Whether you’ve seen National Security Agency (NSA) in headlines or studied its important mission back when you were in school, chances are you’re well aware of one of the most talked about government agencies. But have you ever wondered what it’s like to work there?
Caitlin B., Deputy Chief of NSA’s External Recruitment Marketing, Outreach and Testing Organization, loves her role recruiting top talent to the agency. She recently spoke to Fairygodboss about her path to Deputy Chief, what she wishes women knew about the job search and what most people don’t know about the day in and day out at the agency. Then, she shared how she balances the important missions of multiple internal stakeholders at work with the the important missions of multiple internal stakeholders at home (she has three kids under 5 years old!).
How long have you been in your current role, and what were you doing previously?
I have been in a leadership role in external recruitment for over 2 years. Prior to this, I worked in a program management capacity. I supported the Intelligence Community in building software as a service (what a consumer would associate with an App store).
What’s the first (and/or last) thing you do at work every day?
Once I get to work, with a coffee or green smoothie in hand, of course, I check in with my team to say good morning, see how everyone is doing and ask what they have going on.
What’s the most unique or interesting aspect of your job or company?
I have the opportunity to find new and dynamic ways to attract talent to one of the coolest agencies in the government. Most recently, we’ve participated in what I consider some very out-of-the box recruitment events. For one particular event, ShmooCon, we made a poster to send with one of our senior leaders who set up a mobile charging station. The poster went viral on a ton of websites; it was cool to be a part of seeing that project through. And last year, one of our vendors at an event thought it would be hilarious to label our box of marketing materials “NSA … Yes, That NSA” as a joke. We took the sign they made and kept it at our table for the duration of the event.
Something people don’t know about NSA is that we fall under both the Department of Defense and the Intelligence Community, so our employees support missions that protect our service members and produce intel that helps our partners. We do that work in an environment that demands stringent security protocols, so I must use a badge to even get on the NSA compound. Some may find that intimidating, but really it gives me a sense of security knowing that our police are keeping us safe.
What’s something you think most people (perhaps even current employees) don’t know about your company that you think they should?
I love this fun fact: we are the nation’s largest employer of mathematicians. But we hire more than just STEM talent. We operate at the level of a Fortune 100 company, so we need a wide range of expertise at NSA.
What’s something you’re especially good at, at work?
I am the best at saying no to food that is sitting out and around the office. No, really, I can resist food better than anyone. Cookies, pizza, cake… I won’t cave. Except, I don’t know why, but I can’t resist Hershey’s Kisses at work. And yes, just at work.
What about outside of work?
I’m a mom to three children who are 4 years old and younger. So, had you asked me this 4 years ago, my answer would be different. I’ve naturally re-prioritized my outside of work activities. Basically, I have minimal time to be especially good at things these days, except exercise. But any opportunity or sunny day I get, I like to drive my racecar (without my kids). I’m good at that — ask any of my friends. I am also especially good at keeping my household structured and organized in terms of tidiness, organization and meal prepping for the week. Organization — especially with three kids and a full-time job — is necessary, but definitely not as much fun as driving a racecar.
What are you trying to improve on?
A little bit of everything, to be honest. I tend to overfill my plate with both work and home tasks. I am trying to slow down, pay closer attention to details, re-focus when I find myself distracted and say “no” — which is incredibly hard for me.
What’s the one career move you’ve made that you’re most proud of?
My undergrad is a Bachelor of Arts, and I started my career doing more “liberal artsy” sorts of things. I remember going on a trip for work with colleagues who were very technical by trait, and someone referred to me as just “HR” (or something to that effect). That situation actually fueled my fire to go back and get an Master of Science in Information Systems.
I learned a lot by getting my Master’s. I was exposed to curriculum and training completely out of my comfort zone, as well as being exposed to people who were not like me at all. This gave me a different appreciation and respect for the benefits of diversity of background and diversity of thought. Professionally, getting my Master’s postured me for the subsequent positions in my career. Being able to understand concepts at a technical level and also having my finger on the pulse of how an organization runs makes me a more well-rounded leader.
What do you love most about your job or your company?
I love that I can influence how we market careers at NSA, because it is such an amazing place to work with a unique mission that you literally cannot find anywhere else. I love that I am able to build the national recruitment strategy with my team, and that I have the autonomy to be creative when it comes to pitching and executing new ideas. I love meeting with internal stakeholders to discuss their obstacles and craft niche strategies supporting their very important missions. I love speaking with college students about career opportunities with NSA. But honestly, I get to work with the best team, so going to work every day I know there will be lots of hard work and lots of laughs — and some Hershey’s Kisses.
What are you currently reading/watching/listening to?
One of my senior leaders let me borrow a book called “Crucial Accountability.” I have three kids, so it’s taking me a while to get through it.
What’s your #1 piece of advice for women who are looking for jobs right now?
“Get your mind right and tell yourself you can do it,” which is something one of my Insanity instructors always says before he challenges me. Forget about the competition you’re up against for a job and focus on you and what you bring to the table. No one does you better than you; sell that.
Who is the most influential person in your life and why?
When I read this question, I knew my answer right away: my daughter. She’s 4 going on 24 and she’s just the most influential and inspirational young lady in my life. She has this air of confidence that she doesn’t even realize. She is so strong and independent; it’s such a beautiful and admirable thing for a mother to see these characteristics in her child, because it will only be to her benefit later in life.
What’s the most memorable piece of career advice you’ve received?
Don’t be a superhero when it comes to work, because work will always be there. There used to be times where I’d fly West for some work function, hop back on the red eye back to the East Coast and head into work. I knew I was asking too much of my body and that the pace couldn’t last, but I literally couldn’t wait to get back to work. I don’t always practice this methodology, but I do have to remind myself that I am human and to listen to my body cues more often. You know that when your energy tank is running low, it’s hard to give anything your all. So, take care of yourself.
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