6 Tips for Security Clearance Applications

by Janet Pinkerton | Feb 27, 2012

Getting security clearance—to gain confidential, secret or top secret levels of information access—can be an arduous process, but here are tips from ClearanceJobs.com Managing Director Evan Lesser for eliminating problems that can delay or torpedo approval of a security clearance application:

  1. Know your status: Under federal regulations, only U.S. citizens can obtain security clearance. Individuals who hold H-1B Visas or persons who are foreign-born but have not become naturalized U.S. citizens cannot obtain security clearances.
  2. Get Your Credit Score: Resolve any errors or problems on your credit report before you apply for security clearance. Financial discrepancies can cause someone be denied a clearance.
  3. Gather all of your personal information from the last decade—phone numbers, living addresses, employer names and addresses, roommate and co-worker names—before you apply, and double-check the accuracy of all information. Simple errors in personal information can delay processing of a security clearance application form up to a year’s time.
  4. Address any financial problems directly and truthfully on your security clearance application. Financial issues such as high debt-to-income ratios, foreclosures, and bankruptcies will raise red flags with reviewers. A foreclosure or a bankruptcy alone will not lead to an application’s denial, but reviewers will be likely to deny an application if multiple financial issues seem to point to bigger-picture problems in judgment with the applicant. Why do an applicant’s financial problems matter? Because the majority of espionage cases in the U.S. in which cleared workers have given away classified information have been primarily due to financial concerns—someone needing more money, or greed.
  5. Address any legal or potentially legal problems directly and truthfully in the application. Divorce cases, liens against income, drug and alcohol use or abuse also can raise red flags in an application. So can frequent overseas travel, frequent correspondence with people who live outside the U.S., and family members who are non-U.S. citizens or who live overseas. In addition, the government is taking a closer use at the illegal use of technology in the workplace or at home—to pirate copyrighted material or proprietary information, for example. Here again, the best approach is to deal with each issue truthfully and honestly in the application. Depending upon the situation, the clearance may or may not be granted.
  6. Control your social media presence via self-restraint and the privacy settings on all of your social media accounts. The government has not officially said, ‘we are checking your social media presence,” but it is. Any HR person who is hiring these days definitely does some Googling to check out job candidates, and security investigators do pull information from the social web.


If you have red-flag issues on your application, all is not lost. Security clearance adjudicators use a “whole person” concept. Reviewers actually do look at all the nitty gritty details in a person’s application, but they will look at each person individually, look at the circumstances surrounding each issue, and try to determine to what degree was what an issue the applicant’s bad decisions or something that was beyond his or her control.

Pursuit of a security clearance status is significantly worth the effort. People with security clearance usually earn on average 15 to 20 percent more than people who don’t have clearance but are doing the same type of job. In addition, the U.S. Government is desperate for skilled, cleared cyber security folks—people with CISSP or CompTIA Security+ credentials. Any cleared individual holding government mandated certifications are going to be pretty closely considered for cyber security job openings.

For more information about the security clearance application process, download ClearanceJobs.com’s Security Clearance FAQs. Learn more about CompTIA’s IT industry certifications, including the CompTIA Security+ and the Mastery Series-level CompTIA Advanced Security Practitioner (CASP) credentials, at www.certification.comptia.org.

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