08-06-2020

The Interview Process – Specific To Cyber And Intelligence Personnel

The interview to hire process generally happens within a week. We work hard to send a message to the desired candidate that we are interested in/want them on the team by being both timely and responsive. We must work quickly due to how competitive the market is for quality employees.

  • Our recruiter will review the candidate’s resume and determine if the job qualifications are met.
  • If met, our recruiter will hold the initial screening call to further determine the candidate fit.
  • If the candidate passes the screening call, then their resume will be passed along to the next stage.
  • Next is a 30 min interview/phone screen with Cyber and Intelligence VP, Pat P.
  • If the candidate passes this interview, then their resume would be handed over to the Hiring Manager or to the Subject Matter Expert that can get down to the nitty-gritty aspects of the job.
  • After this call, everyone would come together to discuss results and decide whether to push the candidate through to offer or decline.
  • Lastly, the decision is made.

Things We Look For

During that initial 30 min phone screen with Cyber and Intelligence VP, Pat P. we aim to get to know you, not just what you do. If you are considering leaving your current company, we want to understand why; was there conflict with a manager or was the work not rewarding—we want to know why you are making the change. Next, we want to know about your experiences as they relate to the job you applied for. We are looking to see if you took the time to look at the job req and match it to your experience. It is important to gauge your technical abilities during every step of the interview process.

It is important to note that we are looking for strong communication skills. When discussing your technical field, our experienced team can tell if you are talking from command of knowledge vs. looking up the answer. At Parsons, we are not looking to see how fast you get an answer from Google; we are looking for an intuitive understanding of the technical expertise in your field.

That said, attitude can go a long way. Our team really looks for the excitement and feel of the person. At Parsons, we want people who are smart, confident, and excited about the work they do – or will likely be doing at Parsons. We look for this attitude because our candidates seldom meet 100% of the qualifications of the job, so we need someone who has the right attitude to learn, adapt, and be spun up. Most of our candidates meet 50-75% of the qualifications of the job, so it is important to discuss ways you picked up new things or learned something new.  

Just as we want to get to know you, we want to see if you have taken the time to research Parsons. We often ask, what do you know about a company like Parsons?

Finally, and most importantly, be prompt and responsive. Pick up our phone calls. Please try not to play phone tag—this can be a strike against the candidate as we work to schedule interviews in a timely manner. 

Things To Note

We often cannot discuss full job description due to classified nature of the work, so it is important for our team to gauge if the candidate can meet those other requirements from discussing over the phone.

When we say team, we mean it. All along the way, the interview process is a collaboration with the recruiter and project team. Having a good relationship between the program team and the recruiting team is essential for this process to go smoothly.

Recruiters have strong salary advice; the project side has a good understanding of what they can afford. So, once a decision has been made to put the candidate to offer, the project side will give the recruiter a salary range to work with when negotiating the salary.

It is important to note that sometimes the position can only support a certain salary level. Many factors go into this salary discussion, for example, Parsons has their job profiles, which have set levels of experience, education, and salary levels. We aim to hire a candidate who meets the job qualifications but is not so far at the top that they limit the salary potential for a measurable increase in the future.

Official Interview Format

At Parsons, phone and audio interviews throughout the entire process are the norm. That said, we have a few tips if the interview ends up as a video one:

  • Make sure you have good lighting; do not have a backlit face.
  • Check your background and clear the clutter, it can be distracting.
  • Make arrangements to have your interview in a distraction-free environment. We understand that, in these unprecedented times, you may be working with your kid’s home, etc. However, for your official interview with Parsons, we need your focus just as much as we need to be able to focus on you.
  • Test the tech. We would like you to be on time and ready. Please do not wait until the last minute to make sure everything is working on your end.

What To Wear

Virtual or in person, at Parsons we expect you to dress up appropriately. Though our work environment is relaxed and does put the person ahead of employee, we expect your attire to show the proper respect for the position you are looking to obtain. This goes for folks attending career fairs as well, either online or in person.


Interview With Austin Backus, C&I Recruiter, And Nicholas Jackson, C&I SME

Q1. Can you please tell us a little bit about yourself and your background, how long you’ve worked at Parsons, etc?

