Home Career Services Security Clearances: How to Obtain Them and What You Should Know
Security Clearances: How to Obtain Them and What You Should Know

Security Clearances: How to Obtain Them and What You Should Know

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By Anna Hosey
Career and Educational Resource Specialist, APUS

and Kim Slaughter, MBA
Career Coach, APUS 

If you’re actively seeking a government position or one in which you will have to handle sensitive information, chances are you’ve come across the term “security clearance” before. Our upcoming National Security Virtual Career Fair on August 12 features various jobs requiring security clearances.

But if you aren’t familiar with security clearances, don’t worry. We can help!

Register for the National Security Virtual Career Fair on August 12!

Why Security Clearances Are Needed for Some Jobs

You might be an upstanding citizen, but security clearances require more from candidates than moral integrity. Security clearances ensure that you’re responsible, a good fit for the job and most importantly, unquestionably loyal to your employer and the United States. Any position in which sensitive information is handled may require you to pass a background investigation to obtain a security clearance through your employer’s application process.

How to Obtain Security Clearances

Only federal agencies can grant security clearances. So if you see an ad pop up on Facebook for a great deal on purchasing a security clearance, ignore it and keep scrolling. The Intelligence Community, federal law enforcement agencies, diplomatic agencies and civilian military agencies are all different federal sectors that can grant a security clearance.

Remember: every agency or contractor must have a contract with the federal government in order to grant security clearances. Otherwise, they are not authorized to provide security clearances to the people they hire.

In order to obtain a security clearance, you must be a U.S. citizen who has applied and been accepted for a position that requires you to handle classified information. As a part of the hiring process, you will have to fill out paperwork for a security background check, which will then prompt a background investigation.

If you pass the background investigation, your security clearance is granted. But it will also require a reinvestigation to be conducted every five, 10, or 15 years, depending on the level of clearance you obtain.

APUS national security clearances Hosey SlaughterSecurity Clearance Levels

Security clearances have four main levels: Confidential, Secret, Top Secret, and Sensitive Compartmented Information. Each level corresponds with the degree of damage that could occur if someone misused the information handled in that position.

  • Confidential: People with this security clearance manage information that, if mishandled, could potentially harm our national security. Once obtained, this clearance must be reinvestigated every 15 years.
  • Secret: Employees with this security clearance manage information that, if mishandled, could cause serious harm to our national security. This clearance is reinvestigated every 10 years.
  • Top Secret: People with this security clearance manage information that, if mishandled, could cause detrimental harm to our national security. It is reinvestigated every five years.
  • Sensitive Compartmented Information (SCI): Workers with this security clearance manage intelligence information in a specified and controlled way.

Each of these clearances requires an in-depth background investigation to obtain.

Background Checks for Security Clearances

If you’re uneasy with the thought of undergoing a background check, you’re not alone. But knowing what to expect will help you prepare. So what exactly does a background check entail?

It can take anywhere from a few weeks to a year to complete a background investigation. Presenting incomplete information, possessing international contacts that require the investigation to move beyond the U.S. and submitting unreadable fingerprints can hold up the investigation process. As a result, it’s vital that you do your research and ensure you’re as accurate as possible when you report information.

A background check will run through your fingerprints and records. In addition, it will verify key points of your life history, such as any listed points of contact, your workplaces and your job experience. Background checks will also look into any possible history of drug use, financial debt, any crimes you’ve committed and international relationships.

What if You’re Denied a Security Clearance?

Some of the top reasons for failing a background investigation include:

  • Use of illicit drugs, either currently or in the past
  • Possession of connections with “unfavorable” people or foreign governments
  • Poor financial history
  • Distortion of information

If you’re denied a clearance, you will receive a “Statement of Reasons” (SOR) notice, where you can view what disqualified you. Denied clearances can be appealed.

However, an individual must demonstrate why he or she should be approved, and the appeal must be approved by the clearance adjudicator. To learn more about the security clearance process, requirements and timeline, check out the U.S. Department of State website.

The National Security Virtual Career Fair Is Coming Up Next Month

If you’re interested in obtaining a position in national security and you’re a current AMU/APU student or alumni, attend our upcoming Virtual Career Fair on August 12. With a plethora of positions — some requiring security clearances and others requiring none — it is the perfect opportunity to dip your toe in the waters of national security! To prepare for the VCF, you can check out how to get ready for a virtual career fair as well as connect with our Career Services team.

About the Authors

Anna Hosey joined APUS Career Services in 2020 as a Career and Educational Resource Specialist. Using her skills in digital media production and project management, Anna assists in developing strategies for projects, social media marketing, and resource development. In addition to this work, she also assists in virtual career fairs. Anna holds a B.F.A. from Shepherd University.

Kim Slaughter has worked in the field of higher education for more than eight years. Kim currently works as a career coach for APUS. As a career coach, she assists students and alumni accomplish career goals through identifying career strengths and key educational experiences to demonstrate strong differentiation for the job market. Kim earned a MA in Psychology in 2020 from AMU and an MBA in 2011 from Shepherd University.

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