Typically their main benefits, the stability benefits, are ranked first in order of priority,” said Mann. “Those are the driving factors when folks are making their initial determination if the offer is in line with their requirements. If they have competing offers, and the main benefits are for the most part equal, they will begin to look at the other two tiers of benefits as the differentiator.”

For recruiters, that means you might not see candidates pushing for options like telework or unlimited leave – unless they have multiple offers on the table. And with rising healthcare costs in the news, candidates are also more in tune with how much benefit costs will take out of their paycheck, and how many different health plan options are available.

“I’m not seeing a lot of questions about healthcare,” noted Gary Goss, recruiting manager at ProSol. “I am getting more questions about the types of plans and the costs associated.” For Goss, telework and tuition assistance are two programs that bring more questions from candidates, but he said it all often boils down to who is being recruited. Needs are different depending upon where you are in your career path and how long you’d been with your previous employer.

Cleared Competition Drives Need for Competitive Benefits

The ‘practicality’ of security clearance holders could be driven by their locations, as well as the perceived rebound in security clearance salaries. Maria Whitney, senior recruiter at Smartronix, wrote about salary expectations in a 2016 article discussing recruiting predictions and hiring trends from 2015 to 2016.

“Job competition was a challenge for employers, due to the many delayed acquisitions and new cost pressures on contracts,” writes Whitney. “Candidates are now weighing their job options with multiple offers from competing companies and varying industries. With intense company competition for new talent, the biggest impacts for increasing salaries were within the major metropolitan areas.”

As job competition continues to trend into 2017, candidates are likely to expect a solid offering on the top tier benefits like health and retirement. But what makes them take on a new job may trend more toward which employer can offer them growth and better work-life balance.

“Companies are adjusting accordingly- which is why you see so many competing benefits outside of the main benefits,” said Mann.  “If you offer competitive main benefits, AND have nap pods in the office, what’s not to love?”

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