A Talk With Katie Helbling – How the Cleared Recruitment Space is Evolving in 2024

May 22, 2024

The cleared recruitment industry is constantly evolving. Employers and candidates must stay updated on the latest developments to keep up with the shifts transforming this space. Recently, we had the pleasure of speaking with Katie Helbling from ClearanceJobs, who, apart from her extensive experience in the cleared recruitment space, has her finger on the pulse of trends and challenges in this niche sector. Our discussion covered everything from recent security clearance reforms and data security concerns to the persistent shortage of cleared workforce and the valuable role of veterans in the industry.

This interview aims to provide valuable insights for both employers and candidates in the cleared space, shedding light on how businesses can navigate the complexities of recruitment and stay ahead in a competitive market.

Katie, as someone deeply involved in the cleared recruitment space, could you discuss some of the significant trends you’ve observed this year? How are factors like security clearance reforms such as Trusted Workforce 2.0 and data security concerns reshaping recruitment strategies?

Katie: Wowza at how the security clearance process has been through some serious overhauls over the last few years (and especially since I’ve entered the industry). With the implementation of Trusted Workforce 2.0, we saw a significant decrease in backlog numbers for those applying for a security clearance due to the mechanisms of Continuous Vetting (CV). What CV means for a clearance holder is automated record checks against databases surrounding terrorism, foreign travel, financial or credit activities, criminal records, public records, etc. After a few years and more applicants hoping to enter the cleared hiring realm, we are seeing a slight uptick in numbers. DoD/Industry applicants or security officers who have submitted an applicant’s packet have likely observed a rise in security clearance processing times, though. Various outages and system problems in recent months have led to an increase in the overall processing duration for security clearances. From a recruitment perspective, this obviously affects hiring managers who don’t have a large enough candidate pool to staff all programs across the DoD and the intelligence community. Slower clearance processing times could mean staffing shortages or workforce issues in the cleared space over the next several months.

Thanks, that was insightful. Speaking of workforce issues, the ongoing shortage of cleared professionals is critical. From your perspective, what are the most effective strategies that employers are adopting to attract and retain top talent in this competitive market?

Katie: This is why I have a love/hate relationship with recruiting! Love that I’m not in the thick of it anymore because sometimes it’s so tough, but I also love that I still get to somewhat touch the topic and help those that are still in the recruiting trenches. The amount of cleared openings compared to the currently cleared population does not match up. In hopes of building more robust cleared candidate pipelines, both contractors and federal agencies working in this space need to make the long game of recruitment a priority by engaging in organizations and campaigns aimed at getting the next generations interested in cleared careers. Engaging with other sources of cleared candidates like Hiring Our Heroes and becoming certified skill-bridge employers, to serve as an intern for active duty military can also fuel your candidate pipelines once they transition out of the military. Asking for waivers on hard-to-fill positions for candidates who may not meet the minimum requirements can help get billets staffed and offer upskilling opportunities for already-cleared candidates.

Right. Another question: with technology rapidly advancing, what innovations in recruitment technology do you find most promising for improving the efficiency and effectiveness of the hiring process in the cleared space?

Katie: Being adaptable to the changing tech landscape is an absolute MUST as a recruiter. You have to work smarter, not harder, and technology can help you do this to save time and fill billets faster. ClearanceJobs employs its unique technology to try to do this: our Intellisearch function helps to match candidates without having to be a boolean ninja, and our workflow tool helps to automate tasks that can sometimes be monotonous for recruiters in the daily grind. Both have some AI capability, which is obviously a hot topic today. But CJ isn’t the only AI recruiters should be using. Here are three other ways hiring professionals can utilize artificial intelligence.

1. AI-powered tools can automate repetitive tasks that traditionally consume a considerable portion of recruiters’ time, such as resume screening and initial candidate outreach. These systems are capable of parsing through thousands of applications, identifying those that best match the job requirements. This automation not only accelerates the hiring process but also ensures that human biases are minimized, leading to more objective selection criteria and reducing the costs associated with prolonged hiring cycles. Check out Manatal, a platform equipped with various tools to enhance and simplify your recruitment procedures. One highlight includes a career page builder that enables you to craft an appealing career page effortlessly, even without coding skills.

