How to Obtain Security Clearance

Three Methods:Applying for a Regular Security ClearanceApplying for a TSA/Airport Security ClearanceApplying for a TWIC Card

Obtaining a security clearance will allow you to handle information that the government deems to be a matter of state security. There are varying levels of security clearance that allow increasingly sensitive information to be handled.

Having a security clearance is mandatory for getting employment with certain branches of the government and with government vendors who provide security sensitive products or services. Use these tips to learn how to obtain security clearance.

Method 1
Applying for a Regular Security Clearance

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    Find a job opening. Apply for a job in a branch of government that handles secure information or for a company that provides products or services to the government that are deemed security sensitive.
    • You cannot apply for security clearance yourself. It comes with the job if you get it.
    • If you cannot pass the security clearance, you wouldn't want to apply for jobs that require it.
    • A good website to check to help see if you would not pass is the CIS Database. It shows many of the same sources that investigators will use to background check you.[1]
    • Know that people are denied security clearance even when they have no red flags in the CIS database and others. Criteria for passing include subjective factors such as judgement, self discipline, discretion and integrity.
    • Conversely, people can pass security clearance even if they do have a crime or other yellow flag in their background. There are mitigating factors for the different kinds of yellow flags listed on government websites. As just one example, poor judgement exhibited in adolescence can be ignored if it is shown you have matured and there is little risk of recurrence.[2]
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    Get the job. The prospective employer will notify you as part of the interview process that the job you are seeking will require security clearance.
    • The prospective employer will not give you any associated forms or information until you are offered and accept the job. This is normal.
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    Complete the Questionnaire for National Security Positions. Once you have the job, your new employer will ask you to complete the Questionnaire for National Security Positions.
    • Fill out Standard Form 86.[3]
    • Complete the form honestly and thoroughly.
    • The form is over 120 pages long. They will look into you in a lot of detail.
    • A follow up investigation that reveals any questionable answers on this form will likely disqualify you for a security clearance.
    • You do not apply for a certain level of security clearance. The level is granted based on the needs of the job.
    • You can expect your electronic/cellphone/internet history will be investigated as well.
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    Notify potential contacts. Make family, friends, neighbors and former business associates aware that the government has initiated a non-criminal investigation of you.
    • Expect that overseas contacts and family will also be investigated.
    • Make your contacts and family aware that this is for the purpose of issuing a security clearance, not pursuing a crime. This investigation will typically cover the previous 10 years. Remember that the government will likely think of more people to talk to than you will.
    • Do not tell potential contacts the details of the job you have accepted. If you go around telling all of your friends you are getting a top secret job as a spy, you will fail the requirement for discretion, the ability to keep secrets.
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    Attend your interview. This will be scheduled within weeks of your application submittal. It will be conducted by a representative of the Office of Personnel Security and Suitability. Be prepared to discuss any information that was on your initial application.
    • Answer questions truthfully and completely. Many of the questions may sound silly, but the investigators are trained to be thorough and ask everything. They are not only recording your answers, but noting how you answer the questions.
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    Ask about an interim security clearance. Once your application is received by the government, your new employer may be able to request an interim security clearance from the Office of Personnel Security and Suitability. This would take a few weeks if granted.
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    Follow up on your application as needed. The Office of Personnel Security and Suitability will review your application. They may have follow up questions for you. They will check your fingerprints and non-criminal record as part of the follow up.
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    Obtain your clearance. It will take the Office of Personnel Security and Suitability about 90 days from the submittal of your application package to render a decision. This may be delayed by complicating factors or derogatory findings.
    • Some particular security clearances have taken up to a year.
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    Prepare for a security clearance review. Just because you pass once, doesn't mean you have passed for life.
    • Every security clearance is redone. The timeframe is, every 5 years for Top Secret clearance, 10 years for Secret Clearance, and 15 years for Confidential clearance. The Office of Personnel Security and Suitability will inform you when such an update is to occur. They will provide you with any forms or paperwork required.
    • If you fall under any kind of suspicion, you may be investigated sooner.
    • Activities such as spending more money than your income would suggest, public drunkenness, crimes can all result in investigations and/or removal of your security clearance.

Method 2
Applying for a TSA/Airport Security Clearance

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    Know that different TSA jobs have different processes. All require you to be a US Citizen and complete the background investigation. The investigation will confirm you read, speak and write English, pass a physical test, drug testing, alcohol testing, aptitude test.
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    Apply for the job. The exact process for background investigation per application will become clear once you apply on the TSA website.
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    TSA clearances are different from regular security clearance.

Method 3
Applying for a TWIC Card

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    Apply for a TWIC card. Know that many jobs in marine transportation (ships), ports and docks require a Transportation Worker Identification Credential, also known as a TWIC card.
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    TWIC cards include their own investigation, but are different from the standard security clearance.
    • TWIC cards are granted by the Transportation Security Agency (TSA.)
    • You can apply for a TWIC card online, even before you have a job.[4]


  • Maintain good behavior. Letting your behavior degrade once you have your clearance could lead to a failed 5-year update or even a revocation for cause.
  • Every application for a security clearance will have an in person interview. Interviews are available both inside the US and in other countries.
  • If you have served in the US Military with some level of security clearance, you have an advantage in getting both a civilian security clearance and a civilian job that requires a security clearance.
  • Language skills for languages such as Arabic, Persian, Chinese and Russian are in high demand in the intelligence community. Travel to countries where those languages are spoken does not disqualify you for a security clearance. To speed your security clearance, think of overseas contacts that would be helpful for the investigators to speak with to determine your loyalty and reliability.


  • There is no appeal if you are denied a security clearance. Make sure that your one chance is executed properly.

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Categories: Careers in Government