Salaries for individuals with security clearances increased by an average of 7% last year, according to an annual survey. The rise in compensation comes as companies in the national security sector continue adjust to post-pandemic workplace expectations and compete with the commercial sector for technology talent.
The ClearanceJobs’ latest Security Clearance Compensation Report shows average total compensation rose to $108,611 in the cleared community for 2022. Over half the cleared population now earns a six-figure salary, according to the survey, which involved more than 50,000 respondents.
“A lot of bonuses, a lot of increases for cleared candidates this past year,” ClearanceJobs Senior Editor Jill Hamilton said on Inside the IC. “We call it the year of upward trends where inflation is up, the cost of buying eggs is even up, everything costs more. There’s a lot more pressure, and employers responded with a big compensation bump for the community.”
Compensation is also connected to the level of security clearance. Survey respondents with a Defense Department secret-level clearance earned just over $92,000 on average, while DoD top-secret clearance holders earned an average of $119,000.
And for respondents who work for intelligence agencies, the average total compensation was just under $140,000 in 2022.
Meanwhile, some of the highest paid occupations in the cleared community include software developers, data scientists and engineers.
“A lot of that just has to do with the scarcity of talent,” ClearanceJobs President Evan Lesser said. “There’s just not enough skilled, security cleared software developers and cybersecurity professionals out there. So they typically get the higher pay.”
Perhaps more surprisingly, the report shows sales professionals are also among the highest paid occupations. Lesser attributes that partially to record high defense budgets in recent years.
“Companies are doing what they can to try to get a piece of that pie, so sales professionals with clearance are really towards the top of the list as well,” he said.
Remote work options on the rise
Beyond salary, the compensation report also measures other aspects of a cleared worker’s life, such as opportunities for remote work. The latest survey shows 53% of respondents have either remote or hybrid work options, up 7% from the year before.
“I think pre-pandemic, if you said as a candidate, ‘I’d like to work from home one day a week,’ the employer would have just laughed and said, ‘Well, you’re in the wrong industry,’” Lesser said. “But the pandemic truly changed things.”
“I think candidates generally understand that they’re not going to able to work from home 80 or 90% of the time, but if they can work from home 20, 25, 30% of the time, that’s actually a pretty big thing for our industry,” Lesser said.
The cleared population has also slowly spread out across the country over the past two years, according to the survey, with the population of cleared respondents in Washington, D.C. dropping slightly. Meanwhile, more respondents checked in from states like Alabama, California, Florida and Texas.
“There is some spreading out with different companies where maybe it was harder for them to get cleared candidates to want to come and move there, because there wasn’t as many opportunities,” Hamilton said. “The biggest pull here in the D.C. region is you can quit one job and start another with a very small lag time in between, because the opportunities are just everywhere you look. But now a lot of these opportunities are springing up around the country.”
Junior salaries on the rise
The survey also shows entry-level and mid-level salaries are on the rise in the national security community. The average compensation for an entry-level respondent with less than two years of experience rose by 8% in 2022 to $66,061.
Meanwhile, compensation for “early career” employees with two-to-five years of experience rose by 7%, as did compensation for “mid-level career” employees with between five and 10 years of experience.
“There’s a big push to retain mid-level talent, not just to get the entry level in, but can you then keep them in, because you need that experience especially in national security,” Hamilton said.
Generation Z, or those born after 1997, are also making inroads in national security. Gen Z received an average 11% raise in 2022, while Generation X and Millennials saw between a 7-8% bump in compensation, on-average.
Meanwhile, with many big tech companies laying off broad swaths of their workforce and halting hiring amid an uncertain economy, Hamilton said national security companies would do well to stress the stability of a job in defense or intelligence.
“Our industry and national security is never going to be able to pay what non-cleared jobs can on-average, but we definitely offer job security, and it’s something employers should really be pushing hard on,” she said.