  • Austin:
    • I am a recruiter for Parsons dedicated to cyber security and software technology supporting the Cyber & Intelligence business unit. I came to Parsons in an unorthodox way: I used to be a high school teacher that taught ancient world history and religious studies at Trinity Christian School in the NOVA area, and recruiting was something I did in the summers. In 2016, I was looking for a new summer opportunity to do some technical recruiting and one of my students happened to be the daughter of Mary Ann Hopkins, the president, at that time, of what is now C&I.
    • Parsons was working on US Cyber Command, a great short-term contract for me to come on to. It went really well, and Parsons needed more support and gave me a great offer. I had built some relationships with the company and wanted to stay. So, I have been with the company for just about 4 years now.
  • Nicholas:
    • I have worked for Parsons for 12.5 years now.  I started as a rapid prototype developer, then grew into various technical leadership positions until I got to my role now as a full-time manager and Vice President. I worked directly for the government for 3.5 years before that, but I was surrounded by a bunch of Parsons folks (technically they were Sparta folks at the time – Sparta was later acquired by Parsons). I was working with a bunch of great people and when I was looking for a change, I decided I wanted to continue working with those great people for the rest of my career.

Q2. What are some of the things that a candidate can do to be successful in the application process and get an interview at Parsons?

  • Austin:
    • I am going to speak specifically to candidates who are seeking software and cyber security engineering positions, who are either already in the cleared space, supporting the DOD intelligence community, or who want to get into the cleared space.
    • For those individuals, the first thing I would say is making it clear what technologies they are familiar with. If it’s software, then listing out their preferred programming languages they have a true experience with. Second, list out any tools they used to accomplished that. Especially in the cyber security realm; have they used Wireshark to help with networks and packets, etc.? After that tell me about their education and their experience.
    • Because so much of the industry is driven by the government space and by the need to have to use specific tools the government uses, it is important, on contracts, to be able to check off boxes that this person has experience with this or that. We want to see that up front in the resume. That makes it easy to know if the individual is qualified for the position or not.
  • Nicholas:
    • I think it is just: be yourself Ensure your passion comes across at every step – in your resume, anytime you talk with someone, and in your application.  We love passionate people as we are just as passionate about Parsons and our customers!

Q3. What is the number one thing you look for when talking with a candidate?

  • Austin:
    • The number one thing I will be looking for, again, when talking to those interested in a true engineering role, is going to be the technical specifications and qualifications. Can you program in C; C++? Have you used or can you program in a Linux environment? Or just Windows? Have you used Wireshark or Kubernetes or Docker for a DevOps position?
    • It is pretty clear cut with tools used and industry-standard knowledge. That’s what I focus on in terms of technology piece.
    • The softer skills though are going to be the ability to communicate well what you know, and then being able to show that. Sometimes people aren’t the best with their words, but that’s okay because they can show it other ways. Maybe they have a GitHub page and examples of their work. For a candidate that feels they are not great in an interview or on their feet: for them to have a backup plan that says, let me just send you this example of my work—that definitely gets traction.
  • Nicholas:
    • The number one thing I look for is the ability to learn and desire to grow. I look for someone motivated to succeed. You can teach people skills, but you can’t start that fire inside of them – they have to come with it.

Q4. What pitfalls can candidates avoid when interviewing?

  • Austin:
    • For so many people I recruit, it’s an uphill battle to get them to want the job because they have a dozen other offers on the table, so I am going to speak to how I to convince them to want the job.
    • It is about promoting the uniqueness of the mission at Parsons. A lot of our work in C&I is supporting very unique, and sometimes irregular, cyber capabilities, and then employing those in what I will call an immediately relevant operational environment. Having the ability to work with cutting edge technologies that are new to the business unit that the good guys want to know about because the bad guys are getting to know these technologies as well. So, for those that truly like to tinker, the kinds of technology that we are involved with are a tinkerer’s Disney world.
  • Nicholas:
    • Be honest. So, if you don’t know something, say you don’t know. A lot of people will just talk and talk when you ask a question,  hoping that they might say something that you’ll count as the right answer. I would rather you be succinct and to the point and be honest about what you know and don’t know; then we know what we need to train you on and any skills we can help you acquire. We’re looking for folks who are motivated to grow. We don’t expect everyone to know everything they need to know when they come to the job – that’s not really possible.

Q5. What should a candidate do if they don’t meet all the qualifications?

