Having an active clearance is considered an edge in the defense job market. It may seem daunting to apply for cleared work without the advantage of an active or current clearance. While obtaining a clearance is not considered an easy feat, it’s also not impossible, if you’re patient. Some organizations are able to wait for talent who’s willing to obtain a security clearance.
If you find yourself desiring to find a cleared position but have yet to get an interview, there are some steps you can take to get past the initial job screening, and toward a security clearance sponsorship.
Read job descriptions carefully and look for hiring timelines.
If the job description doesn’t indicate a rush to hire for start of a new contract, the likelihood the company will be willing to sponsor your clearance is greater. If the start of contract is imminent or they are trying to backfill a position, the organization doesn’t have time to wait for a candidate to obtain an interim clearance. The hiring process generally doesn’t include pre-employment screening questions related to clearability, due to violating equal employment laws. Employers often cannot gauge how easily a candidate could make it through the security process, given the subjectivity of interim clearances and the delays in the overall system.
If you meet the job requirements, apply, but if you notice that the organization is pushing against a deadline, do not be surprised if you are not called for an interview. Focus the majority of your time on positions that indicate a longer time until contract start.
Research the organization.
Other than project schedules, the main reason an uncleared candidate isn’t a viable option is cost. Overhead budgets affect rates, and in order to be competitive, organizations have to keep costs low. Of course, the fewer corporate level employees, the more availability of overhead for the rest of the organization. Even if overhead is low, the key to landing a position that will lead to a clearance is knowing where you might fit into an organization in other roles. How can you fill your time in a profitable way while you’re waiting for your clearance? For instance, are you a developer with technical or proposal writing skills? Can you compile unclassified documentation? Are you skilled in managing project financials? What can you do behind the scenes? Does the organization have projects that do not require a clearance that you can actively support while you wait? Advertising your agility helps make hiring you a viable option – even if you’re waiting for a clearance.
Reach out to your networks.
One of the ways to understand the various projects available in an organization is to reach out to your networks and get an education. Ask questions about their work, and any talent gaps – both cleared and uncleared. While some people may not appreciate the inquisition, most are happy to help. The point of networks is to grow your career and to help others grow theirs. Sometimes, that means people will be asking you for help, and when you are trying to change careers, you will need to seek the help of those in the cleared field.
If your skills aren’t translating well into the cleared organizations that you’d like to call your employer, then don’t ignore all of the tools at your disposal. There are blogs or Twitter feeds you can follow. Certification programs or graduate programs are not hard to find. Yes, it all takes time, but that is the reality of life. Some people make hard work look easy, but the reality is that for the majority of the population, landing the right position takes hard work. When you are looking to change up what you are currently doing, it will take some time and energy during the investment period.
Consider an entry level position.
You might be overqualified; however, projects hiring for entry level positions may have more uncleared work available that is billable while you wait for the clearance process to run its course. It takes humility to apply for an entry level position – as well as some honesty as to why you want it – it could pay off down the road when you’re doing the work you want to be doing.
It may take some strategizing to work your way into the cleared field of your choice, but it is not impossible. Determine which options fit your career field and schedule and start making strides toward a national security career.