A background investigation is the first step on the road to a security clearance. The greater the sensitivity of the position, the deeper and more intense the investigation. And even if you’re background is squeaky clean, it’s a good idea to know what to expect.

There are three levels of investigation, ranging from an automated credit and criminal record check to a detailed investigation that includes interviewing both the subject and a range of references.

Be sure to request a copy of your credit report before any type of security clearance investigation, and clear up issues before attempting to get a clearance. Also, be aware that criminal history doesn’t just apply to felonies or misdemeanors. Forgetting to mention an arrest comes across more as misleading than forgetting.

An SSBI – Single Scope Background Investigation –  is the most intense investigation and is reserved for candidates requiring top secret access, or secret clearance holders involved in certain Special Access Programs. The investigation covers no more than the past ten years, or a shorter period if the applicant is less than 28 years old. The process may take months – speed it up by being detailed when filling out your security clearance application.

A background investigation can be intimidating. But being prepared for interviews, credit checks, and answering questions that span the past decade will help speed the process.

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