Filling out your security clearance application – or SF-86 – correctly, is one of the most important steps in your cleared career. Fortunately, there are tips for making this complex process much less painful.

  1. Prepare. Gather together dates, family information and employment records before you open up the form.
  2. Know where to estimate. It is okay to estimate when you don’t know an exact date. Just indicate (estimate) beside the date on the form.
  3. Don’t lie. Most issues can be mitigated. In contrast, it’s very difficult to demonstrate your trustworthiness if it is found you knowingly lied during the investigation.
  4. Read carefully. You will save a significant amount of time for your security clearance investigator if you fill out the form accurately.
  5. If you were confused, correct the record in the interview. It’s clear lying on the application is wrong. The only thing worse is being encountered by a lie during the security clearance interview and lying again.
  6. Don’t include unnecessary information, or information beyond the specific year requirements. Hint: if you did drugs 10 years ago, you don’t need to list it on your resume.
  7. Print a copy for your records. You’ll likely need to fill out the form again in its entirety in five years. Having your previous document handy can save a lot of time during the reinvestigation.

How to Ace Your Security Clearance Application

Preparation is key – your application will require detailed information about neighbors and previous residences. Begin gathering before you apply for a job requiring a clearance, if possible. Get all of the data together before you begin filling out the form.

Know that you can estimate dates if necessary, or even note that you can’t remember that supervisor for the summer job you had four years ago. But whatever you do DON’T LIE – that won’t just cause headaches, it could cost you your clearance.

Read carefully. Some questions ask ‘in the past 7 years’ while others say ‘have you ever’ – be sure you’re answering the question being asked.

Finally, when all is said and done, print and keep a copy for your records. Don’t assume that the computer will keep the information as it’s designed. Keeping track of information now will save time in the event of a reinvestigation or computer glitch.


The process may be mundane, but there’s a great payoff – an exciting cleared career. Good luck, and happy data entering.

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Lindy Kyzer is the director of content at Have a conference, tip, or story idea to share? Email Interested in writing for Learn more here.. @LindyKyzer