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Undifferentiated Firm Seeks Carbon-Based Lifeform with Polygraph August 30, 2010

Posted by stanleyreidrecruiting in HIghly Cleared Candidates.
2 comments

When I read a recent Washington Post article about a security clearance job fair, I cringed – a lot. I don’t want to use this blog as a place to vent, but I feel I need to on this point.

People referred to as a “valuable prize”?

A “feeding frenzy” analogy used to describe the the incredibly important process of carefully choosing where to work, which company to be at to build your career, and the place you spend 40+ hours a week?

I actually had a company once tell me that their hiring need was “anyone with an active full-scope poly who can fog a mirror”.

This transactional approach to “recruiting” is dehumanizing.

Why would anyone want to work for a company with that attitude?  What happened to the concept of making a good cultural match between a person and a potential employer?  What about career growth opportunity?  What about the relationship between a person and their boss/career mentor?  What about the QUALITY of a person’s skills and their INTERESTS instead of just whether they’ve passed a polygraph?

This obsession over “getting the person with the polygraph so I can get them billing and fill my slot” is also a waste of taxpayer dollars.  No one should be hired just because they have a polygraph and happen to have a resume that matches up nicely to the specifics of a labor category and a slot on a task order.  Have you ever sat next to someone and shook your head and wondered why they ever got hired? Thank the “feeding frenzy” mindset.

Finally, and most importantly, a rush to hire because of a polygraph lessens the effectiveness of work being done.  This isn’t just about taxpayer dollars.  The programs these highly-cleared people work on directly affect national security and the lives of both our military men and women and civilians.  We need spectacular teams of people who are in the right roles, and who are happy and successful because they are in the right companies for them.  Those high-performing teams cannot be hired in this transactional manner.

My job as a search consultant is to make good matches.  I learn about where people want to take their careers and what they are truly passionate about, and then I find the companies that can provide them an environment that fosters their growth and lets them chase those passions. Yes, almost everyone has a polygraph who I work with, and yes, they all make a lot of money because the supply and demand curve is skewed – but it is my job to get people to the place where they are SUPPOSED TO BE.

If this makes sense to you, stay home the next time the career fair is in town and give me a call instead so I can treat you like an individual human being with a specific desire for your future, instead of warm body with a clearance.  Thanks for listening.

(To read the article that caused this rant, go to http://bit.ly/bsn8M0)

– Ron Stanley

Ron is the co-owner of Stanley Reid & Company, a search firm specializing in placing highly cleared technology professionals in the DC and Baltimore area and a former software engineer and technical project manager.

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Does Resume Quality Matter in the Highly Cleared Market? March 2, 2010

Posted by stanleyreidrecruiting in HIghly Cleared Candidates.
1 comment so far

I hate to say this (because it makes me feel old) but when I started looking for my first real job out of grad school, the concept of submitting a resume “on-line” didn’t exist. The closet thing was faxing a copy of your resume to a potential employer with the expectation that you would send a “clean” copy on really nice paper via the US mail the same day.  Today, the thought of actually buying special resume paper and mailing a resume seems quaint and quite frankly, useless. Job applicants, recruiters and employers (especially in the cleared space) move at a pace that doesn’t support formality and etiquette. But does that mean that you can slap anything out there, call it a resume, and expect to get contacted by the people with the best jobs?  If you are a full-scope poly software engineer, the answer is probably yes – people with high clearances and high-demand skills can get away with a less than outstanding resume. But, I would argue, you are selling yourself short and maybe missing the best job for you.

So why take the time to create a stellar resume if you are highly cleared and in demand?

  1. Consider it preparation for your interview cycle: There is no doubt that having a clearance and in-demand skill set will get you lots of interviews but after that, it is up to you to sell yourself to potential employers.  Taking the time to craft a resume that tells your story is an excellent way to think about your career goals, what you have achieved in your current and past positions, and what you want in your next one.  Giving examples of how your efforts led to follow-on worked, saved a doomed project, or landed a new client will leave a much better impression on a hiring manager than “I’ve coded in Java for 10 years”.  And having a vision of where you want your career to go can show a hiring manager how you potentially fit in their company.
  2. The best companies with the most interesting work aren’t looking to hire a body with a clearance:  If you are simply looking for your next gig and don’t care about the type of work you are doing or the project you are on, then a standard resume will get probably get you what you want. But, if you are looking for your next career move, a role you can stay in for years at a company you admire and who hires the best, having an above average resume is a must. Believe it or not, one of our highly-cleared software engineering candidates told us a company refused to interview him because there was a small typo on his resume.  The internal recruiter who reviewed it felt if the candidate didn’t have enough attention to detail to catch this, he wouldn’t live up to his standards for the job.  Granted, this is an extreme example, but it does show that resumes are the first impression an employer has of you.
  3. Your resume is probably going to be first reviewed by a non-technical person who makes the initial up/down decision on you: Most internal and agency recruiters are not technologists.  Have a clean, easy to read resume that clearly states your clearance level, the technologies you use, and your job titles will help you get past the initial hurdle and on to the people who really need to see your resume. As an agency recruiter, I act as an intermediary for my candidates with HR reps at my clients. I can help push along a resume that might not be as attention grabbing or advocate for someone who has switched jobs recently and is unhappy. But, if you are working on your own, you won’t have an advocate to speak on your behalf other than your resume. Make sure it is saying the right things about you.

