One of the most nerve-wracking things about applying for positions with the government or with a federal contractor is the requirement to obtain and maintain a security clearance. When I worked as a hiring manager, people would ask me all the time, "I've got a few skeletons in my closet...can I still get a clearance?"
It’s a common question, mostly because almost every grown adult has some kind of blemish on their record, whether it’s criminal, financial, or with interpersonal relations. And so the answer I always give people is, "It depends." Most job applicants don’t realize that there are only a handful of hard and fast rules that would keep someone from being granted a security clearance. Nearly all security clearance denials are judgment calls, which are made on the recommendation of a contracted background investigator.
While background investigations for Confidential, Moderate Risk Public Trust, and Secret security clearances are pretty straightforward, the personal interviews associated with Top Secret or TS/SCI clearances can be pretty nerve-wracking. If you’re a shy person, or just unaccustomed to discussing your dirty laundry with a total stranger, you might not perform as well as you’d like to during this phase. Omitting any information from your SF-86, or giving the appearance that you’re being less than forthright in the process, will most definitely work against you.
Like with any activity though, preparation is key. It’s important for a job applicant to do enough due diligence before the background investigation begins, so that any mistakes or misunderstandings can be resolved before personal references are contacted. Make sure that all of your references’ phone numbers still work before you list them on your SF-86, and it’s never a bad idea to make sure that they still know who you are! Pulling a credit report is also a good idea, since the majority of denials are for financial reasons. If you put in the time and effort beforehand, it’ll make your paperwork go a lot more smoothly.
Likewise, in the personal interview, you should know that the background investigator is going to want to discuss every aspect of your behavior, both in your career and in your personal life. If you’ve got anything in your past that you’re less than proud of, it’s a good idea to start preparing what you want to say about it. If you can explain why an incident happened, then calm any fears that the behavior will resurface in the future, then it probably won’t be a major concern for your background investigator.
To help you prepare for the security clearance interview process, I uploaded a short e-book titled, “Can I still get a security clearance?” Hopefully it will give you some insight into how background investigators make their recommendations, which will make you much more likely to be deemed trustworthy- and to get the job!