Having trouble finding cleared candidates? You’re not alone. The competition for cleared candidates is the highest it has been in the past five years. A convergence of factors is causing the hiring crunch – epic delays in new investigations, a strengthening commercial sector driving competition, and more cautiousness among candidates. We’re unpacking these three trends, and sharing our tips for how you can compete despite them.

Take our quick 7-question quiz to see how well you understand the security clearance trends making your hiring more difficult.


Reason 1: Epic Delays in New Investigations

We’re calling these delays ‘epic’ because the standstill is affecting every stage of the hiring process – interim clearances, final determinations and periodic reinvestigations are all being processed at a snail’s pace. Recruiters report they’re the worst delays they’ve seen in the past five years. Here are just a few of the stats:

In 2017 the government stood up a brand new bureau to take over clearance investigations. After less than a year, however, a political power grab puts the Defense Security Service back in control of its own background investigations – which means things are likely to get worse before they get better.

  • Hiring Tip: Be up front about the delays. The troubled security clearance process is headline news. If you know it may take months to get a candidate’s clearance instituted or upgraded, tell them. And work hard to give your candidates meaningful work while they wait. One great way to get a new candidate invested before they can begin the classified work is to have them help with technical interviews. Knowing you trust them enough to help hire their future coworkers will help them feel better about the fact that they’re quarantined from the real work.

Reason 2: A Strengthening Commercial Sector

You may come across candidates who prefer government work to the commercial sector. But that assumes they won’t face months-long delays to get into the job.

Here’s just a small example of some of the comments on processing times we’ve received at the Security Clearance Forum:

  • “Finally, I just had an interview with an Investigator. It is now exactly 15 months after I submitted my eQIP.”
  • “Finally, I received my clearance after a 16-month wait. Good luck for those still waiting.”
  • “My case was opened Jan. 20, 2016. I took and passed a poly Jan. 21. Subject interview Feb. 9, 2016. Work, neighbor, references all checked by Feb. 15. Investigator told me that he sent his report by Feb. 15. Since it was submitted, it is still open at OPM. I was told my case was a priority, and it was very clean. Same city last 16 years, never had a traffic stop, finances very good.” (Four months later the candidate was still awaiting a determination)

Think about your most coveted candidate. They have all of the right skills, experience and are a great cultural fit. Do you think they’re likely to sit around for four months (in a best-case scenario) to start? You might be a miracle worker, but that’s a tough sell for anyone – especially when the commercial sector is calling. The unemployment rate for STEM fields is virtually zero, according to reports. If you have STEM skills and experience, you don’t need to wait four months for a job. You can find a commercial sector job today.

  • Hiring tip: Find out what you have that your commercial sector counterpart doesn’t. Is the mission amazing? Can you offer more job flexibility? How about training opportunities? It’s also worth noting that while the commercial sector is strong now, wage growth has not been significant. That means you may be able to entice a candidate with a new opportunity and slightly higher salary.

Reason 3: Security Conscious Candidates

Finding a secret squirrel candidate today is like trying to find a golden nut in the middle of a crowded forest. We’re saying it’s hard. Some of the most successful recruiters today have perfected their ninja skills of getting a response from anonymous, passive candidates. These candidates often aren’t on popular social networking sites. And they’re happily employed, so they’re probably not making frequent updates to their career profiles. And thanks to Edward Snowden, they’re more aware than ever that they’re a target – so they’re probably ignoring a lot of their emails.

  • Hiring Tip: Start talking salary and mission. The good news? Government is starting to realize LPTA is not the best answer to the government’s complex cybersecurity challenges. You may find you can offer a more competitive salary than you have in the past. You might not want to cheapen your relationship by talking about money – but you need to talk about money. When it comes to what drives cleared candidates, money and mission are at the top of the list. Being vague on both isn’t going to get you far. Security conscious candidates will view your email as spam or surveillance before they see it as a great job opportunity. Make your message credible by being as up-front about the opportunity as possible.

Today’s hiring environment is hard. You know it. We know it. If your boss doesn’t know it yet, forward them this article and make sure they know today’s hiring trends make a cleared employer’s job harder than ever.

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Lindy Kyzer is the editor of ClearanceJobs.com. She loves the NISPPAC, social media, and the U.S. military. Have a conference, tip, or story idea to share? Email lindy.kyzer@clearancejobs.com. Interested in writing for ClearanceJobs.com? Learn more here.