The year has been filled with challenges and so many lessons learned. Our editorial team chats up the virtual life – living it, searching for jobs in it, and onboarding candidates despite it. It took a pandemic for the national security world to get serious about finding a way to incorporate telework. So what should stick going forward?


Right about this time last year, the office lights were turned off for what we thought was a few weeks. As a former teacher, I walked back in at the end of the year to see the date of the last day before our extended March spring break still on the whiteboard – like time had just stood still. And here we are a year later, and life is still not what it used to be before. Our older, wiser, maybe shaggier hair selves at this point are just trying to learn from the good, the bad, and the ugly of this past year.

Networking with Strangers and Staying Engaged

Thanks to COVID-19, being unemployed is a bit more normal. No one expects job security all the time, but this past year really rocked that boat. But with everyone heading back inside their homes and reemerging online, everyone’s network suddenly grew with the comfort level of online engagement growing. Sure. People are a little tired of a screen. But it’s no longer strange to get random networking opportunities. Somehow, it’s not that strange to start cold calling anymore. However, because living the screen life doesn’t always feel like our best life, make sure you’re mindful of a recruiter or network connection’s time. Be upfront and direct. Don’t ask someone to sift through your resume or ask open-ended questions. Know what you’re asking and be specific about your interests and qualifications. If you’re vague, you are likely to be ignored.

And if you finally get someone in a video call to engage with you – whether it’s an interview or just a networking opportunity, close down all of your other notifications or distractions on your screen. When we’re face to face with people, it’s clear to the other person in the room when we’re not engaged or checking our text messages. But it’s easier to sneak in those types of distractions in the online world. So, do yourself a favor and commit 100% to the person on the other line. Not only is distraction rude to the other person, it could cost you a job or connection – it’s not worth it.

Virtually Onboarding Candidates

Onboarding candidates in a face to face environment can be a daunting process. However, when you switch to the virtual life, it can add different challenges. Getting new hires to hit the ground running, means that feeling connected is a key factor in retainment. So, it’s important to get it right. Communication is the key to a successful onboarding experience. If you need to err on the side of anything, it would be over communicating. Your employees shouldn’t be guessing about company initiatives or project changes. Not everything has to be a live, virtual meeting. It’s not hard to divvy up emails, messaging, and live meetings so new hires are not overwhelmed. Plan out your year with your new hire, noting different engagement or communication activities all year long.

The Balancing Act of Working Remotely

In a home with parents who work full time and have other responsibilities that came home – that could be kids, pets, or older parents, it’s helpful to keep in mind that most things are no longer in neat and tidy buckets. It may have been socially acceptable to pop into your coworkers office before with your random question, but in a virtual environment, text is your best option to check first if or when a coworker is available. Assuming normal work hours should no longer be the norm, and this year has taught us that our priorities are the people in our life. All of the overlap of worlds is hard for some of us, so it’s helpful to block off spaces on your calendar for work or personal time so that you get a little bit more separation of lives. That way, if you go for a walk, you don’t need to feel pressure to answer your coworker’s message. Sometimes, you have to unplug for a little bit so that when you are back online, you’re at full capacity.

The reality is that all of us are being impacted and shaped by this past year. Acknowledging that honestly with one another can go a long way in bridging all the gaps in the virtual world we are currently living. And this past year has really shown us what we can do in national security to keep programs moving forward as efficiently as possible, proving how agile and creative this workforce really is.

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Jillian Hamilton has worked in a variety of Program Management roles for multiple Federal Government contractors. She has helped manage projects in training and IT. She received her Bachelors degree in Business with an emphasis in Marketing from Penn State University and her MBA from the University of Phoenix.