For CIA, pop culture no longer enough to recruit next generation of talent

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Movies and books about spies may have served the CIA well over the last four decades to recruit the next generation of employees.

But the need for new skillsets like data scientists and computer science engineers, and the competition for those experts has forced the spy agency to rethink its recruiting strategy.

Candice Bryant, the chief of public communications for the CIA’s Office of Public Affairs, said the CIA’s new website is one piece to the broader 21st century recruitment puzzle.

“We know that we can’t rely on the old methods of connecting with talented Americans, waiting for them to come to us. We have to go where the people are — online sites and streaming platforms. That’s why we have overhauled our website. We’ve unveiled our federal lab, and we’ve launched a streaming ad as well as an Onion site and our Instagram account,” Bryant said in an interview with Federal News Network. “We know people are online now more than ever and we simply want to be a part of the conversation.”

Over the last two years, the CIA began moving to where the next generation is hanging out.

It started in 2019 with the launch of its Instagram page, and then followed with an Onion site, which is a special-use top level domain name designating an anonymous service, which was formerly known as a “hidden service”, reachable via the Tor network.

Bryant said this started the CIA’s effort to go where potential employees were, instead of waiting for them to apply through the CIA’s website.

In 2020, the CIA started advertising job openings through a streaming ad on social media, launched the CIA labs and finally named Ilka Rodriguez-Diaz as its first executive for Hispanic engagement.

The CIA even got into a back-and-forth with “The Daily Show with Trevor Noah” about its recruiting efforts.

Noah’s comments from June 2020:

Sheronda Dorsey, the head of CIA Talent Acquisition, response:

The latest piece to the recruitment campaign came in January when the CIA launched a new website focused on attracting new employees at all levels.

“It comes down to in terms of going out to where the people are. A big part of that is really just demystifying the agency, to help people to understand that we really need people from every occupation and from all walks of life,” Bryant said. “If you can imagine a job here at CIA, we probably have it, and then also some jobs that you probably can’t even imagine. So it’s just really helping people understand mission history and people and our hiring needs.”

Not just some guy in a trench coat

The website’s new look is centered wholly on recruitment by letting visitors apply for jobs, providing an “insider’s” view of the CIA and highlights the assortment of careers and skillsets needed.

Bryant said the CIA wants potential employees to know that the people who work at the CIA are your friends, neighbors and relatives, “not just some guy in a trench coat.”

“We really wanted to create an experience that would be very user friendly, particularly for people who are coming to our website to apply for jobs. But also there is a lot of other information there about the history mission, and people in the agency,” she said. “For people who have a little more time to spend on the website, they can read our news and stories, they can check out our World Factbook, they can visit some virtual exhibits in our museum. So there’s really a lot of everything there for everyone, but it’s very clean, and very user friendly.”

It seems this new approach to recruitment is paying off.

Bryant said the new class of CIA employees in 2020 was the third largest in a decade, and it represents the most diverse talent pool, including people with disabilities, since 2010.

“Our mission demands are diverse and constantly evolving. We’re looking for clandestine operators, intelligence analysts, data scientists, nurses, security officers and support officers. We’re particularly looking for technologists and people with foreign language skills,” she said. “But I think what it really comes down to is we want people who are hardworking. I actually started the agency when I was only 21 years old, and I remember being somewhat overwhelmed. My first boss sat me down, and she said, ‘for you, going forward, the most important thing is going to be a strong work ethic. Because work experience, which I lacked at the time, could be gained over time.’ I think the message is really, people who are hardworking, and I’m dedicated to mission have a place here at CIA.”

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