We all know at least one guy who’s been turned down for a clearance and personally, I can name about a dozen!  If you’re seeking a job with the government or a federal contractor, my best advice to you is to start paying your bills!

                Ordinarily, going through a background check for a security clearance is not that big of a deal.  A government investigator is going to want to know that you’re trustworthy, that you have allegiance to the United States, and that you’re not a member of either Al-Qaeda or the Ku Klux Klan.  Easy enough, right?  But the biggest thing that can trip you up is having a continued history of financial problems.

                Managing your money is one of those things that’s not very hard to do, even though it might sting a little to live within your means.  Consistently spending more than you earn is a big sign that you’re irresponsible, which is a red flag to any employer that you won’t be able to keep it together on their job.  More importantly, when it comes to holding a security clearance, a pattern of financial problems is a signal to the government that you’re much more likely to do some dumb stuff in exchange for quick cash.  Think about it:  there’s very little chance that a guy with a steady income and nice standard of living is going to risk losing all that to take a $5000 bribe in exchange for leaking some sensitive information.  On the other hand, for a guy who’s facing a pile of gambling debts or an imminent foreclosure, that offer might sound pretty good.

                Look, no one’s perfect.  Just about everyone carries some kind of debt, and going through tough patches like a divorce or caring for a sick family member can happen to the best of us.  Any major life event is going to have an impact on your finances, there’s no getting around that.  And the government recognizes this too, which is why financial difficulties alone aren’t an automatic disqualifier for security clearances.  It’s up to the background investigator to make his or her judgment call when looking at these situations, so count on having your financial statements reviewed carefully.

                This week, I actually had the chance to sit down with an investigator from the Office of Personnel Management to discuss one of my former employees who was being checked out before moving up to a Top Secret clearance.  This guy explained that while he did look at how recent the financial problems were, he puts the most weight on the person’s reactions to these tough times.  For example, having a car repossessed a year ago might not be a huge deal if you’ve made it a point since then to downsize your ride and pay your car note on time, but having three cars repossessed in the past year would show that you haven’t learned much from the experience.  Even declaring personal bankruptcy isn’t automatically going to hold you back, but you should probably be ready to account for every last dollar that’s passed through your hands since then.

                Clearance denials are a huge source of frustration to a lot of people during the hiring process because the myth of landing a big-money job as an overseas security contractor pulling in $1000 a day might seem like a quick fix to someone’s financial problems.  Trust me, if you hit the point where you need to be bringing in a grand a day just to keep your head above water, you might have bigger problems than just finding a job.  Try taking a long look at yourself, and make a decision about where you want your career to go.  The good news, though, is that financial problems are just like any other challenges.  Make the right moves, and these obstacles can be overcome.

                A contract’s employment standards aren’t usually very flexible, whether it’s for minimum years of experience, physical fitness or the ability to hold a security clearance.  If you can’t meet them, you’re gone.   If you want the work, you’ve got to do what it takes well before you can expect any kind of job offer.  If you were a donut inhaler who couldn’t make the minimum 1-mile run time, my advice to you would be to hold yourself to six per day.  If you’re going through financial difficulties and are worried about the ability to hold a security clearance, my advice to you would be to crack open your checkbook and start doing some repair work. 

                As much as I hate to say it, that could include cutting back on your standard of living.  It might mean selling off some of your toys, so you don’t have an overdue note on that sweet Honda Goldwing Aspencade.  If your old lady kicked you out, this might mean sleeping on a buddy’s couch for a month so you don’t have an overdue rent payment.  If you’re buried in personal debt, this might mean that you should start cutting deals with your lenders and setting up repayment plans.

                Money troubles come and go, but it’s the way you respond to them that really counts.  Make the tough decisions, and this rough patch will turn into just one more chance for your true character to show through.  Make a series of stupid decisions, and you can pretty much say goodbye to landing either a security clearance or a high-paying overseas contract job.