How to Recruit Like the CIA: Intelligently

I recently heard Sonja Holt speak at HCI’s 2010 Government Talent Management Conference. She is the Deputy Chief of Diversity and Outreach for the Central Intelligence Agency and her comments were a lesson in how to recruit intelligently.

First, they must educate potential candidates to get over the mistaken impression that everyone who works at the CIA has a job like Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) in the trilogy of movies The Bourne Identity, The Bourne Supremacy, and The Bourne Ultimatum where the CIA is less an employer-of-choice and more an assassin out to kill its own people.

“We’re going doing targeted recruiting as well. A lot of people know “CIA”, but unfortunately they kind of look at that and say “spies”. They don’t  think of  . . . other areas that we have that are critical to our mission.”

Next, they operate opportunistically.  They track news events and leverage those events to their benefit.

“Earlier when you mentioned the economy, we try to take, I wouldn’t say advantage, but we’re in tune to that.  For example, our Director of Intelligence was looking for economics analysts, so we took a group of individuals and hiring officers  to New York and did a lot of advertising focusing around that niche and hit the ground running.”

Most intriguing was the CIA’s use of social network analysis in recruiting, which The Agency mashes together with geo-spatial and geo-census data to map hot spots of talent.

“I have an officer who used geo-spactial tool and geo-census data as well as other information he’s  feeding into our mapping system.  If I go to Michael and say I’m looking for this, then I can populate by specific skill set — if I’m looking for language or if I’m looking for a specific race — he he can pull that up on a map and show me different areas around the country where I should be able to find the talent.”

The Agency also uses social network analysis, not simply looking at who is connected to whom, but also identifying super-connectors and outliers and as they profile ideal candidates to recruit.  (But then again, so do we.)

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