  • Austin:
    • One, they should still apply, so that their resume is in the system. So, if it doesn’t work out right now, we can come back to them in the coming months or years. Number two is to be open to hearing that you need to work on a certain certification. The contract requires positions to have a certain level of compliance: usually DOD 70 – 85% compliant.
    • For example, if they only have a Security+, but we really need a CISSP or a CASP, then do the work it takes to get the certification and then reapply. Or it might mean taking a conditional offer and taking it for what it is: doing what needs to be done while you are getting a certification, or boning up on your objective C software engineering capabilities—and then being patient with it and, when the time is right, coming forward.
    • The last thing to add is persistence. With a lot of our jobs, if they don’t meet all the requirements, we probably are not going to give them a call back right away, or for that position. So, because they may not get a callback, persistence is going to be important.
    • So, keeping tabs on what the requirement of the job is, and doing their part to get to the point where they can match those. Note: personal at home tinkering with different technologies counts. For example, maybe in their professional work, they can only hit 70% of the requirements, but if they run their own Linux box at home and tinker around on their Raspberry Pi, that counts towards the requirements as well.
    • When you finally meet the qualifications, try to find a Parsons recruiter on LinkedIn and start a dialogue.
  • Nicholas:
    • If you don’t meet all the qualifications, again, be honest about it. If you don’t meet something – let us know. Then you can qualify that by explaining what experiences you have, or situations you have excelled at in the past, where you have quickly come up to speed on qualifications or knowledge you didn’t have. That provides evidence to us that, yes, you will be able to come up to speed for what are looking for. But I wouldn’t worry that you don’t meet all the qualifications. If you know you will be able that job, that’s the thing to tell us and convince us of – we are listening!  You also have to understand that occasionally we have hard qualifications put on positions by the government that we can’t waive or teach you once you start.

Q6. What if a candidate meets the technical qualifications but not the security clearance requirements?

  • Austin:
    • So that one is going to be patience and persistence, and they should continue to look on the job boards for positions that we can hire them to uncleared and then sponsor them for clearance. So, they would need to do that in order to eventually get into a position they want down the road. They could also engage on LinkedIn, find a Parsons recruiter, ask them, “Are there any openings where Parsons could sponsor me for clearance. I ultimately want to do this or that.” If their skill set is the kind that we hire regularly, but don’t get a lot of applicants for, there is motivation to get creative to get them the clearance so that they can eventually support the project that we are doing.
  • Nicholas:
    • It is going to make it really hard, is the honest answer. We are trying to be more open to getting folks in the pipeline process for security clearance, but it is rare that we are able to wave that requirement and actually get you started on the work before it comes through. Usually, we have to put you in the security clearance pipeline, and with our customer, that can be 6 – 24 months, so it is not a quick thing. Sometimes, if somebody meets the qualifications and is particularly talented, we are able to find you an adjacent job to get you started working with us, doing great things while you get put into the clearance pipeline and wait on that.  

Q7. What technologies do you work with, develop and advance?

  • Austin:
    • We are working on security research and vulnerability research, so the technologies that go along with that are software engineering in a variety of languages—mostly lower-level architecture languages: ARM, x64, x86, and there’s a cross over into mobile phone platforms. So, if Individuals like doing security research work, they can get even more niche doing that for an Android device or iOS device, for example.  
  • Nicholas:
    • So many – that’s one of the reasons I love Parsons! We are cloud-heavy in the area I support most right now; we are mostly using AWS  as the commercial provider (or customer-specific instances) to store and process the data, processing it with open source tools like Apache Spark. Integrating AI and Machine Learning algorithms and analytics is a huge growth area for all our customers – knowledge of common libraries like TensorFlow is a huge plus. In the end, it falls back to a lot of software development using – higher-level languages like Python and Java.
    • I also run our bi-monthly CTFs, which I love, as I get to work with basically any technology under the sun and come up with fun and exciting ways to challenge our engineers (and the world), as well as help teach them something new (that often just learned myself).  Our most recent CTF used LiME, Volatility, Wireshark, Python, Z80 Assembly, Wyze Webcams, Git, Alexa, C++, bash, tcpdump, tshark, Gimp, gdb, curl, and awk (to name a few)

Q8: What benefits come with these positions?

  • Austin:
    • Benefits include working with, truly, some of the latest technologies available in the world, that the public maybe just got access to or doesn’t even have access to yet. Again, we need to stay ahead of the same technology that bad people are going to be using for nefarious purposes. So, the ability to tinker with truly the latest and greatest technologies in the world. Also, high visibility with our customer – staying close to the action. And, of course, we have our true benefits, the benefits package, along with other perks of this kind of work: organic growth and organic professional development.
  • Nicholas:
    • Everything! The most important thing to note about the benefits is that, at the beginning of 2020, Parsons greatly improved our benefit offerings. So if you look at any other large companies, they are regularly making decisions that adversely affect their employees, trying to squeeze more and more profit out of the folks they have, whereas Parsons took a step back and said, hey, we are a company that focuses on our people, so our goal is to take the best care of our people as possible. So, they took a broad look at the benefits and they added a bunch of benefits. Now folks get two weeks of paternity or maternity leave. We made all holidays floating, so you can take holiday hours whenever you want. We added a newer and better medical provider and lowered the cost on some of the others. We improved our military leave policies. We enhanced our flex time policy. We got access to a lot more training, like Udemy and O’Reilly.  In my specific group, we also got more 401K matching and reduced the threshold (from 10 years to 5 years) to get more PTO! And I hear more benefits are coming next year too!
    • Another benefit is that we are focused on building a career for Parsons. We don’t want you to come and say I am going to come to this role, and the next time you are thinking about doing another role you look elsewhere. We have so many opportunities at Parsons and so many paths to help you grow and learn and prepare for those new roles. We offer the benefit of constant learning and improving so you can build your career here—a lot of other companies don’t focus on career growth because you are just a number there. At Parsons you are a person, we want to help you, as a person, succeed.

