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Looking for tech-talent? Trying to fill the gaps in the structure of your high potential people? Difficulties to recruit? Finding it hard to retain the very best? Guess what: you’re not alone. Everybody Tech here at SXSW -and their dog- is looking for talent. Highly skilled talent. Highly motivated talent. Talent that is needed to bring the rapid succession of transformation to a good end.  But that talent starts to be rare, scarce, thin-spread… and picky.

Just you being you will not cut the cheese any more. Where hurdles of people were desperately looking for a job, and companies could cherrypick the most gleaming apples, times have changed, tables have turned. Companies and organizations are now in the vending position. They need to “sell” their own attractivity to attract talent.

Employer Brand

There is no magic solution, various workshops at SXSW teached us: If you cannot dramatically outpay your competition, you will have to outplay them. Throwing V12 supercars at the recruitees won’t help, they’re all in for a Tesla Y.  The way to go, is building an employer brand. And do I have news for you: that requires time, energy and dedication. It is not a “let’s get on the interwebs, do some social, get loads of CV’s in”.

It is building a thorough employer identity at the center of the very department that is recruiting: a clear mission. A clear value proposition. A clear set of values. A transparent and respectful culture. That is the magic recipe for success. Once that is cooking, the art is to bring that “inside” “outside”: bring it out, expose it, write / post / interact.

Your competitor? How about the CIA?

Doing the best job here at SXSW in employer branding are… two US government organizations: NASA and the… the CIA. Yes, the Central Intelligence Agency. If you have not noticed it yet: they are recruiting.  And, being the CIA, they do so with an appealing and impressive efficiency: whoever is playing their employer branding, is a genius… or a spy.

Turns out it is both!

Jennifer Ewbank has more energy than Mount Vesuvius, has a razorsharp mind, blazing eyes, and a passionate, but slightly undercooled speech. When she looks at you, you have the impression she knows exactly what you Googled last night… and she probably does.

Ewbank is a spy. A real one. She was “in the field in Berlin”, we saw the movies, we know what that means. Ewbank is cool as hell, … and she is recruiting.    She is the Deputy Director of CIA for Digital Innovation, responsible for accelerating the development and integration of digital and cyber capabilities across all of CIA’s mission areas. That includes enterprise information technology, cyber security, cyber operations and analysis, data strategy and artificial intelligence, open source collection and reporting, as well as building the digital acumen of the CIA workforce through training and education. She is the Agency’s Chief Digital Spook, de facto the CIA’s Chief Digital Officer. Ms. Ewbank oversees the Digital C-Suite roles of Chief Information Officer, Chief Information Security Officer, and Chief Data Officer.

Jennifer Ewbank

When there is conflict, there are three options for the US: we negotiate and do diplomacy; or we send in our troops -that usually get’s noticed-. We are the third option”, Ewbank said: “We are a highly skilled, highly trained agency that needs to take on the threats from abroad. For that, we’re looking for the best people. The best of the best.”

Just that rhetoric makes the hearts and minds of a lot of young high Po’s beat faster. But Ewbank and her team do more: their CIA booth (yes) is wow.  Their tech on the booth spy-worthy, including an immersive CIA discovery in the Metaverse. The “spies” are there: real people, real (young) men and women working in tech and cyberwarfare. They tell their stories, shake your hand, hand out cards, refer to their website…. and give you cool CIA goodies.

You need to be seen to recruit

You need to be seen to recruit” said Jennifer Ewbank: “ Even if most of what we do falls under National Security, we need to get out, get out on the web, present our mission, showcase our ambassadors. No exposure, no recruitment. It is hard for us: intelligence agencies must remain vigilant in identifying emerging threats. We must understand and deploy and adapt to new technologies to protect national security. To do that, we need the adequate people. It is nonnegotiable, we need them. And we need to keep them. ”  

By leveraging new communication tools, showing transparency, coming down from our Langley Tower, and using on- and offline content marketing techniques, prioritizing diversity and inclusion, and investing in talent development, we can recruit and stay ahead of emerging threats and continue to safeguard national security.

Promote yourself

We need a new generation of potential leaders who have all the classic skills. You have to have integrity. You have to be a good communicator. You have to have a strategic vision. You have to have compassion or empathy. You have to have all of those things that we’ve always needed. But what’s different today is that if we are going to win this technological race and that is in part through innovation, we have to be able to showcase digital leadership the digital era . We need to promote ourselves. “

Jennifer Ewbank  and a handful C-level CIA people (including the Deputy Director) stressed the importance of “becoming visible”, bringing the inside out, showing the values and culture of the CIA through its ambassadors. They exposed how they prioritize diversity and inclusion, how they are investing in training and development, and how they go to lengths providing meaningful work to attract top tech talent.

Emerging technologies like artificial intelligence, ubiquitous surveillance, and disinformation campaigns present both opportunities and challenges for intelligence agencies,” says Ewbank:  “As the CIA Leaders in Technology and Digital Innovation, we recently discussed the future of intelligence recruitment in light of these challenges. We need to adapt our digital ecosystems by leveraging new recruiting technologies.”

What the CIA showcases at SXSW, is an ironclad employer brand. Brought forward by great corporate storytellers. Endorsed by some of their best operatives. Propelled by state-of-the-art marketing and communication techniques. Hosted on a plethora of digital platforms, content sites, even a Metaverse immersive experience. Their messages are spot on, clear, impactful, on target. Execution is flawless.  Top notch employer marketing, sustained by master-level media and ninja influencing.

That… is how it is done. If the CIA was in your business, they would probably have you for breakfast. They are that good.  Don’t wait: become second-best.

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