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Wave of Security Slots to Open in Virginia

Favored Candidates Will Have Clearances And Tech Skills

By Ellen McCarthy
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, December 12, 2004; Page K01

Last month, Gov. Mark R. Warner (D) stood at an office building in Northern Virginia and proudly announced that four companies are planning to create 11,000 new jobs over the next five years.

It's an economic development plum most regions would envy. But just how do you get in line for these positions, which pay an average of $76,000 a year?

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Most of the jobs being created by SRA International Inc., Science Applications International Corp., Booz Allen Hamilton Inc. and PricewaterhouseCoopers are categorized as homeland security-related. That's a broad umbrella, but they have some criteria in common.

Strong technical backgrounds are required for almost all the new jobs, and while a security clearance is not mandatory, candidates with clearance in hand have an advantage.

Between now and July, Fairfax-based SRA expects to hire about 900 people. The company is looking for a variety of technology professionals, including database managers, computer systems analysts, software programmers and network security experts. The bulk of the company's work is with homeland security-related agencies, including the Defense Department, so it is always looking for qualified applicants who already have security clearances and could get to work immediately, said Ernst Volgenau, chairman.

The catch with security clearances is that people who don't have them can't initiate the process themselves. Companies must submit applications on behalf of their employees, but many positions require candidates who have already been cleared.

More than 35 percent of SRA's business comes from agencies where clearance requirements are less stringent, so candidates without clearances should still submit applications, Volgenau added.

SRA does recruit at job fairs and on the Internet, but the company's preferred way to attract employees is by referral from its own workers. "We continually encourage our folks to recommend new employees to the company. The process is less expensive. Hopefully the employee will recommend somebody who will come here and . . . then stand behind that new employee."

About 100 of SRA's new jobs will go to recent college graduates, but to get in the door, that set -- and anyone else who applies -- needs fundamental technical skills. The company offers internal training programs, but a candidate with an art history degree and no knowledge of computer science probably isn't cut out for one of these positions.

The same rule applies at SAIC, which has about 1,000 positions open in the D.C. area. More than 90 percent of these jobs involve working with the government. And almost all of the positions -- which include software architects, information security analysts and network engineers -- require highly technical backgrounds and a few years of experience. Just over half of the open jobs require security clearances, said Sean T. Sullivan, deputy director of human resources for SAIC's U.S. operations. Applicants who have technical backgrounds but lack a clearance are still encouraged to apply, he said, though they may need to verify that they could obtain clearance later.

Sullivan said the biggest advantage job seekers can give themselves is to tailor their applications to fit specific positions listed on SAIC's Web site. The company is happy to receive general résumés, but a candidate is more likely to get an interview by showing interest in a particular spot, he said.

Booz Allen's Web site is the best starting place for job seekers interested in working at that company. The company has more than 750 openings in the region, all of them listed on its site. Job hunters are best served by spending some time searching through the listings, figuring out which positions they qualify for and submitting applications electronically, said Judy Merkel, director of recruiting.

"I would prepare. Look at what the company is really looking for, then go back and look at your résumé. Make sure that you're describing yourself with particular buzzwords and qualifications," Merkel said.

Not all of Booz Allen's positions are as technology-intensive as those at the other companies. The firm is also looking for professionals with experience in such areas as economic analysis and business development.

"If anybody were to take a look, I think that they'd be surprised by the depth and breadth of the job openings that we have," Merkel added.

Similarly, PricewaterhouseCoopers is planning to hire between 500 and 600 people in the region over the next year. Most positions are related to financial management and auditing services. The company also wants professionals with data security expertise and other technology skills to add to its consulting practice.

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