“Without a doubt the most challenging market”: How to overcome recruitment hurdles within the security cleared market

“Without a doubt the most challenging market”: How to overcome recruitment hurdles within the security cleared market

Recruitment within the security cleared market has always been challenging. However, the last year and a half has presented several new challenges: lengthy (& lengthening!) security clearance process, national lockdowns, Brexit, and an increasing number of people leaving the sector- to name just a few.

In the blog below I’ll give my two cents on the issues facing the market currently (and affecting throughout the course of 2021). You’ll find insight and potential solutions to the problems we’re faced with both in this current moment and going forward.

Challenges in the security cleared market

Demand for security cleared candidates has always out-stripped supply- that’s nothing new. However, the gap between supply and demand is widening at pace. There is a UK-wide skill shortage for technical roles generally, but it is particularly apparent with emerging technologies. Add to that the unique requirements of Security Check (SC) or Developed Vetting (DV) cleared roles and there is a perceptible shortfall.

The number of SC cleared candidates only represents a fraction of the total availability in the market, and DV is even smaller. The supply problem covers most roles where a clearance is required. However, the area where the strain is most felt is within technology.

The pandemic exacerbated the problem due to vetting officers not being able to perform the clearance process as efficiently during the first lockdown. Things have improved as working remotely became the new norm, but there is still a large backlog of candidates waiting for clearance- especially with DV.

Another challenge is candidates leaving the sector. Security cleared roles have traditionally required employees to be on-site due to the nature of the work, but Covid-19 forced many employees to stay at home. Whilst this has been excellent for the digital revolution (and more successful than any government initiative I can think of), it has made employees reconsider office working. I don’t think this is a bad thing, but organisations who cannot allow some flexibility in working arrangements risk a drain of talent to more flexible sectors.

What can be done?

Lengthy clearance processes, inflexible working when flexible working is becoming the norm, and uncompetitive salaries (when compared to the commercial sector) have contributed to a drop in supply. To hire talent with the right skills and security clearances, recruiters will need to rethink their strategy.

Hire for the Future

Hire for the future
Network well and keep your connections for easier future hires


Build a pipeline of candidates who do not currently hold the required clearance but are likely to complete the process successfully. Understanding what is required for different levels of clearance and pre-screening candidates beforehand can increase your confidence in them being successful.

Improve your adverts and job descriptions

Improve your job adverts
Stand out from the crowd with your job adverts


Candidates search for jobs using skills-based keywords. You can increase your chances of being found by including these keywords in strategic places like your job title and the opening paragraph of your advert.

We often have the challenge of not being able to provide detail on projects or job adverts due to the nature of the work, so it is also worth considering writing an “alternative” advert. Writing a job advert for a Software Developer that stands out from the 1000’s of others is a difficult task, so writing an advert that is more creative in its language and content can catch the eye (just avoid “over-creativeness” as it comes across as weird or untrustworthy).

Use the lingo

Use the lingo
Use the right language to pinpoint stand-out candidates

Research and use correct terminology in job descriptions. Simply writing “Java” or “Big Data” doesn’t really provide any inspiration; candidates want to know what they’ll be doing.

Government & military jargon can really help depending on the role; this will show that you actually understand your market and are an expert in the field.


You cannot build a robust workforce without diversity

Cast your net as far as possible; rather than repeating the same old tricks, consider other ways to attract candidates.

Post in niche job boards that specialise in government or security clearance, ask for referrals from other professionals in the sector, and attend networking events (seminars, workshops, round-tables, expos).

Recruit Veterans

Recruit veterans
There is a pool of ready-to-hire people with active clearance


Most veterans will already have active clearance; they represent a ready-to-hire pool of candidates with a wide range of skills- particularly in leadership, planning, and IT. It is worth attending events aimed at transitioning armed forces personnel to civilian roles and providing career advice and support to veterans.

Work With a Recruitment Agency Specialising in Security Clearance

Choose a specialist recruitment agency
Choose the right partner for the job

Look for an agency that specialises in finding cleared talent for your industry. Agencies typically have much broader resources at their disposal, this includes large candidate databases and extensive networks they can tap for passive candidates and referrals.

Sanderson can provide solutions to organisations that need to scale significantly or have specific hiring requirements that need a different approach. Talent-partnering allows us to be embedded in an organisation and truly understand the culture and needs so that we can use our expertise and resources in the market to fill the gap.

How you can best take on the security cleared market:

In my four years within recruitment, this is without doubt the most challenging market so far. Active candidates are few and far between, and those who are active are usually off the market very quickly.

The best approach is to target passive candidates. Passive candidates usually come with a strong track record and good work experience, you also don’t have to worry about an expired clearance! Build a strong network of candidates and really understand the happenings of your sector. Become an expert and you will be the person candidates turn to first when they do look for a new role.

Security cleared recruitment is challenging at the best of times, but with the correct approach it can be very rewarding. Use all the tools you have available to find the needles in those haystacks and you’ll soon reap the rewards. One of the benefits of working in a relatively close-knit market is that your name can travel fast if you do things in the right way; referrals are the easiest (& cheapest) way to bring people on board.

For more information on the support Sanderson can provide, follow this link and join us for a conversation: https://www.sandersonplc.com/sectors/government-and-defence