When you’re recruiting in the defense sector, most of your positions are going to be cleared at some level up to TS/SCI with a polygraph – especially if you’re headhunting for cleared talent in a location like Washington DC. Some are better than others, but cleared personnel are advised to adhere to Operational Security (OPSEC) guidelines and avoid listing special access programs or other mission specifics. Secret squirrels are difficult to spot and nearly impossible to hire, because they’d rather not be found online.

I had an old recruiting colleague reach out about the dwindling list of candidates advertising their clearance levels online:

“I have a TS/SCI DoD program I’m staffing for that requires a level of aerospace experience. I reached out to a candidate that was supporting NASA  out of Huntsville, Alabama, and after moving through the process found out through my FSO that he only had a secret level clearance. How does someone at the Director level for an organization like that not have a TS/SCI? They didn’t advertise their clearance level, which I’m finding more and more candidates are doing online with different security breaches as of late.”

This recruiter brings up a good point to not make assumptions as a talent acquisition guru and do your homework. Candidates are encouraged to do their research on potential employers, avoid advertising that they have a security clearance, participate in the interview process a few steps before giving out PII, and list a PO Box on their resume for their address if they do want to list that they have a security clearance.

Sean Bigley, security clearance attorney states “I personally do not recommend listing your level of security clearance on your general resume that you regularly send to recruiters. If the job for which you are applying requires a certain level of clearance, the more discreet way of addressing the matter is simply making clear in your cover letter that you meet all advertised qualifications.”

So, if you’re sourcing candidates online to staff your national security programs, but the bulk of cleared talent isn’t advertising all of their qualifications on the open-source, what is a defense staffing team to do?


Candidates are doing their homework, so make sure you have a credible reputation on professional networking platforms. Post consistently, engage politely, and ensure that candidates can find all information on your programs and positions through your website.

Especially during COVID-19, your careers page needs to be polished and up to date.

If you’re connecting with potential candidates on a public social media platform, be sure to take the next step and engage with them through some other form of communication – company email, phone call, skype, etc. On a public facing site, make an introduction following the secret squirrel rules of engagement, but make sure you state yourself, your role, your organization, why you’re reaching out, and where you found them. If you happen to be a staffing agency headhunting for another defense contractor – be sure to make it known. While you don’t want the candidate to turn around and directly apply to your client, secret squirrels will become of your role in the hiring apparatus and wonder if you’re directly placing candidates, playing the temp-to-hire game, or staffing for someone else entirely.


Time is always of the essence in the cleared hiring market. Sometimes you need to read between the lines if individuals don’t list all of their qualifications, such as a security clearance. If a potential candidate supports certain contractors in defense in a specific location, you could assume that they have an active security clearance for their employment. In the same light, pay attention to timelines. If they supported a defense contractor over two years ago and are now doing nonprofit work, don’t spend as much time following up with this candidate.

So, reach out, and in the event that they don’t fit your cleared career requirements, apologize and explain your thought process. If they did work in the community previously, they will understand and appreciate your reaching out in the first place (or just ignore you, too, which is ok).

In terms of levels, there could be an easier way to narrow your queries online so you don’t run into a candidate having a lower level clearance than you need. If you’re looking at the TS/SCI level, understand what contractors support which contracting agencies. For example, if you need a candidate with a TS/SCI and a CI poly, the Defense Intelligence Agency (which requires all personnel to have a CI poly) is going to be your best bet. Get smarter about your resume searching practices.


If you’re reading this article, you’ve already taken a critical step in reaching cleared talent. Registering on a website like ClearanceJobs.com safeguards a candidates information, but guarantees that talent with an active security clearance are on our career marketplace. At ClearanceJobs, you’re networking within a community of security-conscious individuals working in national security who recognize the unique hiring process in the security clearance world.

While sharing your user information is encouraged on social media sites like LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter, user data on ClearanceJobs.com stays on ClearanceJobs.com (and can’t be scraped into a neatly compiled list of secret squirrels). Evan Lesser our president and founder states, “Ours is a closed network and we’ll never share user data with other sites. When you Google your name, you’ll never see a ClearanceJobs.com listing, and that’s intentional on our part.”

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Katie Helbling is a marketing fanatic that enjoys anything digital, communications, promotions & events. She has 10+ years in the DoD supporting multiple contractors with recruitment strategy, staffing augmentation, marketing, & communications. Favorite type of beer: IPA. Fave hike: the Grouse Grind, Vancouver, BC. Fave social platform: ClearanceJobs! 🇺🇸