INSA Panel Explores IC "Mindsets and Skill Sets"

INSA Panel Explores IC “Mindsets and Skill Sets”

ARLINGTON, VA (November 14, 2017) – A career supporting national security can take many forms – as a contractor, with or without a security clearance, or after transitioning from an unrelated field – according to a panel of intelligence professionals at Serving Your Country in National Security.   

Hosted by INSA’s Intelligence Champions Council and moderated by ICC member Mike Bruni, the panel discussion addressed hot topics for individuals interested in a national security career, discussing the types of skills and mindsets that would thrive in the Intelligence Community (IC).       

Maja Lehnus said the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) is hiring for over 100 types of occupations, but certain fields are in higher demand.  

“We are most in need of folks to work in the operational field,” she said. “We need operations officers; we need collection management officers; we need targeting officers. People who really have that operational bent is a real shortfall. We’re also competing just like everyone else for cyber and digital skills.”

Applicants who have both strong technical and communications skills will gain a competitive edge, said John Goolgasian, a former director of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency’s Source Operations and Management Directorate.

“There are techies and there are people who can write. The people who can bridge that gap are the superstars of the future,” he said. “The people who can understand enough technology but can explain it to the mere mortals and then apply that to a problem are the ones who are going to shine and rise in the ranks.”

Now in the private sector as associate partner at OG Systems, Goolgasian said he has not seen tremendous differences between how government and industry approach national security challenges.  

“You can serve on either [the public or private] side and serve that mission set,” he said. “I don’t really see huge, huge differences in how we approach the problems, which to me was gratifying.”

VIDEO: Serving Your Country in National Security


  • Mike Bruni, Senior Director, Talent Acquisition, KeyW Corporation
  • Maja Lehnus, Director, Talent Center of Excellence, Central Intelligence Agency
  • Harry Coker, Executive Director, National Security Agency
  • Mandy Misko, Intelligence Officer, Public-Private Partnerships, FS-ISAC
  • John Goolgasian, Associate Partner, OG Systems


There are techies and there are people who can write. The people who can bridge that gap are the superstars of the future."

John Goolgasian

Panelist Mandy Misko agreed, noting she worked alongside contractors while at the Department of Homeland Security who conducted work very similar to her own.

Misko, a former INSA intern while in graduate school at George Washington University, says she overestimated the importance of a security clearance to have a national security-related career.   

“I have plenty of colleagues in my organization, FS-ISAC, who are really benefiting one of our critical infrastructure, the banking and finance sector, and they have never seen a classified report or walked into a SCIF in their life, but they are contributing the mission just as much as anyone else,” she said.  

Misko and Lehnus also addressed an audience question about what it is like for women working in the IC.

“It’s changed dramatically from when I started in the early ‘80s,” Lehnus said, adding she began her career as the only female analyst in her division. “There are lots of women working in the Intelligence Community today. … We have a lot of senior women in the [CIA] and across the IC. I would not really worry about that.”

Another audience member asked about transitioning into the field mid-career.   

“I actually came in mid-career after 20 years in the Navy,” said Harry Coker, executive director at the National Security Agency. “At some point in our history, we didn’t always give the mid-career hires credit for the leadership and management experiences they may have had elsewhere. It’s something we’re doing better at leveraging. But also as a mid-career hire, there’s a lot to be learned at whatever agency you come on board with not only from a technical perspective, but the all-important cultural perspective.”  

Coker advised the audience that situational awareness – understanding one’s office environment and building trusted relationships at senior and junior levels of the organization – is critical to career advancement.  

“I never raised my head, and I had my head down working,” he recalled a colleague telling him earlier in his career. “I didn’t stick my head up to check the environment to see where I might be able to help, somewhere else to see where my skills might be of more value. So that political awareness is key.”

The event concluded with a brief networking reception. Click here to learn more about ICC professional development and mentorship events. 

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