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A Job Hunter’s Guide to Government Security Clearances

Having a security clearance opens up a world of jobs in the military, government, and even civilian contracting. The process of vetting and receiving a security clearance takes time, but with a rise in jobs requiring clearances and an uptick in compensation for those roles, a security clearance can be an essential part to obtaining the right job for you.

However, the security clearance process can be complicated and you can only begin it after receiving an employment offer. Prospective employers must sponsor candidates to move through the security clearance process. At ITAC, we’ve placed many candidates in positions requiring security clearances. Let’s walk through the intricacies of the security clearance process to help you land your dream job.

The Basics of Security Clearances

While the term ‘security clearance’ might sound complex and opaque, there is a basic structure to the types of security clearances the US Government issues. Overall, the Department of Defense (DoD) has three security clearance levels:

  • Confidential (lowest level of security clearance)
  • Secret
  • Top Secret (highest level of security clearance)

While Top Secret is the highest level of security clearance, there are two additional qualifications that can be applied to it. These are additional restrictions that are required for certain jobs.

  • Sensitive Compartmented Information (SCI): Certain information is additionally classified with this qualification when it concerns or derives from intelligence sources or methods
  • Special Access Program (SAP): This program is designed to control certain highly sensitive information beyond what is normally required. Only a minimum of select individuals are given SAP access.

To obtain a security clearance, the majority of applicants must work with the Department of Defence (DoD). The DoD issues 80% of all clearances for the US government. The Defense Counterintelligence and Security Agency serves as the primary agency to perform interviews and background checks. Other agencies, including DHS, DoE, DoJ, and CIA, can also issue clearances.

How to Apply for a Security Clearance

Security clearances can sometimes take up to 90 days to be issued. Waiting for an answer can feel like an eternity when you want to begin work. By understanding the process, you can be better prepared to anticipate the next steps and what you need to prepare for.

To even begin the vetting procedures from any agency, you must first be sponsored by your employer. You cannot proactively apply as an individual while job hunting, but must wait for an offer to begin the process.

If an employer is interested in hiring you for a job that requires a specific clearance, they will begin the application process for you and will extend an offer that is contingent upon you being issued the correct clearance.

Moving Through the Vetting Process 

So what happens as you await for your new job to begin? This is where the agency in charge of issuing your clearance begins the vetting process. Typically, this process begins with a submission of forms. The forms ask you to detail your history and provide personal information. This step is often accompanied by fingerprinting as well.

Next, the agency performs a background check and interviews you as well as other people you know. This could include family members, neighbors, co-workers, and friends. The objective of these interviews is to ensure your submitted information is accurate and that there are no issues or concerns they should investigate further.

While the vetting process is meant to understand who you are, there are several criteria that are explicitly excluded from being considered. They cannot factor in your race, color, religion, sex, national origin, disability, or sexual orientation when determining your eligibility. Instead, agencies take a “whole-person concept” and attempt to assess your stability, discretion, trustworthiness, honesty, and unquestionable loyalty to the US among other elements.

When the government has finished their vetting process, they will issue a decision. Your prospective employer will alert you to that decision and your next steps. If the decision is unfavorable, however, you do have the opportunity to appeal.

How to Keep, Transfer, and Change Your Clearance 

Security clearances are not static. They need to be renewed and kept active. You can also transfer them to another agency or even apply for a higher security clearance as your job demands. Let’s look at how security clearances are maintained and updated after initially issued.

Regardless of the type of security clearance you have, there are three statuses for clearances:

  • Active
  • Current
  • Expired

The active status allows you to access the available information associated with your clearance level. The current status means you are unable to access information, but your clearance is not yet expired. When your status is current, you have two years to reinstate your clearance before it is classified  as expired. An expired clearance cannot be reinstated. Instead, a candidate must undergo the process all over again, from employer sponsorship onwards.

To prevent your active status from moving to current, you must renew your clearance on a set schedule. This process is dependent on the type of clearance you have.

  • Confidential – Renew every 15 years
  • Secret – Renew every 10 years
  • Top Secret – Renew every 5 years

You can also transfer your clearance to another agency if you wish to make a career change. Generally, there is reciprocity between agencies however there are some instances when you need to reapply in order to transfer agencies.

As employees move up and are promoted, a new security clearance may be required. To change the level of your clearance, you must undergo a similar process to obtaining your original clearance. Similarly, the process cannot be started by an individual, but must begin with sponsorship by your employer.

How to Get Started on Finding Your Dream Security Clearance Job 

Security clearances are an essential part to many military, government, and civilian contractor jobs. As we see a growing number of roles requiring clearances, obtaining a security clearance can often be a critical step to finding the right job for you. Working with a recruiter, you can more easily navigate which role might be the best option for you, and which agency is in need of your unique skills and competencies.

At ITAC Solutions, our team excels at providing excellent recruiting solutions to a few key industries including the government. We specialize in quickly and accurately identifying ideal candidates for positions with clearances, all the way up to Top Secret. When you work with ITAC Solutions, we can place you in the government role that’s right for you.