Leaving military service with a security clearance comes with both an advantage and a caution. Cleared veterans have an obvious edge over non-cleared civilians when it comes to landing cleared jobs. But they have a two year window in which to use it. Taking full advantage begins with understanding how clearances are issued and where they have value in order to leverage that information in the job search.
Unlike other forms of certification, clearances can’t be earned or achieved. They can only be issued by the U.S. government, which does so on the basis of a specific position and the access to information that position may require. Once a position is determined to require a clearance, then comes the process of determining an individual’s eligibility to hold that position. In short, it’s first about the job. Then it’s all about the person.
Because clearances are government-issued, they’re limited to military, federal and contractor employees in jobs that require access to restricted information. About one million contractors and more than 3.5 million federal employees hold security clearances. The Department of Defense (DoD) is the largest issuer of clearances, accounting for about 80 percent.
Because DoD’s mission concerns national security, the department’s eligibility requirements differ from those of other federal agencies. For that reason, the DoD clearance process is a lengthy one. It’s getting shorter due to efforts to decrease the backlog, but it can still take several months to several years.
There are two types of clearances: Personnel Security Clearances (PCL) and Facility Security Clearances (FCL). Clearances are issued in three levels: Confidential, Secret and Top Secret.
Who issues clearances?
A reorganization of the issuing facilities is currently underway, but the criteria used to determine eligibility won’t change. It still involves three phases. The application phase focuses on verifying U.S. citizenship, fingerprinting and completion of a personnel security questionnaire. The investigation phase is conducted by the Defense Security Service, which looks at a set of 13 criteria including criminal, credit and personal background checks. That’s followed by the adjudication phase in which all information and investigation results are reviewed by adjudicators in the DoD Central Adjudication Facilities or other adjudication facilities. After the information is evaluated, DoD determines whether to grant or deny a security clearance.
Given what’s involved, those who are already cleared find themselves at the top of the most-wanted list among hiring managers looking to fill cleared positions.
Where are the cleared jobs?
Most defense contractors of any size hire cleared personnel, but the larger the company, the greater the need.
Currently, the largest U.S. defense contractors with the most positions demanding a clearance include:
- Lockheed Martin
- BAE Systems
- General Dynamics
- Northrop Grumman
- L-3 Communications
- United Technologies
In addition, there are numerous cleared positions within federal defense and intelligence agencies. The U.S. intelligence community now includes a coalition of 17 agencies and organizations that demand cleared personnel. They include:
- Air Force, Army, Marine Corps, Navy and Coast Guard Intelligence
- Defense Intelligence Agency
- Departments of Homeland Security, State and Treasury
- Drug Enforcement Administration
- National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency
- National Reconnaissance Office
- Office of the Director of National Intelligence.
While any position and career field can require a clearance, the most critical hiring needs are centered on technology. The most in-demand skills include aeronautics systems, armaments, energy, biologic/biomedical/chemical, electronics, laser/optics/sensors, marine systems, materials, nuclear systems, navigation, IT security, space systems and weapons.
Having both a clearance and experience in these fields means better than average job opportunities and salaries. Cleared individuals are earning an average of about $76,000 annually, with some regions paying salaries above six figures. Put another way, cleared employees earn about 24 percent more than non-cleared employees in the same jobs.
Bottom line to all this information? If you’ve got a clearance, use it while it’s active. The demand is going nowhere but forward.