A few final thoughts on resumes. There is no magic way to craft your resume that will make is the best one ever. You can find thousands of “how to write the best resume” entries on Google, each one telling you something different. There are even people who will write your resume for you for a fee. I look at hundreds of resumes of technologists every week week. Here are my thoughts on how you can improve what you have:

  • Use the “Objectives” section to tell the reader what you want, not what you think they want to hear – “I am seeking a senior software engineering role using Java and Groovy that requires a full-scope poly clearance, has technical management duties, and is located within 25 miles of Columbia, MD”. This gives you reader much more clarity than “Seeking a challenging position as a senior software engineer with a top-notch company”.
  • Keep it short, focused and clear. Tell me up front what your clearance is or tell me you aren’t comfortable putting it on your resume and to call you for the details. Tell me the technologies you are proficient with and don’t include the programming language you used 15 years ago in your Programming 301 course at State U.
  • Bullet point the key highlights of your positions and what you contributed. Don’t write long or multiple paragraphs about each task did on the job. Don’t recount the entire history of the program at your current employer or paste the informational statement from your employers website about what the company does. No one cares!!
  • Run spell check and grammar check and have someone else read it for clarity and typos (preferably a non-technical person).

Mary Reid Stanley

Mary is the co-owner of Stanley Reid & Company, a search consulting firm specializing in placing highly cleared technology professionals in the DC and Baltimore area.

Engaging a Search Consultant – A Case Study for Highly Cleared Professionals February 2, 2010

Posted by stanleyreidrecruiting in HIghly Cleared Candidates.
1 comment so far

Here is a true story about a candidate we worked with last fall.

“Jim” is a polygraph cleared software engineer.  He loves to code and wanted a new project at a new place to help him move on after some changes in his life.  Jim did what many people do when they want a new job – he posted his resume on several online job boards.

Our research team came across Jim, and while we don’t normally work with “active” candidates, I do like to talk with people, learn what kinds of things they are looking for in their career, and potentially work with them down the road.  By the time we talked with Jim (about 8 hours after he posted), he had already been contacted by at least a dozen recruiters. As the day wore on, that number increased rapidly. By days end Jim had received over 50 messages – each recruiter promising him that they had the perfect job in the perfect location at the perfect salary, all without ever having talked to him about what he wanted in a new position.

As the week wore on, we couldn’t reach Jim. We had given up when out of the blue we received an email from him. He had been screening all his calls due to the number of recruiters contacting him and had changed his email address as well. He let us know that he did want to talk to us since we weren’t pushing a specific job, and he gave us some times he would be near his phone and the “secret code” to get him to answer.  While we didn’t end up placing Jim at one of our clients, we did help him figure out what he was really looking for in a new job and which players in the market could help him get where he wanted to be at this point in his life. We also told him the next time he wanted to make a job switch to contact us or another search consultant he liked to conduct a private and confidential search on his behalf.  Jim learned a hard lesson about posting on job boards, especially if you have a clearance.

So what are your options if you are highly cleared and want to explore new job opportunities? Well, hopefully you won’t post your resume on a job board, unless you want to change your telephone number, your email address, and move!   You could spend all your free time surfing job boards, designing a search string and then reading through hundreds of postings, applying to the ones that interest you, following up, fielding phone calls from recruiters, coordinating interviews, following up after interviews, reviewing offers and negotiating better offers all while working your current job, spending time with your family, and attending to all the other things in your life. Oh, and most of this has to be done during lunch, in the evening, and on the weekends because you are in a secure facility all day.

The other option is to engage a search consultant to conduct a confidential search on your behalf.  A good search consultant will spend several hours getting to know you in depth – beyond the standard “how much money do you want” or “what is a tolerable commute” interview that a lot of high volume recruiters conduct. Search consultants really dig into what motivates you and your wish list for professional growth. They then take this information and evaluate it against a large portfolio of clients and identify any that they believe can provide you with an appropriate opportunity.  Once you decide which companies you want to be presented to, the search consultant then coordinates all aspects of the process, from initial interview through offer negotiation. You have one point of contact during the process and an advocate for your career growth.  There is no charge for this service – the company that hires you pays the search consultant a fee.

I encourage all highly cleared professionals to find a good search consultant before you want to make a move. Establish the relationship early and be prepared for when you want to make a move. And who knows, you might find that your next great position is already waiting for you.

Mary Reid Stanley

Mary is the co-owner of Stanley Reid & Company, a search firm specializing in placing highly cleared technology professionals in the DC and Baltimore area.