How to Get Security Clearance for Employment

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Candidates for jobs will notice that some vacancies mention that applicants must be eligible for security clearance or must already possess a security clearance. Security clearances are primarily required by government employers and private contractors who will have access to sensitive information that has a bearing on national security.

Here's information on how to get security clearance for employment.

Levels of Security Clearance

There are 3 common levels of security clearance: Confidential, Secret and Top Secret.

A Confidential clearance is the easiest to obtain and covers positions where the disclosure of classified information would cause damage to national security.

A Secret clearance indicates that the type of confidential information covered would cause serious damage to national security if divulged. If an individual would be able to access classified information of the greatest sensitivity, then a Top Secret clearance would be required.

Applicants for a security clearance undergo a thorough evaluation to determine if they are loyal to the U.S. government, free from influence by foreign individuals, honest, trustworthy, morally upright, mentally and psychologically sound and have avoided criminal activity. Only U.S. citizens are eligible for a security clearance.

The Security Clearance Process

The process begins with the applicant completing the Personnel Security Questionnaire (SF-86) through the e-Quip application site.

The next phase of the process involves an investigation conducted by the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) or other Investigation Service Provider (ISP).

Agents will interview a broad range of the candidate's contacts, possibly including current and past employers, neighbors, business associates, former classmates, fraternity/sorority members and other individuals who may have associated with the applicant.

The applicant will be interviewed and perhaps re-interviewed as additional information is gathered to clarify any potential issues of concern. Candidates should make certain that they are totally honest and inclusive as they complete the SF-86 and respond to interview questions since discrepancies uncovered in the investigation may be grounds for disqualification.

The final stage of the investigative process involves a review of all the information gathered to determine eligibility for a specified clearance. The entire investigation and review will usually take 3-4 months at the minimum.

How Long Security Clearances Are In Effect

Security clearances are active only for the time when an individual occupies the original position for which the clearance was designated. A clearance holder may be re-investigated at any time, but a formal review is required after 5 years for a Top Secret clearance, 10 years for Secret clearance and 15 years for Confidential clearance.

A clearance can be reactivated if there is a break in employment of fewer than 2 years without going through the entire investigative process, provided that the original investigation is not more than 5, 10 or 15 years old for the Top Secret, Secret and Confidential categories.

For more information consult the Defense Security Service website.

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