Do You Have to be Perfect to Get a Security Clearance?
Learn more about careers that contribute to national security from the dedicated men and women who work in the U.S. Intelligence Community.
If a perfect human being exists, the U.S. Intelligence Community (IC) has yet to meet her (or him). That’s why the “whole person concept” is such an important part of the security clearance process.
The Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) says investigators are much more interested in lifestyle patterns than they are in any single activity or event.
For example, if there’s drug use in your past or a criminal record, investigators will consider mitigating factors, such as your age at the time, the severity of the offense and its likelihood of happening again.
Investigators understand people grow up, they mature, they go through college, so they’re not looking at one incident that doesn’t reflect someone in the best light.
For younger students who have an eye on working for the IC in the future, here are some proactive steps you can take now:
- Watch your words on social media: Publicly available information can be looked at by an investigator. Information posted years ago could still trigger questions during an investigation.
- Play it smart at parties: If you’re at a party where people are using drugs, use discretion, as illegal drug use is one reason that may result in a denial of a security clearance. Also, just because marijuana use may be legal in places like the nation’s capital, it is still illegal under federal law.
- Think about the company you keep: Investigators are going to ask about the people you surround yourself with and how you spend your free time.
Applicants can also expect questions about:
- High, bad or delinquent debt: Investigators want to know if you live up to your financial obligations, which can translate to an overall picture of whether an applicant is good on his or her word.
- Mental health: Medical history is reviewed during the investigative process. According to ODNI, if a mental issue does not impact a person’s ability to use sound judgment, it should not be an issue. In fact, seeking medication or therapy to handle life stress can be a positive factor.
One of the things that can lengthen the clearance process timeline is having a lot of foreign contacts. So, if you studied abroad, for instance, ODNI recommends that if you keep in touch with friends in that country, just remember to identify them on the security form. This includes Facebook and Instagram friends, because social media connections are considered “close and continuing relationships,” according to ODNI.
ODNI further recommends that if you don't really know who some people are, unfriend or delete them. It’s important to remember that the people you give access to on Facebook have access to your personal network and a lot of information about you.
Above all, ODNI’s best advice for applicants is to be honest and to be patient as the hiring process can take longer than a year to complete, depending on the applicant and the agency.
Learn more about careers in the Intelligence Community.