Here's everything you need to know about obtaining security clearance at your next job.
When it comes to understanding security clearance, the “who, what, where, and why” is not always so obvious. If you've recently applied for a position that requires you to obtain a security clearance, there are a few steps you need to prepare for. Here is a guide for everything you need to know about getting a security clearance.
What exactly is a security clearance, and why is my employer asking for it?
A security clearance is a security background investigation which, if passed, grants you access to classified information. It is run by the Diplomatic Security Service (DSS), and it determines your security eligibility.
Certain department state positions will require you to review classified information as part of your job. A security clearance is the background check that gives you clearance to review this information. It is required because if the job you're applying for requests this clearance, it means you'll be viewing highly sensitive information.
Whether or not a job will require security clearance will be determined by the hiring officials. Getting security clearance is not a process you would initiate on your own, rather it's only triggered when required by the organization. Obtaining security clearance is common with US Government jobs, as the DSS conducts more than 38,000 personnel actions each year. It is also important to note that only U.S. citizens can apply for security clearance in the U.S.
What's the deal with all the different levels?
There are three separate levels of clearance, and your level of duty and responsibility will determine which level you need. The three levels include:
The State's HR department will determine whether or not the role requires a security clearance and at what level. For secret and top-secret clearance, individuals are subject to re-investigation approximately every five years.
What factors will be considered in my security clearance?
When considering a person's eligibility to be granted a security clearance, factors such as their stability, trustworthiness, reliability, discretion, character, honesty, judgment, and loyalty to the U.S. are all considered. They are assessed through thorough background checks, investigations, and interviews with contacts in your life. Factors like race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, or disabilities are not considered.
What should I expect in the process?
Once you accept your new role, you'll be required to fill out and submit a set of forms to the hiring office. The hiring office will then send the forms, also known as the “security package,” to the DSS. Once this package is received, the investigation is opened, and the DSS will conduct a record and fingerprint check. They will also verify key facts and events that have been listed in your history through face-to-face interviews with people in your life (colleagues, friends, neighbors, etc.). When this portion of the investigation is complete, they will determine your national security eligibility according to National Security Adjudicative Guidelines. Once the DSS has determined your national security eligibility, the hiring authorities will be notified and you will be informed.
What are some major reasons for getting denied?
There are situations where your application can be denied or revoked. Financial considerations, personal conduct (like falsifying information), criminal conduct, and having ties to foreign governments are all reasons that one might be denied a security clearance. Each individual case is assessed using the guidelines to determine whether or not the individual will be granted a level of clearance.
How long does this take?
Given the level of background investigation required for a clearance check, it is possible that obtaining your security clearance can take a long time. Depending on the level of clearance you require, it could take anywhere from three weeks to twelve months.
It's common for the process to get delayed as well, due to the submission of incomplete forms and information, poorly collected fingerprints, and investigations that involve coverage of extensive overseas activities. Given the amount of detailed information required for the investigation, remember to go through all the necessary paperwork thoroughly. Dot your i's and cross your t's!
If this process takes such a long time, what happens for people who need to start working before their level of clearance is approved? In cases like this, you would use an interim determination. There will be some instances where the hiring manager or DSS will grant you an interim determination that will allow you to work before your full clearance is approved.
If you still have questions about how to obtain a security clearance, there are many resources available at your disposal. Head over to the U.S. Department of State website to learn everything you need to know about security clearance.
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Editor's Note: This piece was written by Stacy Pollack and originally ran on Glassdoor. It is reprinted with permission.