Security Clearances

Many people think that they can go to a company or agency and apply for their own security clearance. This is far from the truth. Only the federal government can grant someone a security clearance, and to get one the applicant must work for a government agency or contractor and conduct business that justifies granting him or her access to highly sensitive information.

Title:Applying to Positions with Clearance.
Taking the mystery out of USA Jobs' security clearance requirements

Author:Thomas Braden

Date:January 2021

Editor Notes

This article is written by Thomas Braden, the author of A Veteran's Guide to Transition: Active Duty to Government Service, available on Amazon:

In the article author describes considerations and steps of application process to a position with security clearance or access requirements on USA Jobs. While the focus here is on government positions posted on USA Jobs, the considerations are also applicable to positions with clearance requirements posted by other organizations and on other job boards.

On Veteran's Job Center you can specify security clearance when you create a job seeker account and update it here

Taking the mystery out of USA Jobs' security clearance requirements

When you're applying for position on USA Jobs, you should find a job that meets your interests and takes advantage of your background, skills and abilities, first. If you're in doubt as to whether the position is a good-match for you, expand the Requirements section and preview online self-assessment or job questionnaire. If you're not honestly able to give yourself the highest category of response for most (if not all) questions, then, perhaps this job isn't a good match for you, at this time. So keep shopping and find a position where you can give yourself the highest scores and you feel like it's a "good fit."

Then, you should the focus on is the requirements for a Security Clearance. Why? Because the security clearance process is likely to be the longest and most time consuming part of your journey.

Security Clearance information is often listed several times throughout the Vacancy Announcement. Unfortunately, it is not standardized and is likely to be mentioned in:

  • the "Responsibilities" section;
  • the "Requirements" section; and
  • the "Background Checks and Security Clearance."

This last section is the most common format across all positions on USA Jobs. It will break it down for you, telling exactly what is required.

Security clearances come in several levels.

Background Check or Public Trust

The easiest/lowest level is a public record "background check" and it is not an actual clearance, as it doesn't provide access to classified information. This is called a "public trust," and might be utilized for positions that require base/building access, but do not require access to any classified information to perform their jobs. A good example might be the janitors or landscape gardeners on a secure base.

Access to Classified Information

If the position requires access to classified information, it will then state the level or type of clearance required. Normally you'll see this listed as Secret or Top-Secret, and this covers the vast majority of USG personnel who require access to classified information in the course of their daily tasks. If this is the level of clearance that your prospective position requires, you'll be asked to fill out an e-Qip form online listing all of your information. This process can be laborious and frustrating, as you'll be asked to either update it (since the date of your last clearance) or provide data going back for the last ten years. You'll need all prior address and reference points of contact so they can call/email and verify your history.

Sensitivity and Risk

The third and perhaps rarest form of a security clearance will be for those positions which discriminate based upon the position's responsibilities and duties:

  • Sensitivity equates with the position's potential impact on the national security of the United States;
  • Risk equates with the position's potential to damage the public's trust in the Federal Government.

As opposed to the landscape gardener in the previous example, these highly sensitive, high-risk positions might be responsible for negotiating treaties with foreign countries and would require access to information that is either sensitive, risky - or both.

USA Jobs explains all of their security clearance requirements, with additional detail, here and if you're certain to pursue positions which will require a security clearance, it may be worth checking out the latest information, guides and instructions specifically for the e-Qip, here

Is Security Clearance a Prerequisite?

The question you should be asking and combing the vacancy announcement to answer is:

Is the security clearance required as a prerequisite to apply? Or can I get it, IF they hire me?

Well, the answer is, "That depends." You'll need to read the vacancy announcement closely. As stated, previously, there is no standardized answer or language... you need to read it closely.

The best-case scenario, for both you and the hiring manager, is when you have a Secret clearance and the position requires a Secret clearance. Easy and done - be sure to call that out in both your resume and cover letter (and interview!). While they're unlikely to hire you merely because you have the required clearance, it may be a tie-breaker (as you're a proven entity) should another candidate not have it. (If you're interested in getting hired for your clearance, or in taking a contractor position which will allow you to maintain that clearance, please check out: for good options as well.)

The second-best possibility is when the security clearance requirement is listed as "must be eligible to attain." This means that IF you're selected for hiring, THEN they will assist you in obtaining the necessary level of security clearance required to fulfill the position. (Caution, while they're willing to invest in you to obtain the clearance, this may take up to a year. You're VERY unlikely to be hired - and paid - until its complete, so don't quit your day job!)

The third possibility is that the vacancy announcement states "must currently possess." In this case, if you don't currently have the required level of clearance, you may be found ineligible to even apply and be rejected outright by Human Resources. Does that mean that you shouldn't apply? I say No, make them do their job and sort you out... but don't be too annoyed if/when they do. Remember the exact wording in the vacancy announcement is what matters for your eligibility.

Why all of this is so important

Why is all of this so important to stress? Because, as stated earlier, the security clearance may be the longest part of your hiring process, and that's if/when everything goes smoothly and you're prepared to provide the USG with every bit of information and everything that you have done for the past ten years. A few show-stoppers worth mentioning:

  1. Drug testing. If you're pursuing a position that requires a security clearance of any level, you're going to be required to conduct a urinalysis prior to hiring and then be subject to random drug-testing throughout your tenure. (A side note here on the ubiquitous use of marijuana in America today. While some states have legalized it for recreational and/or medical use, the Federal Government has not. Similarly, investments in "pot stocks" may not help in adjudication of your case.)
  2. Domestic violence. Some positions may be subject to the Lautenberg Amendment/ Domestic Violence Misdemeanor Amendment to the Gun Control Act of 1968. If you have any previous record of domestic violence, this may impact your ability to obtain a security clearance.
  3. Foreign contacts. "A foreign national is defined as any person who is not a citizen or national of the U.S. You must indicate whether you have, or have had, close and/or continuing contact with a foreign national within the last seven years with whom you, or your spouse, or legally recognized civil union/domestic partner, or cohabitant are bound by affection, influence, common interests, and/or obligation." You will need to disclose any foreign contacts that meet this definition, as well as any foreign investments; again, this may affect your case.

None of this is meant as a deterrent in applying for secured positions. The better informed you are about the exact requirements and process - and how they match with your specific background and circumstances - the easier it will be for you to select and apply, only to those positions which are truly a "good fit," making your transition to the civil service as smooth as possible.

I cover this - and so much more - in greater depth and detail throughout my book, A Veteran's Guide to Transition: Active Duty to Government Service, now available on Amazon for less than the cost of a cup of coffee, I might add!

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