As a job seeker, there are some notable differences whether you are applying directly to the government or under a defense contractor supporting government programs. For this episode of the Security Clearance Careers Podcast, we host two recruiters, one from government and the other industry, to chat about differences cleared candidates should be aware of when applying to either entity in national security, networking tips when reaching out to talent acquisition professionals, resume guidance to stand out from other candidates, and tips on obtaining a clearance to land your dream job. Both Sam Pena and Bill Vortmann are in talent acquisition, one for industry and one for the government, with Pena supporting both in the past.


applying to a contractor or the federal government

The expectation of patience for the candidate – the government has slow processes while the private sector is a little more agile in their hiring practices because contractors are hiring for revenue while the government is not at all. The government procedures are also more uniform, and while that doesn’t mean that the industry side is not regimented, there may be some key differences in hiring steps as you are applying to multiple companies.

do’s and don’ts of engaging with recruiters

If you put your resume out there and are contacted by a recruiter and just aren’t interested in the opportunity they present, just be honest and tell them. That also goes if you are further down the interview process. Bill notes a story of a candidate scheduled to undergo a polygraph that experienced some vandalism to their rental car. Instead of being honest with Bill to reschedule the polygraph, an exam that already gives people anxiety, the candidate fails the polygraph and is pushed to the rejected pile.

“I try to sympathize myself as a candidate, as we all are at some point,” Sam notes. But Sam says that candidates notoriously reach out with the blanket, “What jobs do you have for me.” He guarantees that there is no easier way to make your message a low priority because as a candidate, you are not making the recruiters job easier. Three ways to make a recruiter’s life easier when you’re sending a cold message:

  • Attach your resume
  • Include your contact information
  • Show how you relate to the position (I saw xxx role and here is how I can meet the minimum requirements)


Your strategy in this first phase with your resume is to initiate contact and get a recruiter’s attention. Your resume should:

  • Include your contact information, but don’t put contact info that you don’t want a recruiter to use (a landline, your current employers work email, etc.)
  • Don’t list your home address on your resume – this could contribute to geographic bias or compensation bias.
  • Bulletize everything: “I did x, xx number of times, which resulted in x (this should be quantifiable data that would answer the question about what your experience was).
  • Don’t list unnecessary quals – if you’re applying to a job as a network analyst, don’t list that you’re an expert with an M4.

Your focus as a candidate is to make everyone touching your resume’s life easier and alleviate the potential back and forth of questions from a hiring manager.


Bill and Sam have both been cleared doing CI / HUMINT for the Army and Marines, and now manage cleared talent. Security clearances are obviously a hot commodity, and even though clearance processing times are down, you hear about candidates having trouble getting one back. Tips for obtaining one if you are an entry level candidate or if you have let it lapse in the past:

  • Note if you’ve previously held a clearance.
  • Apply to the military reserves.
  • Apply to a federal job for agencies who have the bandwidth to sponsor.
  • Search “willing to sponsor” for defense companies.
  • Start at the bottom – apply for a job only requiring a public trust.
  • Talk to your recruiters and FSOs, and explain why they should invest in you.
  • Think about supply and demand – where is there a gap in candidate pools under this industry, and what jobs are companies willing to sponsor for because there is a low number of candidates?

Both Sam and Bill are military veterans as well, and that helps them see the full landscape of the hiring process within the DoD / IC. They are not only recruiters, but advocates for the next generation of transitioning military as they remember their own roots.

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Katie Keller is a marketing fanatic that enjoys anything digital, communications, promotions & events. She has 8+ 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! 🇺🇸