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Security Clearance 101: Maximize Your Earnings

Security Clearance 101: Maximize Your Earnings

Allan Hoffman / Monster.com

October 13, 2007

A security clearance is often essential to landing a technology job with a government contractor or federal agency handling sensitive information.

If you want to work at an organization serving the national interest, you may find your path slowed considerably, if not blocked entirely, by the lack of a security clearance. To obtain a clearance, you need an employer’s backing and patience. Delays are common, given the government’s backlog of clearance applications.

Here’s our guide to security clearances.


What is a security clearance?


A security clearance is a government authorization for you to view classified information as your job requires. The information can be as varied as reports about border security or details on how spy satellites work. A clearance is not a blanket authorization to view all classified information; it simply allows you to view the information you need to know to do your job.

Advance Your Career

Dave Underwood, president of TAC Secured, a TAC Worldwide subsidiary that places IT professionals with active security clearances, stresses the importance of a clearance to work at defense contractors, homeland security firms and in other government-related positions. He likens the clearance to “a secret handshake” — once you get it, it’s transferable, meaning it will help you find other jobs that require a clearance.


Are there different types of clearances?


Yes. The most common are labeled “confidential,” “secret” and “top secret,” corresponding to the sensitivity of the information you are allowed to handle on the job. Top-secret clearances may also give you authorization to view “sensitive compartmented information” — specific information that’s deemed particularly sensitive. Your employer will work with government officials to determine the appropriate clearance.


Can I apply for a clearance on my own?



No. Sponsorship from a company or government agency is necessary to apply for a clearance. “The challenge for most candidates is that you can’t obtain a security clearance on your own without having a government contractor or agency sponsor you for the background investigation,” says Michael Fitzgerald, principal consultant at staffing firm Winter, Wyman and Company. “Such investigations also take time and money, which means obtaining your clearance requires patience and planning, as they can often take many months to finish.” Employers pay the cost of the clearance process.


How does the government evaluate clearance applications?

The process varies depending on the type of clearance being sought, the information involved and the urgency of the project. A lower-level clearance may entail a background check into your education, job history, criminal record, credit history and residences. If you’re applying for a job involving more sensitive information, expect government or private investigators to interview you personally and delve into various areas of your personal and professional life. Investigators will also interview neighbors and friends and possibly have you take a polygraph test. Falsehoods and omissions in an application can disqualify you from receiving a clearance.


Does a clearance last a lifetime?


No. If you need to continue to view sensitive information on the job, you will have to undergo a reinvestigation every five years for a top-secret clearance, every 10 years for a secret clearance and every 15 years for a confidential clearance. A clearance becomes inactive when your job no longer requires you to view sensitive information.


Is it worth applying for a job requiring a clearance even if I don’t have one?


Lack of a clearance shouldn’t stop you from seeking a job that requires one. If you don’t have a clearance, the company may hire you, start the clearance process and have you work on other projects until your clearance is approved.


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  • Photo_user_blank_big

    davidpblack

    21 days ago

    2 comments

    my questions is if i have a judjement against me will that prevent me from getting a secret clearance?? it was for a laspe in insurance the i owe 28000 for now but its not on my credit...

  • Photo_user_blank_big

    sfrost54

    about 2 years ago

    2 comments

    i had a security clearance while i was active duty in the AF. I got out in 1982. i now work for a government contractor, can i get this reinstated? If so how do i do this? I was a med tech then and i think it was either a top secret or secret...Please advise me thanks

  • Photo_user_blank_big

    nitap

    over 4 years ago

    2 comments

    If you had a clearance before is it easier to get another one

  • Photo_user_blank_big

    tuckerbutter

    about 5 years ago

    14 comments

    Those of you who had a clearance while serving will find it easier to obtain another one, barring any illegal or negative actions. It it was within the last 10 year, then you should still have an active Secret clearance, 5 years for TS and 15 for Confidential. The process is still a pain but a little less strained since they don't have to investigate as far back. You should always reveal any negative information so that you don't get caught in a "lie of omission", which will have a negative impact on your job pursuits.

    @dianearreola...interesting name....If you want to work in then intelligence/homeland secuirty field, then by all means go throgh AMU (I am currently going there!). An Intelligence degree will NOT to a darn thing for you if you are looking at a job outside that field. By the same token if you are looking to work in the intelligence field, have substantial experience, and have/had a clearance (TS is good, even if it lapsed) then you don't necessarily need an Intel degree if you are coming in at a GS 5,6,7 so long as you have the experience and some college or degree. It actually depends on what the hiring official is looking for and willing to work with.

  • Larpic_max50

    laromeo

    about 5 years ago

    2 comments

    I was arrested for disorderly conduct once but the case was thrown out of court. Does that mean I have a criminal record or I should disclose that I have an arrest record on the SF-86?

  • Photo_user_blank_big

    dianearreola

    about 5 years ago

    10 comments

    I had a TS/SCI clearance while in the Air Force. Does anyone know if getting a degree in a school such as the American Military University help in any way? For example, I worked in intel should I get a degree from them in intel or is it a waste of time and money? Any opinions out there?

  • Photo_user_blank_big

    rodgers9964

    about 5 years ago

    2 comments

    I had a security clearence when I was on active duty with the military. Can I have that clearence re-instated?

  • Photo_user_blank_big

    salsx1

    over 5 years ago

    2 comments

    hello,my name is sal even though i have been working with the military and marines fo allmost
    t.hree years,iam still not eligable for better jobs because my security clesrence,what should i do

  • Photo_user_blank_big

    woodssl

    over 5 years ago

    2 comments

    I am a retired army NCO that held a secret security clearance. My last year of duty was 2004. Can this help me get accepted quicker since I held a clearance while in the Army.

    Thanks,
    Scotty

  • Eagle_max50

    rmyers

    over 5 years ago

    1976 comments

    "wow"

  • Long_beach_naval_shipyard_federal_security_guard_max50

    clueless

    over 5 years ago

    16 comments

    "Falsehoods and omissions in an application can disqualify you from receiving a clearance."
    That is a heavy statement within it self. You can not have any Felonies to work in the Federal Government that does not seem hard. You can not have a Misdemeanor and work for the Rail Road.
    These are two big Families to think about. A Clearance is a heavy subject but true as well needed.

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    stevebelch

    over 5 years ago

    2 comments

    Poor credit can kill your chances of getting a clearance, but what is lookeed at more than your credit is your credit history, why you have poor credit and how you are taking care of the problem. To put it simply, they look to see if you are a poor steward of your finances and if you had problems how you are fixing them. If you have lots of late bills and are still late, it might as well be a certainty that you will not get a clearance, but if you are trying to take care of the past due bills, if you have any, then your chances get better, but still not a given. So, the best thing is to try and get your financial ducks in a row and clear up any current monetary problems. Persons with financial issues are seen as more of a risk to compromise classified info for monetary gain. Hope that helped.

  • Doing_it_big__max50

    mctruss

    almost 6 years ago

    8 comments

    Can having poor credit history make me uneligible for a Clearance? What is usually the requirements for a credit score or history to be scored at in order to have success in getting cleared? Also, has anybody ever been turned down for a clearance because of their credit or finances? I'll tell you that my credit is poor at this point and time...

  • Photo_user_blank_big

    max333

    about 6 years ago

    2 comments

    Good and very clear information; particularly the explanation about applying for a goverment job even if you don' t have a clearence.

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    Account Removed

    about 6 years ago

    An inactive clearance can be activated by your agency depending on position needs. It may require a partial back ground check depending on when your last investigation occurred.

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