How Agencies are Overhauling the Hiring Process
The Department of Homeland Security has made an even more comprehensive push to jump-start its cyber hiring.
“We launched the DHS Cybersecurity Service last year, and it is one of the most, if not the most, significant or ambitious changes to how the federal government recruits, hires and retains cybersecurity personnel,” CIO Eric Hysen says.
The Cybersecurity Service offers streamlined hiring processes, more competitive compensation structures and career development opportunities. It “still meets the unique requirements of the federal government, but it looks a lot closer to the systems that I used in the private sector,” says Hysen, who previously worked as a program manager at Google.
DHS has widened its aperture as it evaluates potential cyber hires. “We are able to evaluate candidates based on technical skills, not just based on a lengthy federal resume. We have more flexibility in how we match them to different roles and how we offer compensation that can more closely compete with the private sector,” Hysen says.
DHS had to get explicit congressional authority to increase its cyber salaries — an avenue that other agencies may be unable to pursue. However, other aspects of what DHS is doing could be available across the federal space, Hysen says.
For example, “there’s a tremendous amount of flexibility” in how an agency evaluates potential hires, he says. DHS is using the Subject Matter Expert Qualification Assessments process for its large hiring push around improved customer experience. That’s a model that other agencies could replicate in the search for cyber talent.
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“We have subject matter experts — practicing designers, product managers, engineers — who are reviewing the resumes rather than having HR professionals take that first step. We’re then asking for written assessments and doing technical interviews with subject matter experts” at the start of the hiring process, Hysen says.
That broad-lens approach can help agencies identify and onboard candidates who might be overlooked in a more conventional recruiting effort. For this strategy to work, however, leadership may need to drive a cultural shift. “This is not your traditional federal hiring,” Hysen says.
In ramping up the Cybersecurity Service, “the first thing that we’ve learned is there is a lot more involvement required from hiring managers and our employees overall throughout the hiring process — participating in evaluating assessments, interviewing candidates and helping close them once they get an offer,” he says.
While the pivot takes work, DHS already sees positive results.
With an initial focus on hiring for the Office of the CIO and the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, “we’ve issued over 100 offers to date,” Hysen says. “We’re bringing folks into our two organizations first. We’re then going to expand to additional roles, skill sets and other parts of the department.”
Leveraging Social Media to Optimize Talent Acquisition
While internships and social media can help federal agencies cast a wider net, reeling in the catch remains problematic, given the often protracted timelines involved in federal hiring. Naturally, agencies are looking for tools to accelerate the process.
At the CIA, Randall says the agency leverages modernized tools in support of more effective and timely engagements with potential hires. “We are in the midst of digitizing a lot of our processes,” she says. “We want to be more accessible, with a focus on electronic communications to connect directly with applicants and reduce timelines.”
At DOE, Gettings is a big fan of the direct hire authority, which “cuts out a couple of steps in the hiring process,” he says. “OPM allows for direct hire authority for critical needs and specific occupations, and cybersecurity is one of the few areas where the government can do a direct hire.”
OPM’s Saunders is also a proponent of this approach.
“We use the direct hire authorities that OPM offers, which helps, especially for cyber talent and IT talent,” he says. “It’s my favorite way to hire individuals into the cybersecurity division. It’s really my primary method at this point, versus the traditional approach, which has a few more requirements that definitely slow down the process.”