The federal government is in hot competition with the private sector for potential cyberworkers. Agencies are testing unusual ways to stand above the crowd of public and private sector employers competing for a limited supply of professionals, using webinars, mentoring programs and YouTube to find them.
Of the 300,000 cybersecurity positions open in the U.S., about 13,000 are in the public sector, according to CyberSeek, a National Initiative for Cybersecurity Education online tool that collects jobs data.
The private sector can attract people with salaries and benefits that the government can’t always match, so public sector recruiters need to be creative. Leave behind the stereotypes and assumptions about where workers might come from, says Karen Evans, former director of the U.S. Cyber Challenge.
“In a tough market, you’ve got to try alternative approaches,” she says.
Here are candidate pools that are often overlooked, but shouldn’t be:
Liberal Arts Majors Can Offer Soft Skills
Candidates with an academic background in English, psychology, geography, political science and even philosophy can inject a cybersecurity team with much-needed soft skills.
These potential workers bring research experience, written and oral communication skills, practice in collaborative thinking and a passion for learning — talents that form the foundation of the Labor Department’s Cybersecurity Competency Model.
A primary example: Tyson Meadors, director of cybersecurity policy for the National Security Council, has an English degree, which, he’s told audiences, comes in handy when explaining highly technical topics to nontechnical audiences.
Veterans Bring Unique Cybersecurity Skills
They sometimes lack a four-year degree, but veterans bring unique skills and experiences that fit particularly well with cybersecurity work: technical aptitude, people skills, collaboration, time management, problem-solving, and the ability work under pressure and within a team.
Veterans are also eligible to receive free cybersecurity training through the Department of Homeland Security’s Federal Virtual Training Environment.
Agencies Can Recruit Current Students for Cybersecurity Work
Some of the most talented cybersecurity candidates aren’t even in college yet. Agencies can identify talented high school and new college students through programs like CyberStart, a SANS Institute offering that helps identify and foster cyber talent at a young age, and the U.S. Cyber Challenge, which offers camps, competitions and internship placement.
Shadow work days, internships and the Office of Personnel Management’s Scholarship for Service program can help sell young talent on the benefits of a career in public service and prepare them for that career at the same time, says Evans.
Keep Cyberworkers Engaged Once They Are on Board
Once an agency has found a promising candidate, keeping that person is another thing altogether, says Angela Bailey, chief human capital officer for the Department of Homeland Security.
She and her team have made keeping cyber talent happy as much of a priority as getting them on board. Their tactics include pay incentives, such as student loan repayment and bonuses for certification, job flexibility, and ever-changing projects and responsibilities that keep the job interesting.
If someone does choose to leave, DHS makes a point to stay in touch. “We hope to eventually lure that person back after they’ve done something in the private sector or at another agency, because we believe this is a team sport and everyone benefits from well-experienced talent,” Bailey says.