Security Clearance: What you don’t know could derail your job opportunities

Image of Top Secret folders implying security clearanceYou found the perfect job and now you need to go through the security clearance process. No problem, right? Except, all of a sudden, you find yourself stuck in red tape and don’t know how to proceed. Or worse yet, your application was denied. You see, there are a host of complicating factors that may delay a decision or result in a denial of your security clearance.

Types of personnel security clearances

First, let’s look at the various types of security clearance levels. For U.S. Government positions, there are three levels of access to classified information  or to restricted areas:

  • Confidential clearance—provides access to information or material that may cause damage to national security if disclosed without authorization.
  • Secret clearance—provides access to information or material that may cause serious damage to national security if disclosed without authorization.
  • Top secret clearance—provides access to information or material that may cause exceptionally grave damage to national security if disclosed without authorization.

If you’re applying for a position in the private sector that requires a clearance, you will have to go through the same process as a government employee who requires access to sensitive information.

Interestingly, in either the government or private sector, clearance by itself normally is not enough to give you access; the organization must also determine that you have specific reasons for knowing the classified information.

Background check time

For you to obtain any security clearance, you’ll need to go through a comprehensive background check.

In the federal system, a background investigation begins after an applicant receives a conditional offer from an agency and has completed the forms required to begin the process. Usually, this requires the Standard Form 86 (SF-86), Questionnaire for National Security Positions. This starts the investigation process. There are many different types of investigations, depending on the type of clearance required for the position. You may, for example, be asked to meet with the investigator yourself for an interview.  Once completed, the report prepared by investigators is weighed against the existing adjudicative guidelines for security clearances. At the conclusion of the investigation, you’ll be informed whether you’ve been granted a security clearance.  If there’s a problem, you should learn that as well and be given an opportunity to address the issues before a final decision is made.

Social Media can trip you up

There are many ways in which social media has an impact upon the security clearance process. One involves foreign contacts. You may not think about who you like and who likes you on social media, but you should!

Many people are “friends” on social media with people they met while traveling or have “friended” someone they might not even know. The problem arises when you have to identify foreign contacts on the SF-86, which requires you to list everyone with whom you have or have had close and/or continuing contact. Who you follow and who follows you, or an inopportune photo or statement posted publicly on the web, can derail your clearance.  Stayed tuned for additional blogs addressing other clearance issues related to social media!

Need help with getting your security clearance

If you have questions or have had problems getting your security clearance, please contact the employment lawyers of Kalijarvi, Chuzi, Newman & Fitch. We advocate for you.


For more information, please check out Security Clearance Law and Procedure by KCNF partners Elaine Fitch & Mary Kuntz.