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Full Security Clearance Guide & FAQ

Security Clearance levels infographic.

The United States government grants a security clearance to individuals who will potentially have access to sensitive information and can pass an intensive screening process. Most of the jobs that require this are within the government or military- but there are some positions within companies that hold federal contracts that require candidates to have security clearance.

If you’re considering applying to a company that has security clearance jobs, you may be wondering what that means and whether it's something that you want to pursue. At Advantis Government Solutions, we can help you be sure that you are hiring qualified and cleared candidates. In addition, we are well connected with the veteran community, which can help with workplace diversity and inclusion.

Below, we’ll look at some frequently asked questions and explain more about how to get a security clearance, security clearance levels, and automatic disqualifiers for security clearance.

Table of Contents
What is Security Clearance?
How to Get Security Clearance
What are Different Security Clearance Levels?
How Long Does Security Clearance Take?
What are the Guidelines for Security Clearance?
What are Disqualifiers for Security Clearance?
How to Find and Hire Cleared Candidates?

What is Security Clearance?

A security clearance is a certification from the federal government stating that an individual can be trusted with sensitive information. There are several different types of clearances reflecting the various levels of information that an individual may access.

At this time, around 4 million individuals have security clearance, including military personnel, government employees, independent contractors, government contractors, and more.

How to Get Security Clearance

You can't just apply for a security clearance because you want to put a security clearance on your resume. You must have sponsorship from a government agency for a position that requires it. Additionally, you must be a citizen of the United States.

Typically, the applicant will apply for a job requiring security clearance, and if chosen, they will be given a conditional job offer. If they are not granted security clearance, the offer will be rescinded.

There are three steps in the process of obtaining a security clearance. We will go over each of these below:

1. Application

The first thing you must do is fill out the application form. This form can only be accessed by those invited by a government staffing agency to apply.

2. Investigation

Once the application has been accepted, there will be an investigation. Depending on the position, the investigation will be conducted by the Office of Personnel Management or the Department of Defense.

The investigator will reach out to anyone that has been associated with the applicant, whether through family, work, or social interactions. Depending on what is discovered, the investigator may have one or more interviews with the candidate to clarify any issues that arose.

3. Adjudication

Once the investigations have been completed, results will be reviewed, and the information gathered will be evaluated based on criteria from the federal staffing agency. Though specifics may vary, the applicant is generally evaluated on their loyalty, fitness, reliability, trustworthiness, and suitability.

What are Different Security Clearance Levels?

There are several different security clearance levels based upon the information that a candidate may have access to. There are three main levels of security clearance: confidential, secret, and top secret.

1. Confidential Level

This type of security clearance allows individuals access to information that could cause some damage to national security if released. This must be renewed with another investigation every 15 years.

2. Secret Level

This level of security clearance allows individuals to access information that could cause severe damage to national security if released. This must be renewed with another investigation every 10 years.

3. Top Level

This level of security clearance allows individuals to access information that could result in exceptional damage to national security if released. This must be renewed with another investigation revisited every 5 years.

The position the individual is applying for and the information they will have access to will determine the level of security clearance they will need.

How Long Does Security Clearance Take?

Typically, since the process is intensive, it takes approximately 4 to 8 weeks to process a security clearance. You will be contacted once the process is complete to let you know if security clearance was granted or not.

What are the Guidelines for Security Clearance?

Many occupations require security clearance to obtain access to classified information. The process is intensive- you'll be required to provide information regarding all your addresses, ex-spouses, former colleagues, vehicles you have owned, debts- including home loans, medical bills, and other detailed information.

The assessment for security clearance includes aspects of an individual's life that could indicate a conflict of interest and put them in the position of choosing between the USA and any other loyalties.

Each application for security clearance will be looked at individually using the National Security Adjudicative Guidelines to determine whether the clearance should be granted or denied. These guidelines are as follows:

  • Allegiance to the USA
  • Foreign influence or preference  
  • Sexual behavior  
  • Personal behavior  
  • Financial considerations  
  • Consumption of alcohol  
  • Involvement with drugs  
  • Psychological conditions
  • Criminal offenses  
  • Ability to properly handle protected info  
  • Outside activities  
  • Use of information tech systems

What are Disqualifiers for Security Clearance?

In some cases, the background check will indicate patterns of untrustworthy/unreliable behavior that could hamper their security clearance. It brings about questions regarding whether they can be depended on or trusted with classified information.

During the screening process, those conducting the investigation must decide if the questionable behaviors are life-long habits or if they are the result of circumstances surrounding that behavior. The activities that are related to these questionable behaviors will also be reviewed, including the following:

  • Hospital bills & related obligations
  • Credit issues  
  • Debt issues

One-time mistakes/failures may be looked at closer to determine if the cause is noteworthy or indicates that it's habitual. One common area that can lead to trouble is financial actions that indicate the individual is frequently over-extended on credit, debt, etc. If an individual has too much debt and low income, the application for a security clearance may be denied.

Debt is not an issue in and of itself. The disqualifier is the patterns/life habits that indicate that individuals are financially irresponsible, careless, or put themselves into a compromised position.

Some people believe that drugs/alcohol is an automatic disqualifier- but though substance abuse is damaged, it's not a common disqualifier. Most of the security clearance denials are due to financial issues.

Following are a few of the most common financial issues that could cause a security clearance application to be denied:

  • Poor credit decisions over an extended period  
  • Theft  
  • Embezzlement  
  • Tax evasion  
  • Unpaid debt  
  • Patterns of late payments  
  • Acquisition of cash/assets without documentation supporting the acquisition  
  • Financial issues related to gambling/drugs

Depending upon the procedures that have been set forth by the hiring entity, you might have the option to appeal a denial and address any negative information gathered by the investigator and clarify the details.

How to Find and Hire Cleared Candidates?

The United States government grants a security clearance for individuals that will potentially be exposed to classified information. The process for obtaining a security clearance is intensive- and a candidate can't do it alone; a company must sponsor them. Advantis Government Solutions can help you ensure that you’re hiring only candidates that are qualified and cleared.

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