Many Federal government and government contractor jobs require security clearance. To help students understand these clearances and the role they may play in their future careers, UMUC Career Services recently hosted a webinar, "Security Clearances: What You Need to Know."

UMUC student Nicole Allen, director of industrial security and facility security officer for federal contractor, DELTA Resources, Inc., was the featured speaker at the webinar. One of Allen's primary responsibilities is to assist new hires and current employees through the security clearance process.

Allen shared the following insights:

A security clearance is a designation by the U.S. government that an individual is allowed to access classified information. There are three levels of clearance providing varying levels of accessibility to sensitive information. In ascending order, they are: Confidential; Secret; and Top Secret. (In addition, though there are many government jobs that don't require security clearance, there are certain sensitive positions, including ones that involve national security, that are filled by those deemed especially knowledgeable and responsible. Such positions are designated as "Public Trust" positions.)

Unfortunately, you cannot get a security clearance on your own. To be considered for a clearance, the organization who hires you must sponsor you. If you already have a security clearance, then it may transfer to a different agency or contractor. That's why veterans with active security clearances are so marketable, particularly for federal contractors who would otherwise have to pay to sponsor the cleared individual and wait for it to be granted.

Obtaining a security clearance can take a long time. As of December 2016, the process took up to 246 days for an initial top secret clearance. The U.S Office of Personnel Management's National Background Investigation Bureau (NBIB), which conducts 95 percent of all investigations for security clearances, recently hired 400 new investigators to decrease this backlog, but it certainly poses a challenge for any jobseeker without a clearance who is interested in a position that requires one. This timeline has shortened a bit over the past few months, but it still can take up to 10 months for an initial Top-Secret clearance to be processed and about four months for an initial Secret clearance, according to the NBIB.

If you are interested in jobs that require you to obtain a security clearance, there are several things you can do to help the process go as smoothly as possible, including

  • Consider filling out the SF 86 documentation now. You'll have to complete this lengthy document in any case as part of the security clearance process. By gathering the required information now, you could save yourself some time.
  • Run an FBI and/or state police check to see if any erroneous information comes up. If so, contact the agency to see what you must do to correct the errors.
  • Obtain a credit report from all three credit bureaus. The most common reason a security clearance is denied is due to the applicant's financial problems, so running your credit report can help determine if the information is accurate.

Additional information and related resources are available in the presentation. You can also access a recording of the presentation. Although the process to obtain a security clearance can be complex and time consuming, remember there are steps you can take ahead of time to help expedite the process.

Learn more about UMUC Career Services and the career-related support and resources we offer to current students and alumni.

About the Author

Kristin Schrader is the associate director of InternPLUS and military career programs at UMUC. She has a background in human resources and has worked in career services at four universities. Most recently, she was the lead trainer in Europe for the U.S. Department of Labor Employment Workshop, where she taught transitioning servicemembers about the civilian job search. Kristin is a proud military spouse, and she is passionate about helping others achieve their goals.