Most people are reluctant to change jobs during an economic downturn, but that may not be the best approach right now.
More than 40 million Americans have filed for unemployment and the coronavirus has rocked industries from retail to restaurants. While government and the defense industry have experienced significant shifts in how work is done, defense industry employers cite thousands of open positions that still need to be filled.
Career websites note an increase in activity, but that doesn’t mean more candidates are willing to make a move. Traditionally, a recession has proved a difficult time to attract passive candidates into new positions.
“It's been different—it's been a little slower in that I don't get as many responses from candidates due to apprehension and things are so unknown right now,” said Casey Talley, recruiting manager at Integral Consulting Services. “They don't even want to consider a new job opportunity given the uncertain circumstances.”
That’s not necessarily unsound judgment. When everything around you seems uncertain, the stability of a good job is not something to take for granted. But with defense employers from Northrop Grumman to Lockheed Martin hiring, and small and mid-tier companies as well as government agencies listing thousands of openings, this may actually be a good time to make a move. You may need to cancel your summer vacation, but it doesn’t mean you need to cancel your plans for career progression.
Here are five reasons why you should consider a move:
1. You have the time. While the overall unemployment rate has skyrocketed, many national security workers, particularly those in tech jobs, are still employed but working from home or shifting to a 50% telework schedule or shift work to maintain social distancing. Those who spend most days in a Secure Compartmented Information Facility (SCIF) are typically unable to receive messages from recruiters or troll career prospects during daytime hours. But with the coronavirus creating opportunities for some cleared workers to telework for the first time, some recruiters are finding it easier to reach candidates.
“From a recruiting aspect; my job really never stops,” said Gary Goss, recruiting manager at ProSol. “I am constantly networking and talking with people to cultivate a relationship, with the hope that a job I have will match their skills and we can mutually agree to work together.”
2. You know your priorities. Typically, you are fully engaged in the rhythms and routines of daily life— daycare drop off, commuting to work and back again. There’s little time for considering what’s working and what isn’t—you’re just trying to catch the train on time or navigate school drop-offs. But with coronavirus shaking up every possible line-item on your agenda, you may have a clearer picture of what is important and what isn’t. Was your one-hour commute killing you, and is it time to look for a job closer to home? Do you need to find new childcare options, and will that be easier from a different location? If the coronavirus has helped to show you what you really want, now is the time to go out and find it.
3. You can better ascertain an organization's priorities. No company or government agency is walking around talking about their garbage culture and failure to take care of employees. Unless you know someone currently working at a company, it’s hard to tell what’s a real value and what just makes for a great bullet point on a web page. A crisis like the one we’re experiencing today brings real relevance to the term “unprecedented.” It’s clear some companies and agencies have the leadership and agility to respond and others don’t. If you want to know how a company will take care of you during a personal crisis, consider how they’ve responded to this crisis.
Perfection isn’t attainable. There will always be bad managers and unique experiences. But many employees at leading defense industry employers and government agencies have been quick to praise the responsiveness of their employers, their willingness to put them into training programs rather than furlough, and empathetic leaders who have leveled with employees about the challenges and their responses. If you’ve seen a company and thought “man, I wish I worked there,” now may be the time.
4. Companies and federal agencies are still hiring. While many employers have had to implement furloughs or layoffs, the majority of defense industry employers report that business is running as usual, and hiring requirements are still out there. Some candidates have falsely assumed there is currently a government hiring freeze, but agencies note they are still hiring. Some things may be moving slower, but even the security clearance background investigation process has been moving forward, making minor adjustments to ensure new hires can get onboarded and begin work.
“DCSA has implemented maximum use of telework flexibilities across the agency in response to the spread of COVID-19,” noted DCSA spokesperson Cynthia McGovern when asked about DCSA’s response to the coronavirus at the beginning of the pandemic. “In doing so this has required adjustments in methods used to contact subjects, sources, and providers of record information. Such methods include virtual interviews and remote access to records.” Subject interviews and even some security clearance appeals cases are still being heard via secure VTC solutions. Security clearance processing times have improved dramatically over the past two quarters, and DCSA officials note they expect to continue those gains, not see coronavirus-related delays.
5. You can pace your communication. Waiting 98 days—the length of time it typically takes a federal agency to hire a new employee—to learn if you’ve been selected for a new job would normally be painful, but during a pandemic, it might be tolerable. If you’re considering a federal job, you need to be applying and networking today to be ready to land a job this fall. Hiring managers working remotely may have more time to respond to your messages, so start reaching out and making connections now.
Government contractors can typically onboard candidates much faster than the government, but that doesn’t mean the process won’t take time, especially if you need to obtain a security clearance. If you think you may be ready for a career transition any time in the next year, now is the time to start making career-minded communication a priority. Build your network of program managers and recruiters within your field and consider the opportunities out there. Even with more candidates in the market, recruiters are working to find the right combination of skills and experience. Don’t let the thought that you’ll have to fight through the competition keep you from considering a move.
An economic slowdown can stall career progression and create salary stagnation. But that doesn’t have to be your reality, particularly if you’re working in the national security space. Network, communicate, and be open to opportunity—it’s still out there.