The Do’s and Don’ts of Security Clearances

Many jobs with federal agencies or government contractors require having a security clearance.  A security clearance is a designation by the federal government that provides you access to classified information. Unfortunately, you cannot get a security clearance on your own — an organization needs to sponsor you to even be considered for a clearance. Additionally, obtaining a security clearance can be a lengthy and complicated process.

To help students and alumni better understand the security clearance process, UMUC Career Services recently hosted a webinar featuring the expertise of Nicole Allen, director of Industrial Security and Facility Security Officer for DELTA Resources, Inc., a federal contractor. In her role, one of Allen’s primary responsibilities is to assist new hires and current employees through the security clearance process. During the webinar, she shared some valuable and current information about the process.

One important takeaway from the webinar was that obtaining a security clearance can take a long time. As of fiscal year 2018, second quarter, the process was taking up to 697 days for an initial Top Secret clearance. That’s nearly two years! This is largely due to the backlog of requests for initial security clearances. Secret and Top Secret clearances also have to be reinvestigated every five  and 10 years, respectively, which further adds to the backlog of new hires trying to obtain a new security clearance.

If you are interested in jobs that require a security clearance, there are several things you can do to help the process. This includes:

  • Consider filling out the SF 86 documentation now. You will have to complete this lengthy document as part of the security clearance process, so by gathering the required information now, you can save yourself a bit of time.
  • Run an FBI and/or state police check to see if any erroneous information comes up. If so, contact the agency to see if you can correct these 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.

Many job seekers have specific questions about their ability to obtain a security clearance based on their personal situation. For assistance with completing a security package, it is best for individuals seeking jobs with government contractors to check with their company’s Facility Security Officer. For those completing a security clearance for a federal job, resources can be found on the State Department website or on OPM’s website.

Here are some additional tips that may help:

  • Keep good records of all of your international travels including dates. Also be sure to record the names and contact information of foreign contacts.
  • Most security clearance investigations require you to go back 7–10 years, but it does depend on the section. Refer to the SF 86 to see how far back your records need to be.
  • For financial related concerns, know that the government is most interested in your payment history. Allen cited an example of someone who, while being investigated for a security clearance, unexpectedly acquired some large medical bills. She assured attendees that as long as you are showing a consistent history of paying the required amount of all bills, the total amount of debt is not as much of a concern when obtaining a security clearance.

Another frequently asked question was about U.S. citizenship. Allen shared that although it is possible to be granted a security clearance and not be a U.S. citizen, these situations are extremely rare. As of June 2017, though, dual citizens may be granted a clearance and retain their foreign citizenship if the foreign country does not present a heightened risk to U.S. national security.

There are many other circumstances which may impact one’s ability to obtain a security clearance. To learn additional information, you can watch the recording of the presentation to hear everything that was discussed during the webinar. Although the process to obtain a security clearance can be complex and time consuming, if having a security clearance is required for the position, then this is the process that must be done.

As always, UMUC Career Services is here to assist. To use UMUC Career Services resources and tools, visit CareerQuest. To contact the UMUC Career Services Office, call 240-684-2720 or email

Kristin Schrader is the associate director of InternPLUS and military career programs at University of Maryland University College. 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 teaching transitioning service members about the civilian job search. Kristin is a proud military spouse and is passionate about helping others obtain their professional goals.