NEWS + ADVICE
Here’s What You Need to Do If You Have a Secret Clearance
Have you ever said, “I only have a Secret” when talking about your clearance? We’ve heard this phrase often, especially when speaking with military personnel that haven’t used their clearance outside of the military yet. But we’re here to tell you not to discount that Secret clearance in your back pocket.
Though a Secret clearance may be a lower-level clearance in comparison to a Top Secret or TS/SCI (perhaps with a polygraph too), it still checks an important box that opens doors to a wide variety of employment opportunities in the cleared community that would otherwise be off the table.
So if you have a Secret clearance and you want to know how to leverage that fact while also standing out from your competition, consider our tips to improve your cleared job search at the Secret level.
Supply and Demand of Secret Opportunities
“For those that are saying, ‘I only have a Secret,’ let me tell you, at Katmai, 75% of our open positions require a Secret clearance,” shares Taylor Hayes, Talent Acquisition Assistant Manager at Katmai Government Services. “You have a number of job opportunities available to you, and that’s just at my company. So considering the job market as a whole, and federal contracting as a whole, you have almost endless job opportunities.”
In fact, of all the cleared opportunities on ClearedJobs.Net, jobs requiring a Secret clearance are the most common. You may read into that as either a positive or negative. More jobs mean more opportunities—but those opportunities may have more candidates competing for the same roles, since a Secret isn’t the highest clearance, and therefore more people are likely to have one.
“The market for Secret clearances is much more competitive because it’s kind of a base entry point for having a clearance,” admits Chad Clary, Senior Program Manager at V2X. “But that doesn’t necessarily mean that everyone that applies to a Secret level job qualifies for that job.”
How In-Demand Are Your Skills
While there are thousands of job openings that require a Secret clearance, you’re not going to be interested in or qualified for them all. Depending on your area of expertise alone, there are more or less openings to pursue than the next cleared job seeker has.
As you know, supply affects demand. The ease of your cleared job search depends on your skills, how in-demand those skills are, your geography, and your competition.
When it comes to the amount of competition for each role, Taylor explains it often has more to do with the type of job than merely the clearance level. “A software engineering opening has more competition than a scientific researcher,” says Taylor. “Both can require Secret clearances, but you just don’t have as many people that go into research as engineering.”
“Some jobs are very specialized,” explains Chad. “So candidates who have experience in those areas are not going to have as much difficulty trying to find a job.”
Chad adds, your competition “depends on the position and location, as well as the certification or job requirements. So if there’s a Secret position that requires one or multiple professional level certifications, then that talent pool would be smaller.”
“If it’s a less stringent job requirement, then yes, the competition is probably a little steeper,” says Chad. “But I would not dissuade anyone from applying. You might get 10 applicants for one position and only two are actually qualified.”
“Don’t ever let yourself or your resume be the reason that you don’t attempt to get your foot in the door,” urges Chad.
Showcase Your Skills and Experience to Stand Out from the Pack
While it’s always a good idea to lead with your strengths, it’s especially important you take the time to market yourself effectively when the competition is stiff.
“For generic roles — let’s say, system administrators, where they might be more common — you want to make sure you include all relevant work experience in your resume,” explains Chad.
Whenever there are more resumes in the recruiter’s pile, the question becomes, how do I stand out? Hint, hint – it’s not with fancy formatting or fonts. The key is to tailor your resume to the job description to make sure you demonstrate how your skills and experience match up to the requirements.
This is especially important for transitioning military job seekers. You need to make sure your military experience translates to a civilian recruiter who may not understand military jargon.
If a recruiter can’t quickly see that you meet the requirements of the job by looking at your resume, they’re likely going to move on to the next applicant in the stack. A resume doesn’t land you a job, but it can land you the interview, so don’t let it stand in your way.
Invest in Professional Development
Another way to make yourself more marketable is to commit to professional development. Think about how you can best stay current with industry trends, technologies, and certifications relevant to your field.
If you’re not sure where to begin, look at job postings – even if you’re not actively looking for a job. If you study the requirements for the next job you want to obtain, you’ll understand which areas you need to pursue additional education or knowledge in.
“A good chunk of federal tech positions require a Secret clearance, but they also require a CompTIA or C++ certification in my experience,” notes Taylor. “So the certifications can really make you stand out.”
If you have a certification in the works, you can note the date it’s expected on your resume. Read here to see how you can safely include in-progress certifications on your resume. Depending on the timeline and contract requirements, you may be up for consideration by including that one detail on your resume.
Aside from formal education and certifications, you can also gain skills and experience by participating in industry activities. For instance, if you’re in cybersecurity, getting involved in Capture the Flag competitions, or honing your skills in a home lab are additional ways you can bolster your resume to show your commitment to continued learning.
Leverage Networking Opportunities
When there’s competition, your network is your best friend. Your network can help you uncover opportunities (aka the hidden job market) and give you valuable job search intel.
Perhaps most importantly though, networking is how you get referrals. When recruiters have a lot of candidates to consider, referrals let them know who to focus on. It saves them time, and ensures you’ll get noticed.
If you don’t know anyone at the company you’re applying to, no worries – there are other avenues you can take. Meeting face-to-face or even virtually with company representatives at Cleared Job Fairs are a great way to break the ice with a potential employer. Done right, you’re now more than a faceless resume.
Just be sure to always follow up with those you’ve met at job fairs, industry events or professional meetups to build on your initial interaction and add them to your network.
Extra Considerations for Transitioning Military Job Seekers
Remember how we mentioned the ease of your job search depends on multiple factors? One of those was your geography. If you’re going to relocate when you transition out of the military, think about where you can be most successful given your line of work.
Do some research on the front end to determine where the job opportunities are and what the cost of living is in various areas to increase your chances of success.
Talk with those who have transitioned before you. Again, your network can provide both opportunities and guidance.
And finally, make sure you understand the basics about your security clearance so that you can use it before you lose it. If you don’t get a job that actually uses your clearance, it will lapse.
“Even if you’re qualified, that ramp up period to getting a clearance reinstated is still time consuming,” warns Taylor. “So as you’re transitioning to the civilian world, absolutely ask questions. ‘Hey, I’m exiting. When does this expire?’”
The Secret to Success Lies in Your Hands
By valuing your clearance, acknowledging the competitive landscape, and implementing strategic approaches to maximize your marketability, you can position yourself for success in your cleared job search.
Remember, your clearance is just one piece of the puzzle—your skills, experience, and proactive approach to career advancement are equally important factors in achieving your professional goals. With determination and strategic planning, you can unlock the full potential of your Secret clearance and find a rewarding cleared career.
If you enjoyed Taylor Hayes and Chad Clary’s insights, be sure to listen to their podcast appearances on Security Cleared Jobs: Who’s Hiring and How to learn more about their companies and additional cleared job search tips.This entry was posted on Monday, February 05, 2024 9:00 am