Getting a security clearance is one of the best things that you can do to enhance your career. For those of you who don’t know, a security clearance is basically a background investigation that the government requires you to go through before you can be allowed to access different levels of classified data. There are a few different levels of security clearances, but these are the ones you’re most likely to see as an applicant:
Confidential : Also known as a High Risk Public Trust. This is the simplest security clearance to get and typically only requires a few weeks of investigation.
Secret: Sometimes known as an Ordinary Secret clearance, this level might require anywhere from 1 to 3 months to investigate depending on the individuals’ background.
Top Secret: This clearance is more stringent and is generally required for all individuals working in national security, counterterrorism/counterintelligence, or other highly sensitive areas. A Top Secret clearance can take anywhere from a few months to over a year to obtain.
All companies, but especially those working on federal contracts, are under intense pressure to fill their slots with qualified employees. Having an active security clearance, or even having held one at any point in the past, makes you much more desirable to recruiters. Also, positions that require cleared employees typically pay higher than those that don’t. As a new job seeker, it’s in your best interests to add a security clearance to your resume as soon as possible. If you have the chance to obtain one during your military service, never pass it up. For civilians, sometimes a company is willing to sponsor their new hires to go through this process if the position requires it. If you ever get this chance, I’d recommend taking it, even if it means sucking up a year or so in a lower-paying job. Over time, the long-term benefits will make it more than worth your while.
Most people have the ability to obtain a security clearance, but there are a few almost automatic disqualifiers. With rare exceptions, these include the following:
-Criminal convictions resulting in over 1 year of incarceration;
-Current unlawful use or addiction to a controlled substance;
-Diagnosis of mental incompetence;
-A Dishonorable military discharge (General or Other then Honorable are not necessarily barred from obtaining security clearances)
If any of the above applies to you, then you probably won’t have much of a future in security contracting anyway. But the thing that always irritates me the most as a hiring manager is that most security clearance denials could be prevented if the employee had taken corrective action. If you want to make the most out of security contracting, you’ll eventually need to get a clearance, so don’t wait to fix the imperfections in your background.
A poor financial history is the number one reason why clearance applications get rejected. You should pull your credit report now to make sure that there’s no adverse information floating around on you. Bankruptcies will almost always disqualify you, but if it’s just a few unpaid bills, work to get the doggone things paid off even before a background investigator starts digging.
Also, make sure you’re doing everything you can to speed up the investigation process. Look back over the past ten years to confirm address and phone numbers for your previous employers and personal references, and take a few more minutes to make a running list of all the places you’ve lived and countries you’ve traveled to. Putting down inaccurate information on your clearance application has consequences. At the least, it’ll slow down your application and keep you from getting to work as quickly as possible. At the most severe, it’ll be seen as dishonesty, which will almost certainly result in your being denied a clearance.
Remember, you should consider the time you put in obtaining a security clearance to be an investment: it’ll pay off over the long run with better job opportunities and higher salaries.