When looking for a career, knowing your options ahead of time can help you qualify. One common sector in the government employment spectrum is the "cleared" job. These jobs require some form of security clearance, so you may be hesitant to apply. By better understanding what security clearance means and how it works, you can open up a whole new array of jobs to apply for. The answers to the questions listed below can help.
What exactly does a security clearance mean?
Security clearance means that the position entails working with confidential information and requires that all staff needs to undergo a rigorous background check before being allowed on the project -- at a minimum. There are different types of clearances, from relatively minor confidential positions to those labeled as top secret. The reason for these designations varies, but generally it is because you will be working with people, items, or knowledge that could be a security risk to the safety of the public or to the entities involved. For example, engineering jobs with a defense contractor are secret so that possible enemies do not gain access to government weapons or plans. The higher the amount of clearance required, the more rigorous the checks. The highest levels of clearance may require character checks and psychological evaluations on top of the background checks.
What are your responsibilities as a cleared worker?
By working a cleared position, you have to avoid talking about the details of the position as well as taking extra precautions on the job to protect information. This means learning protocols to secure digital and hard copy information, as well as learning who you can and cannot discuss the details of a project with. Responsibilities are position-specific and the details may not be shared with you until you have gained your clearance. Due to this, many companies seek out applicants that already have the necessary clearance so they do not need to pay for an employee to gain clearance before beginning the training for the position.
How does one get clearance?
Clearance isn't something you can apply for on your own. Instead, you must first secure a government or contractor company job. They will then sponsor you during the background check and clearance process. These background checks can take weeks to months, depending on the clearance level you need. The best way to get your foot into the door for your first clearance position is to look for a position that offers both secure and non-secure work. For example, applying as an engineer to a defense contractor that also holds civilian contracts. This way your employer can place you in the civilian sector until your clearance comes through.
Does clearance require renewal?
Yes and no. A clearance is good for several years, with the exact time limit depending on the level of clearance. It will need to be renewed at the end of the clearance's allowed period, which will be at the cost of your employer. Your employer may also opt to raise or lower your level of clearance at the time of renewal. It can be transferred to a new job, so once you have your initial clearance you can apply and accept other cleared positions at your level without any further checks. Security clearances can also become inactive if the security needs of your position changes, which means that you can still transfer the clearance to a new position, but you will not be able to renew it within your current position if it expires.
Getting your foot in the door to get your first clearance is the most important part. Work with a recruiter that specializes in cleared jobs, since they will know which contractors and agencies are most likely to take new employees through the clearance process.