A security clearance gives you a competitive advantage in getting hired on for a technology job with a government contractor or federal agency handling sensitive top secret information.
If you seek to work at an employer serving the national interest you will find your path slowed if not blocked entirely, by the absense of a security clearance. To get a security clearance, you’ll need an employer’s support and a great deal of patience. In getting the approvals, delays are common especially considering the U.S. government’s backlog of security clearance applications.
What is a Security Clearance?
A security clearance is a U.S. government authorization for you, the employee, to view classified information as your job requires on a need-know-basis. The information can be as varied as reports about border security or details on how spy satellites work. A security clearance is not a blank check authorization to view all classified information. The security clearance simply allows the employee to view the information you need to know so that you can do your job effectively.
John Vogel of HireVeterans.com, a job board for U.S. Veterans that places former military personnel with active security clearances, stresses the importance of a security clearance to work at defense contractors, homeland security firms and in other government-related positions. Vogel likens the clearance to “a top-secret handshake” — once you get it, it’s transferable, meaning it will help you find other jobs that require a security clearance.
What Type of Security Clearances Do You Need?
The most common type of security clearances 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 Security Clearance on my own?
Unfortunately, the answer is NO! Sponsorship from a company or government agency is absolutely necessary to apply for a security 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 Randy Miller, a senior recruiting consultant at VT Network who runs the HireVeterans Job Blog . “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 U.S. Government Evaluate Security 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 Security Clearance last a Lifetime?
No it does not. If you need to continue to view sensitive information on the job, you will have to undergo a re-investigation every 5 years for a top-secret security clearance, every 10 years for a secret clearance and every 15 years for a confidential clearance. A security clearance becomes inactive when your job no longer requires you to view sensitive information.
If I Do Not Have a Security Clearance, Is it Worth Applying?
A lack of a security clearance shouldn’t stop you from seeking a job that requires one. If you don’t have a security clearance, the employer may still hire you and start the clearance process. What they will do is has you work on other projects until your security clearance is approved.
A Guide to Security Clearance