Cover: National Security Employment

National Security Employment

Improving the Candidate Experience Journey Through the Personnel Vetting Process

Published Jul 26, 2023

by David Stebbins, Richard S. Girven, Samantha Ryan


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Research Questions

  1. What prominent (and emerging) factors should U.S. government departments and agencies consider when attracting, hiring, and engaging new generations of the national security workforce?
  2. What relevant private-sector engagement practices can help to maintain candidate interest during recruitment and hiring processes?
  3. What candidate experience framework can the U.S. government use to help departments and agencies think about how to approach cross-cutting vetting and screening challenges and inform future candidate experience initiatives?

The U.S. government will need to proactively recruit, hire, screen, onboard, and provide continuous career-growth opportunities — while providing an exceptional candidate experience — to attract and retain new generations to the national security workforce. This report explores how existing security, suitability, and credentialing (SSC) mechanisms might benefit from a formalized candidate experience strategy and framework to create a more positive vetting experience. Organizations that provide investigative and adjudicative services (e.g., investigative service providers, authorized adjudicative agencies) and other SSC stakeholders will need to increase engagement to promote, gauge, and maintain candidate commitment throughout initial personnel vetting. SSC processes may benefit from consideration of the adoption or adaptation of some of the hiring, onboarding, and retention practices from across the private sector that are focused on creating a more engaging candidate experience.

This initial examination provides a new way of thinking about the vetting process from the candidate point of view. The observations and suggestions provided in this report provide a framework to present the factors that may contribute to a positive candidate experience across the pre–initial vetting phase (factors that influence candidate awareness, organizational attraction, and job consideration), the initial vetting phase (candidate "conversion" to apply to a position and ongoing relationship management), and the post–initial vetting phase (including entry on duty, onboarding, retention, and future job mobility).

Key Findings

  • The U.S. government has not institutionalized an approach across the federal hiring and screening processes for creating a positive candidate experience.
  • Connections between candidate experience and its importance to ensuring U.S. national security workforce continuity are critical in fostering SSC stakeholder buy-in.
  • There is no consistent or formalized training across the U.S. government on how to ensure a positive candidate experience.
  • The private sector's hiring and screening processes will likely retain several advantages (e.g., timeliness, location flexibility) over the U.S. government's for the foreseeable future.


  • Use the proposed tailorable SSC candidate experience framework to further operationalize Federal Personnel Vetting Engagement Guideline end-state objectives.
  • Deploy foundational change-management techniques to emulate desired process changes.
  • Develop relevant candidate experience metrics across all vetting phases.
  • Institute data-collection platforms and standardize data collection to inform candidate experience metrics.
  • Incorporate best practices in talent acquisition as part of an overall candidate experience strategy.
  • Develop a candidate experience training curriculum based on stated candidate experience outcomes within the developed candidate experience strategy.
  • SSC stakeholders should consider engaging with pre– and post–initial vetting personnel to develop more-effective engagements across the awareness, attraction, consideration, relationship management, and retention stages.

This research was sponsored by the Security, Suitability, and Credentialing Performance Accountability Council Program Management Office and conducted within the Personnel, Readiness, and Health Program of the RAND National Security Research Division (NSRD).

This report is part of the RAND research report series. RAND reports present research findings and objective analysis that address the challenges facing the public and private sectors. All RAND reports undergo rigorous peer review to ensure high standards for research quality and objectivity.

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