Getting an Entry-Level Security Clearance Job

A few tips, tricks and sympathy on breaking into the security cleared workforce, from one of our contributors:

So, you want to get into the clearance world? As someone who has faced this challenge the past couple of years, I do not claim to have all the answers but I have observed a number of successful and not-so-successful cases and I believe I have a few insights to share. I have seen others experience and have gone through myself the frustration of applying, waiting, and sometimes getting rejection for cleared positions. In a worst-case scenario, I knew someone that waited over three years for his clearance! (He finally got it and has a great job at Booz Allen)

The best analogy I have for job searching, generally, is that of the busy parking lot. Finding a job is like finding a spot in a full parking lot on a Friday evening. Getting that spot sometimes means being at the right place at the right time. The lucky ones might get a spot immediately while others are left to search on and on. Sure, the aggressive drivers might have a leg up, but in the end sometimes you are better lucky than good. This explains why I have seen individuals with average credentials obtain higher-paying or more substantial jobs over other, more qualified applicants.

While the current economy and budgetary environment are problematic, do not be discouraged! There are still a number of things one can do to increase one’s marketability.

How did you break into your first job or a new industry? Any tips or analogies to share?

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Pattie Buel

Ref the clearance itself – if you don’t have that niche skillset, look for a job that requires a lower clearance level to start with. You can actually start work at some jobs based off a simple National Agency Check pending the results of the full investigation. But these aren’t the jobs that require a life-style poly – so be realistic and be prepared to wait. Background investigators have a goal of 120 days to complete the investigation. That 120 days is for fact collection and to write up the report – the investigators don’t grant clearances. That’s up to the agencies, and while each agency is supposed to follow the same basic steps and look for the same things, additional requirements are allowed. The agency adjudication process starts after they get the report from the investigators so you probably don’t want to announce your new job to your old boss until after your investigation is complete. Quitting while you wait could put you in a tough financial position if it drags out.

If you get offered a job pending getting your clearance, the number one rule is DON’T LIE on the paperwork. When a question says “ever”, they mean ever. And that arrest you had expunged – they will see it. So tell them about it – the thinking is that if you are concerned about trying to hide something, that is something that can be used to coerce you into doing something, like stealing secrets. So while you may not want Mom to know, you need to admit it to the clearance folks.

And the number two rule – complete the paperwork as soon as you can. Yes it is a lot of info, but the automated system saves and validates as you go so you don’t have to do it all in one sitting. You can print it out to see the questions then call Mom to get all those pesky dates and addresses. After all, the clock on getting the investigation done doesn’t start until you finish the form