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NSA Bills Itself as a 'Soft Landing Place' for Laid off Tech Workers
The intelligence agency has been quietly moving over the past few months to recruit talented workers affected by the wave of layoffs at tech companies and startups.
EDWARD GRAHAM |
FEBRUARY 7, 2023
As the tech sector continues to experience a massive wave of layoffs—with tens of thousands of workers let go over the past several months by behemoths like Alphabet, Amazon, Meta and Microsoft—the National Security Agency is joining the ranks of other federal agencies positioning themselves to benefit from the industry’s contraction.
Molly Moore, NSA’s deputy director of workforce support activities, told Nextgov that “we absolutely are trying to take advantage of these tech layoffs” to bolster the agency’s tech and cyber workforce. She said these efforts have included “augmenting [our] current recruitment strategy to reach these audiences through social media, participation at job fairs and expanding the locations of job postings.”
In a tweet last month responding to another users’ tweet about openings in the tech sector amid the wave of layoffs, NSA cybersecurity director Rob Joyce noted that NSA was hiring for cybersecurity, capability development and signals intelligence—or SIGINT—positions, and offered “an amazing stable opportunity if that is now a priority.”
Moore said that, when it comes to enticing talented tech workers to apply to the NSA through social media engagement, “tweets, like Rob’s, don’t hurt.”
“We are at an inflection point, where cybersecurity is a national imperative,” Joyce told Nextgov in a statement. “NSA is looking to bring in top-talent from early to mid-career/life stages across a variety of skill sets. Whether you’re new to NSA or the [intelligence community], or you’ve worked here before, there’s a path for you at NSA to be a part of this cutting-edge, fast-paced mission.”
In addition to more targeted candidate recruitment and social media outreach, NSA is leveraging existing internal services to streamline the hiring process for applicants coming from the private sector, as the agency seeks to expand its operations. This has included using a communications dashboard to enhance engagement with NSA applicants. The dashboard, which first went live in at the end of June 2022, has seen its use increase in recent months as the agency works to keep interested applicants informed about the agency’s hiring procedures and activities through more direct outreach.
In a January press release, NSA announced that it was “undertaking one of its largest hiring surges in 30 years with openings for over 3,000 new employees.” Moore said that over half of the positions NSA is hiring for are in cyber- and tech-related roles, including openings for “software engineers, systems engineers, capabilities development specialists, cybersecurity professionals, analysts, mathematicians and data scientists.”
To better recruit these talented workers, Moore added that the agency’s intent is “to dedicate resources to try to streamline some of the processes” around hiring—efforts that included an initial, more targeted recruitment drive which has evolved into a broader hiring campaign.
From October through December, NSA ran a LinkedIn recruitment initiative that contacted identified tech workers “who were affected by that first wave of layoffs” rippling through the tech sector, according to Moore.
Christine Parker, senior strategist for talent management at NSA, told Nextgov that this initial campaign—which she said resulted in “an influx of applications”—entailed “reaching out via LinkedIn to people who had those tech companies in their profiles,” as well as “putting some social media information out there, getting on job boards like CareerBuilder and Indeed and putting some notes on our intelligencecareers.gov site, where you can go and look up NSA’s open vacancies.”
NSA launched a second tech-focused hiring campaign on Jan. 9 to expand the scope of its initial recruitment drive, with an emphasis once more on using LinkedIn to contact laid off tech workers and leveraging social media to spread the word about the agency’s vacancies. This new effort—which the agency plans to run through mid-March—is designed, in part, to “keep up with the companies that are experiencing layoffs,” and to “put messages out there that NSA is a soft landing place for people,” according to Parker.
An NSA spokesperson told Nextgov that, to date, the agency’s recruitment efforts have resulted in the agency hiring approximately 1,000 new employees for tech, cyber, intelligence and business positions.
“We do have more specific activities that we're going to try to undertake, including really trying to apply additional resources to the hiring of these folks, and really trying to shepherd people through the process,” Moore added, citing the difficulties that workers from the private sector can face when trying to navigate the government’s hiring platforms.
Parker said the agency’s communications dashboard has helped to overcome some of these challenges by providing applicants with more direct information about the hiring process, such as updates on their applications and answers to any questions that they might have.
“A single recruiter isn't going to be able to send a personal message to every applicant in their portfolio,” Parker said. “The dashboard lets us do that at a larger volume with some targeted messaging—it might not be 100% personal, but it’s targeted. And it’s helping people know we're still here, that we’re tracking you and we know you're in our pipeline and we still want you to come on board at the end of this process.”
NSA is also factoring longer-term national security priorities into its recruitment efforts. Moore cited comments that Gen. Paul Nakasone—NSA director and the commander of U.S. Cyber Command—and Defense Department officials previously made about China being America’s “pacing challenge” to underscore some of the intelligence issues that NSA is looking to address with its new hires.
“How do we posture ourselves to be ready to really take on that challenge?” Moore asked. “That will require language analysts, it will require intelligence analysts. So it really covers the whole scope of job roles and fields that we have here.”
Other federal agencies are also working to pivot their hiring and recruiting efforts to take advantage of the tech sector’s wide-reaching layoffs. The Department of Veterans Affairs launched a hiring initiative in late 2022 to help fill roughly 1,000 tech-related vacancies across the department. VA’s chief people officer told Nextgov last month that the recruitment drive has helped the department fill more than 25% of its tech-focused vacancies, with hundreds of candidates waiting in the pre-selection stage.
When it comes to enticing laid off tech workers to join NSA, Moore said that potential applicants should consider the invaluable contributions that their skills could have on NSA’s intelligence and security operations moving forward.
“NSA is here, we're hiring stable and we work on really hard problems,” Moore said. “And so we really are looking for some of the best and brightest to help us with those problems.”