Main image of article All the NSA Cares About is How Well You Know Tech
I ran across a clever advertisement from the National Security Agency (NSA): If you were a prominent, active competitor at the recent DEF CON, they want to talk to you about a job. In addition to the usual laundry list of skills -- like design/analysis of LANs/WANs, JAVA, C++, rapid prototyping and algorithm development -- they've specifically called out that their ideal candidates have “a Bachelor's degree or equivalent experience.” That phrase "equivalent experience" opens the door to people who haven't graduated from college, may be entirely self-taught or who simply live, eat and breathe security, doesn't it? The agency also says that you'll have to pass a background investigation and polygraph, but: "If you have a few, shall we say, indiscretions in your past don't be alarmed. You shouldn't automatically assume that you won't be hired." It makes perfect sense that NSA is concerned about your background. You definitely won't get a job if you have a criminal record or major character flaws. If you don't, here are a few tips to start raising the odds in your favor.

Tip No. 1: Compete

You'll want to show what you're made of by participating in high-profile events, such as Capture the Flag, the Mystery Challenge or any of the other DEF CON challenges. Other conferences like barcamps and hackathons -- have similar opportunities. In a nutshell, the NSA is looking for people who can perform well in the heat of competition, and when it really counts, along with integrity. Isn't that what all companies want?

Tip No. 2: Stand Out From the Crowd

Some people choose to give a presentation. Some wear “attention grabbing” outfits or show their various forms of body art. Others show what they have by competing in contests sponsored by the conference. Some do all three and more. It's all part of the process. Judging from past YouTube interviews with three-letter federal agencies that were DEF CON attendees, it’s clear that they aren't worried if someone has a spiky, orange Mohawk, or lots of tattoos and body piercings. These techniques help attract attention. Your mileage, of course, will vary.

Tip No. 3: Be Confident, Be Yourself

The underlying message behind all of these attractors is that people who do well almost always know what they're talking about in their particular field. They are confident enough with their own abilities to just be themselves. This is a big problem area for a lot of job seekers. After an extended period of no work (and no income), it's easy to lose that spring in your step or bold tone in your voice. Time for a change. When you show people you know what the heck you're doing, doors will suddenly open and people seek you out. Take a lesson from DEF CON and use that hacker mindset to find your next new position. Don’t stop with the NSA or DEF CON. There’s a ton of other three-letter federal agencies looking for experts in mobile development, systems, operations and a myriad of other IT related areas.