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Security Clearance on a Job Application — Meaning & Context

Security Clearance on a Job Application — Meaning & Context

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If you are applying for a job in the U.S. federal government or at a private company that is regularly contracted by the government, the job posting might state that applicants need to have national security clearance. 

If your first thought is, “what on earth is that?” you aren’t alone.

But the fact that you don’t have national security clearance yet doesn’t mean you aren’t in with a fighting chance of getting the position, provided you put your best foot forward when it comes to resume writing

Whether it makes sense to apply for a job without a security clearance will depend on the position in question.

This article will help you figure out where you stand.  

To learn what “security clearance” means, how to tell if you have active security clearance, and how to get it if you don’t, read on. 


What does security clearance on a job application mean? 

A security clearance is a status awarded to U.S. federal employees or government contractors after they have passed specific background checks. Having security clearance permits access to sensitive national security information; there are different tiers that permit access to different categories of confidential information. 


If you aren’t sure whether your resume is good enough given that a job you want to apply for requires a specific security clearance, you’ll need to do a bit of research. After all, you don’t want to find yourself responding to a job rejection email

If you don’t have security clearance, you can always tell a prospective employer that while you don’t presently have it, you are happy to undergo the required investigative process.

But you’ll want to sound like you know what you’re talking about, so before you submit anything, make sure you are informed.

For a start, you should know what the different tiers of U.S. national security clearance are. 

Of course, it takes a higher-tier security clearance to work within an agency that regularly deals with highly sensitive national security information, and these kinds of clearance are trickier to get. If you have never had active security clearance, you probably won’t get a job that requires top-level clearance.  

Persons employed by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), for example, are required to have higher tiers of clearance than lower-level bureaucrats. 

Eighty-five percent of federal employees with a security clearance work for the Department of Defense, and this article will focus primarily on DoD clearances awarded by the US Defense Industrial Security Clearance Office. 


What is an active security clearance?

Security clearances have three statuses: 



A person has an active security clearance if they are currently eligible to view confidential documents and have demonstrated a legitimate need to access information that is not publicly available. A person with an active clearance may access classified data. 



A person with a current security clearance is someone who formerly had active clearance and has since been debriefed.

If a person with this status provides evidence, with the sponsorship of a government agency, of a need to access classified information again, their active status will be reinstated. 

If a current status is allowed to lapse for twenty-four months without being changed to active, it will expire. 



A security clearance expires when a government employee or contractor (or former government employee or contractor) has not demonstrated a need to access to classified information for two years. 


If a security clearance has expired, it generally takes between six and eighteen months to get it renewed and classed as current again. It cannot simply be reinstated. 


How do I know if I have security clearance? 

Approximately four million civil servants currently have some tier of security clearance. If you’ve ever been given a security clearance, you will know, because you will have had to provide information for it, attend an interview, and sign your name to several classified contractual agreements. 

However, it is important to note that just because you were once awarded security clearance doesn’t mean you have it for the rest of your life. 

Security clearance changes from “active” to “current” when you are not using it. It expires after two years of being “current” and must then be re-applied for. 

So, if you are applying for a job that requires you to have a security clearance and you are not sure whether yours is still active, you will need to check your status with the US Defense Industrial Security Clearance Office. 


How do I get security clearance? 

The agency you’re applying to work for will have the capacity to arrange your security clearance investigation. If you have the education and professional experience to be eligible for a position, the department you’re hoping to work for will ordinarily be happy to sponsor your application and then hire you once you have been granted an interim security clearance. 

If you don’t have security clearance, don’t waste your time trying to work out how to apply for it on your own. You will need to be sponsored by a government agency to be considered for security clearance. 

Listing a security clearance on your resume is not dissimilar to listing a degree or other certificate.

It will make you more hirable, particularly if the federal department or agency (or private contractor) in question is looking for an employee to pick up the role asap.  

Maybe you have never worked in a role that required access to confidential government documents.

Don’t let the fact that you aren’t cleared for access to highly sensitive national security information put you off applying for an advertised position. 

After all, the U.S. government wants to employ people for top security jobs who can list a degree in a relevant discipline on their resume. Federal employers will be highly impressed by anyone who has spent enough time in academia to be able to list a dual master’s degree on a resume

You will not be able to begin working until you have been given the green light by the Defense Industrial Security Clearance Office.

However, as long as you have a respectable credit score, no criminal record, and have not been engaging in any other noteworthy, unusual activity, there is every likelihood you will be cleared. 


What is an interim national security clearance? 

An interim clearance can be issued automatically by the Defense Industrial Security Clearance Office once you have been considered and approved but before your clearance has been processed. 

An interim clearance can, however, be denied if the Defense Industrial Security Clearance Office wants to investigate your application further.

Once you have an interim clearance, you can get to work. You’ll have access to most information, though not to all files. 


What are the requirements for security clearance?

When assessing a person for security clearance, the Defense Industrial Security Clearance Office examines the following information:  

  • credit score
  • financial history
  • criminal record
  • family information
  • group and association memberships
  • work history
  • places travelled
  • places of residence
  • persons lived with
  • any other relevant details


You will be granted a security clearance if you are deemed to be “reliable, trustworthy, of good conduct and character, and loyal to the United States.” 

If you are a veteran, military service looks good on a resume for any job that requires a national security clearance. As a former member of the military, you have shown the ultimate willingness to serve the interests of the U.S.

Anything else you can do that shows good character, such as putting that you were an eagle scout on your resume or listing volunteering experience when you apply for a job, will also give you a leg up. 


What types of security clearance are there? 

The three levels of security clearance awarded by the Defense Industrial Security Clearance Office for work within the US Department of Defense are: 

  • Confidential
  • Secret
  • Top secret


In addition to these three types, there is another program designation that allows people to use and access data deemed “Sensitive Compartmented Information” (SCI).

Bear in mind that having any level of security clearance will improve your chances of a positive job application outcome. That’s because changing a lower-tier status to a higher-tier security clearance is a more straightforward process than applying for a clearance from scratch.

That said, employers would still rather hire a better candidate who doesn’t yet have security clearance than a worse one who does. So, unless the job posting explicitly excludes applicants without an active security clearance, don’t let the fact the fact that you’re green to confidential government work stop you from throwing your name in the ring. 

The sponsoring agency will usually be able to get you interim clearance soon, and you’ll then be able to get to work while you wait for your full clearance. 

Use these top resume writing tips to make your application as watertight as possible. This will help you whether you already have security clearance or not.