Q9: I applied to multiple open positions and haven’t heard back; how can I find out where I am in the process; what the status of my application is?

  • Austin:
    • There’s a number of reasons why they might not have heard back. If they think they are truly qualified for the position, then there’s reason to ask the questions. But if they go back and see they could not check all the boxes, that’s probably why they weren’t called back. Or the position may not be funded yet, and that might not be clear from the job description. If it is for future work, they just need to be patient—or they could try to find us [Parsons recruiters] on LinkedIn to ask us about it—of course with politeness and a professional introduction.
  • Nicholas:

Q10: Does it matter what my resume looks like?

  • Austin:
    • Absolutely. If it is a resume is disorganized, that doesn’t bode well for the resume of someone looking for an engineering position, where structure matters. If the resume doesn’t speak to what’s in the job requirements, that means they probably haven’t put much thought into if they actually qualify for the position – it looks, on our end, like they just fired away their resume at maybe a hundred targets. And that’s why it ended up against this job, but that person may not even be interested.
  • Nicholas:
    • Yes. Imagine you are a recruiter or an HM, and you are getting 10s of resume a day, 100s of resumes a week; they all start to look the same. Do interesting things with your resume to make it stand out. Put the topic that you are clearly interested in at the top helps us know what you want. A lot of people have diverse backgrounds on their resumes, but that doesn’t help me know what this person wants to do next –  we want to put you in the place you want to be, but we need to know what that is. Putting a summary at the top of what you want to do, what you feel your best strengths are, is a way to make it a quick read for us and know where you would be a good fit.

Q11: Can I apply to more than one job?

  • Austin: Yes. Applicants are encouraged to apply to all the jobs that they are both interested in and qualified for.
  • Nicholas: Apply to as many jobs as you want, but only apply to jobs that you want to do and are at least qualified for.

Q12: How is my resume reviewed?

  • Austin:
    • It is reviewed usually first to see if the non-negotiables are met, which is often going to be a security clearance, and if that is not met, then we do not even take the time to look at the rest of it because there is nothing we can do – if the job requires a security clearance at a certain level and the candidate does not have it then we just can’t do anything with it no matter how good they are, technically.
    • And then from there, with these engineering positions, there are some pretty clear boxes that have to be checked: for example, can you program in C, can you program Assembly, have you scripted using Python, have you worked with Wireshark? So, it is going to come down to looking at those keywords, so that is why it is important to include those clearly, often listed at the top: here are the program languages that I write in; here are the operating systems that I develop in; here are the software tool suites that I am familiar with—so that it makes it really easy and really clear that the individual meets the qualifications.
  • Nicholas:
    • It depends on who it goes to. Usually, a recruiter takes a look at it first and scans it to get an overview of what you are looking for and what your skillsets are, which is why having that paragraph at the top of your resume is so critical to make it easy for them to do. The less time it takes them to figure out what you want to do, the easier it is for them to route it to the appropriate HM who is going to read it in a lot more detail to see what you’ve done in the past and how your experience may translate

Q13: What basic qualifications do you require?

  • Nicholas:
    • I require you have a motivation to be more awesome. If you have a desire to constantly learn and improve, that is the most important thing I am looking for. I know that is basic, but that’s what we need.

Q14: What security clearances do you require?

  • Nicholas:
    • For the vast majority of my work, I require a TS SCI with a POLY. There are rare cases where we can do folks with uncleared.  Other parts of the business require just a Secret or Top Secret clearance.

Q15: How can I improve my chances to get hired by Parsons?

  • Nicholas:
    • Be yourself and be awesome. Hopefully, you are awesome, so just be yourself and that will help you get hired in the interview process. It will come across when you are confident and know what you can do and are awesome. So, telling some of your background stories of how you have done things in the past is key to helping us understand what you can do in the future. 
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