Mid-Career Reboot: Challenges and Choices Recap

Mid-Career Reboot: Challenges and Choices Recap


The Intelligence Community – both the government and its industry partners – has long wrestled with how to keep mid-career professionals engaged. Over time, job changes or the assumption of managerial responsibilities can leave people feeling disconnected from the mission that inspired them to join an organization 10 to 15 years earlier. INSA and USGIF looked to address this workforce challenge with a “Mid-Career Reboot” program held on July 22.

This first-of-its-kind event attracted more than 100 attendees for networking and career-enhancing insights. The morning kicked off with a panel discussion featuring Intelligence Community leaders who made successful mid-career transitions, followed by an interactive exercise led by a team of professional career coaches.

Media Coverage

Attendees participated in an icebreaker exercise, led by Collaborative Consulting's Elise Yanker.

Panel: Deirdre Walsh, Chief Operating Officer, Office of the Director of National Intelligence; Kelly Brickley, Senior Director of Cyber Risk, Capital One; Preston Golson, Director, Brunswick Group; Lindy Kyzer (moderator), Senior Editor, ClearanceJobs.

Key takeaways:

  • Core competencies like writing, briefing, and synthesizing complex information transfer well from the public sector to the private sector, and vice versa.
  • At the mid-career stage, career choices can be complicated by life (e.g., aging parents, paying for college). Ask yourself: What key requirements are driving your career choices now?
  • Conceptualize your career as a lattice, not a ladder. Seek skills, not positions. Look at where you want to go and identify the skillsets you want to collect. Make career decisions that will help you achieve these goals.
  • Pursuing new skills has to be self-driven process; while employers might offer training, you are your best advocate. Remain confident you have the skills needed to succeed in a new position, but also have the humility to recognize you are on a learning journey. Embrace the challenge!
  • Joint-duty assignments and internal rotations offer valuable experience to build skills, expand networks, and learn various organizations’ approaches. Build your professional network and expertise by becoming active in organizations like INSA and USGIF and by attending events at think tanks and other thought leaders.
  • Be somebody people want to work with. Have a strong work ethic and bring your best effort to your job. The IC is a small world – be known as a team player and a successful producer, and people will seek you out.

Highlights from the audience Q&A

How does one engage outside of core responsibilities to build skills?

  • Stay in touch with those you meet though education and professional events. Follow their career trajectories. Ask them how they made each step; what does it look like?
  • Identify roles and opportunities and the skills needed in the field. Talk to mentors and colleagues to give you real, unvarnished feedback. What is it you need to learn before you make that jump?

How does one overcome the clearance hurdle?

  • Build your skillset, as some companies are willing to sponsor your clearance if your skills impress them enough. Large firms like CACI and Lockheed have job pages for people willing to obtain.

How can one remain motivated/engaged during the doldrum years?

  • When you start getting bored, it’s time to network. It’s OK to be selfish sometimes – focus on what you If you are feeling burned out, it is likely those around you are noticing it.
  • Examine what you like about your current skillset/tasks and use that list as the guiding principles for examining future opportunities.

How does a private sector employee gain the attention of the government?

  • Attending networking events like the Reboot is a critical first step. There is a human connection to every job; pursuing your passion is fulfilling, and people notice a fulfilled person.
  • Noting on your resume that you are cleared or “clearable” – e.g., that you held a clearance before, even if it is inactive now – helps you stand out.
  • Own and explain any gaps in your resume. Rather than apologizing for breaks from the workforce, consider how they demonstrate your soft skills; for example, taking off work to care for an aging parent demonstrates your empathy, responsibility, and willingness to sacrifice for a higher goal.

After the panel concluded, a team of career coaches walked attendees through an interactive exercise to help them refine their career aspirations. Download the PDF.

Peggy O'Connor

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