A secretive government agency is publicly recruiting for STEM workers

Uncle Sam needs you, particularly for cybersecurity jobs

To keep the country safe, the National Security Agency (NSA) is a highly-secretive government organization. But when it comes to recruiting and developing top talent, the NSA is eager to spread the word in a very public way.

“We were, for a while, ‘No Such Agency,’ trying to operate in the background,” says Chris Parker, senior strategist for talent management at NSA.

Now, it’s using external partnerships to educate potential employees and upskill its current workforce. “There’s a ton of information available on our outward website,” Parker adds.

He says people with unique skills, previous experience, and looking for a career change can find a place with the agency. As a STEM agency, here are a few in-demand roles:

  • System analysts
  • Vulnerability analysts
  • Big data analysts
  • Data scientists
  • AI and ML experts
  • Various native language speakers
  • Finance and accounting professionals
  • Human resources trainers
  • Facilities
  • Logistics

High School Outreach

Outreach starts as early as high school, with a work-study program available to students in the local Washington, D.C. area. Students can work part time before they enter college. It provides early agency exposure to a broad range of positions including computer science, accounting, and office administration.

“It’s great experience for students and nice to have them in the office. They just bring a different perspective, a breath of fresh air,” Parker says. “And at the end of their experience, we’re trying to now help them out with interview skills.

“So, when they come in as a high school work-study, at the end of the tour, we’ll do mock interviews so our subject matter experts can give them feedback, [such as] what types of questions to expect and how to answer those questions. These are things they might not get experience with until they’re in that situation.”

More than 600 students were hired as college interns just last year. But the agency starts its relationship with higher education before students are on the cusp of graduating.

Parker says working with universities to develop curricula helps students learn the skills and qualifications the NSA is looking for to hire, particularly in the fields of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML).

The Cybersecurity Workforce

For cybersecurity, the agency has National Centers of Academic Excellence in Cybersecurity (NCAE-C) which partners with other federal agencies including the FBI, the Department of Defense, and others. Working with community colleges and four-year institutions, there are three designations academic institutions can choose from – cyber defense, cyber research, and cyber operations.

For example, California State University, San Bernardino, has been a Center for Academic Excellence in Cybersecurity for Cyber Defense since the early 2000s.

“When you apply to the NSA, we recognize you’re coming out of a program that’s been accredited by the Center for Academic Excellence,” Parker says. “We have a good understanding what you’re bringing in the door.”

Looking to Fill In-demand Roles

Like other hiring organizations, the NSA will participate in college career fairs to recruit, and at the same time, provide a subject matter expert to visit classrooms and speak to students about what it’s like to work for the agency, what type of roles it’s looking to fill, and perhaps most importantly – how to apply.

“Applying to work for the government isn’t the easiest thing,” Parker says. “If we’re in a classroom full of juniors and we tell them in their junior year, ‘You should be thinking about what you’re doing when you graduate, especially when you have an agency with security clearing processes.’ So, by the time they’re getting a degree, they’ve pushed far enough in the process to help us make a faster hiring decision.”

Military alumni and mid-level and higher professionals can also find opportunities with the NSA.

Partnering with the Private Sector

The agency also partners with the private sector for continuous upskilling of its workforce, developing training, designing coursework, and sometimes delivering the training. Parker says pivots are also possible once someone is part of the NSA. Obviously, requirements need to be met, but if, for example, a finance specialist wanted to switch to a career within the human capital department, the flexibility is there.

“We recognize you have to have various perspectives in order to solve really hard problems,” Parker says.

“We know we’re good at what we do, and we also know people are looking at problems from a different lens and partnerships, in that regard, is helpful for both of us. There are also things like force multipliers; there’s only so much time and so many people. The simple answer – we need help and hands on deck.”

Other government agencies are hiring for in-demand, high-skilled jobs. Find out more in this Work in Progress podcast.

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