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November 21, 2016

How to Snag Talent to Fill Critical Cybersecurity Positions at Your Agency

By Angela Bailey, Chief Human Capital Officer, DHS


The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) recently held a highly successful cybersecurity hiring event and I want to share some of the lessons we learned in hopes that others might be inspired to try it for their agencies. The most important lesson learned from our experience is the value of acting collaboratively, quickly, and decisively. My best advice is to just do it. Don’t spend your precious time deliberating over potential barriers or complications; stop asking Congress for yet another hiring authority or new personnel system, instead capitalize on the existing rules, regulations and hiring authorities available today.

At DHS, we set out to dispel certain myths regarding cybersecurity hiring:

  1. DHS does not have enough flexibility to effectively hire for mission-critical positions. In fact, OPM’s government-wide direct hire authority for IT (security) professionals was critical for the success of our event because we were able to hire folks who walked in the door with key skills.
  2. There is not a lot of cyber talent available for hire. Actually, over 14,000 people applied for our positions, with over 2,000 walking in the door. And while not all of them were qualified, we continue to this day to hire from the wealth of talent made available as a result of our hiring event.
  3. You cannot hire people “on the spot.” We demonstrated that by having our hiring managers, HR specialists, and personnel security specialists together, we were able to make about 150 job offers within two days. Close to 430 job offers have been made in total, with an original goal of filling around 350 positions.

The most important step is the first: set the date. Within two months, we executed an agency-wide hiring event with over 14,000 applicants and over 2,000 walk-ins. By the end of the day, we interviewed over 800 candidates and made close to 150 tentative job offers. The amount of talent available to hire was so great, we stayed well into the night interviewing potential employees. While we accomplished all of this in only two months thanks to the dedication of our teams, I would recommend giving yourself six months to plan such an event. Again though, acting collaboratively, deliberately, and quickly with a can-do attitude is the best lesson learned from our experience at the DHS.

As a large federal agency made up of numerous component agencies, we know it’s difficult to get all of those moving parts working together, but our success is truly a testament to the feasibility of pulling this off. To streamline hiring for vital cybersecurity and IT positions, we leveraged agency-wide resources and came together to host an event as one entity. This type of cooperation was the first of its kind for us, and sets the stage for future collaboration. We chose to capitalize on our house of brands under the DHS umbrella, rather than compete against each other. For example, U.S. Customs and Border Protection took the lead with posting an agency-wide job announcement on behalf of all of DHS, which allowed us to work together as one. At the event, if a U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement hiring officer was impressed by a resume, but didn’t have a job for the candidate, he or she could turn to a colleague at the Secret Service and say “I have someone who you might be interested in hiring.” Rather than competing against each other, our components worked together. We even somehow managed to bring in a Coast Guard cutter to the event venue without so much as a scratch to put on full display the impressive and diverse mission of DHS.

Including the security clearance process was another key to our success. Before the event, we carefully evaluated the security clearance requirements for the open positions. We identified many positions that could be performed fully with a Secret rather than a Top Secret clearance to broaden our potential applicant pool. After candidates were extended tentative job offers, they were escorted to a room where they were fingerprinted and provided assistance in filling out the E-QIP form. We knew that all too often the security process is where we’ve lost excellent candidates. By beginning the paperwork at the hiring event, we eliminated one of the more daunting steps and helped the candidates become more invested in the process. This allowed us to bring on board well over 100 people within the first six weeks – an incredible feat considering the current timeline for background investigations.

Finally, I would like to emphasize that collaboration must start at the top with leaders who share mutual trust, interest in the success of each other’s offices, and a willingness to partner. I worked closely with my colleagues Luke McCormack, the Chief Information Officer of DHS, and Richard McComb, the Chief Security Officer of DHS. Our cooperation and communication was critical in setting the tone for inter-office collaboration between our teams. In the Federal IT community, we often speak of the need for more communication between various CXOs. When CXOs have a close working relationship, it not only makes hosting an event like this more feasible, but it also engenders innovative and collaborative problem-solving.

Through swift, thorough planning, determination, and creative collaboration, DHS was able to hire mission-critical cybersecurity and IT personnel, a process that would have otherwise taken over a year. If your agency wants to successfully hire cybersecurity and IT personnel, we’re more than glad to share our “playbook” with you.

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