2. AI enhances the quality of hires by leveraging predictive analytics. By analyzing patterns in data, AI can predict which candidates are likely to succeed in a role, thus improving employee retention rates. High turnover rates are financially draining for companies, involving costs related to severance, replacement hiring, and training. By ensuring a better initial match between the job and the candidate, AI substantially lowers these expenses. Check out HiredScore, which offers various modules for HR management, with one specifically designed to boost recruiters’ productivity. Utilizing a proprietary AI tool, HiredScore assigns a score to each candidate based on their alignment with your requirements.

3. AI-driven platforms provide valuable insights into the recruitment process itself, enabling continuous improvement. These systems can identify bottlenecks and inefficiencies, suggest optimal recruitment channels, and even forecast future hiring needs based on business trends. This strategic planning capability means companies can allocate their resources more effectively, avoiding overstaffing or understaffing scenarios that lead to financial waste. Explore Flowster, an AI-driven tool for business process management mapping. This process utilizes machine learning algorithms and data analysis to identify inefficiencies, bottlenecks, and areas for improving your business processes.

Makes sense. Could you share your insights on the benefits and challenges of veteran recruiting, especially in the cleared industry? iQuasar is a proud participant in the Virginia Values Veterans (V3) initiative, focusing on integrating veterans into our workforce.

Katie: Absolutely love V3! I encouraged some of the contractors I supported in the industry to get certified. Hiring veterans can have many benefits, including building a workforce with a strong work ethic, creating the next generation of leaders in the cleared space, showcasing adaptability and resilience, and bringing in technical and specialized training that adds to cleared workspaces. Military service teaches and cultivates leadership skills that translate smoothly into the roles of supervisor, manager, and other “high-up” positions. With 200K service members transitioning out of the armed forces each year (so long as military branches reach their recruitment goals), engaging with veteran talent is critical since many obtain a security clearance through service.

Given our readership primarily comprises small businesses in government contracting, what advice would you offer them to stay competitive and successful in recruiting cleared professionals? How can they leverage industry trends to their advantage?

Katie: That’s absolutely my bread and butter – when I was supporting industry, I always preferred the small or mid-sized contractors that you can grow with. However, it can be difficult in the defense industrial base to get ahead of contractors who have been household names for decades. As a small contractor, leveraging strategic partnerships as a part of the proposal process, funded work, and business development are key to positioning yourself as successful in this industry. Relations between prime and subcontractors, so you are guaranteed positions on contracts (instead of best athlete staffing), means you are generating revenue while BD and recruiting work together to execute and avoid gaps in mission due to vacant billets. Attracting the right talent as a small contractor also means showcasing your employer brand – while large names are going to continue to receive candidate applications, small contractors need to be a step ahead in showcasing why growth within a small company is attractive to cleared candidates – whether that’s flexibility in learning the business, upward career mobility, opportunity to grow skillsets, or less red tape.

Looking ahead, what changes or innovations do you predict will further influence the cleared recruitment industry in the next few years?

Katie: I believe cleared recruiters and hiring professionals are going to continue to feel frustrations as less people enlist in the military and the ball continues to be in the cleared job seekers’ court. This is why recruiters will need to advance their tactical knowledge on the best recruiting practices and technology to employ – and why metrics and reporting will be critical to avoid time-wasting tactics that just don’t work to reach cleared talent.

Conclusion

Thank you, Katie, for sharing your insights on the cleared recruitment industry’s trends and challenges. Staying informed and adaptable are key to navigating the evolving landscape of government contracting and recruitment.

For our readers, especially those operating small businesses in the government contracting space, we hope this discussion has provided you with actionable strategies and a better understanding of how to effectively attract and retain the talent necessary to fulfill your government contracts.

Katie Helbling is an experienced cleared recruitment and hiring professional specializing in the Department of Defense and Intelligence Community industries. She navigates the security clearance and hiring processes adeptly, offering valuable insights and professional tips. Currently, she works as Content Marketing Manager at ClearanceJobs, focusing on blogging, technical recruiting, marketing, outreach, and communications.

At iQuasar, we specialize in helping government contractors find and hire cleared personnel, ensuring you have the skilled workforce needed to meet your contractual obligations. With our extensive experience and tailored approach, we assist you in navigating the complexities of cleared recruitment, offering end-to-end support that saves you time and ensures compliance with all federal regulations.

If you’re looking to strengthen your team with qualified, cleared professionals, don’t hesitate to reach out to us.

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