If you’re cleared and have a clear understanding of security policy, you may have many of the skills to become a security clearance investigator for the federal government or a defense contractor. A clearance is often required for investigators, and military service is a plus. But before you leap, take a look at what’s involved.
The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) credentials federal investigators. Applicants must first apply to OPM (www.opm.gov), complete any training requirements, and become certified through one of three agencies that offer online application:
Once credentialed as a federal contract investigator, you must pass a pre-employment drug test and agree to travel up to a 100-mile radius as required. The scope of your work will range from conducting investigations on those seeking federal employment, those requiring a security clearance and those requiring re-investigation as prescribed by their agencies and positions.
What you’ll do
Investigations are all about the details. You’ll be locked into each case for a term that could take anywhere from weeks to a year. In that time, you’ll be looking at employment history, past and current issues related to lifestyle and activities, foreign travel, criminal and financial background, encounters with law enforcement, use of drugs and alcohol, and plenty of additional personal information. You’ll conduct field interviews with applicants, those they list as references, and in some cases, other individuals who may be able to further attest to issues of trust, honesty, security risk and reliability.
What you need for the job
Contract investigators generally work away from the agency employing them, so most work from home offices. That means you’ll need a portable computer, wireless capability, cell phone, GPS or other mapping device and a document shredder. Though it may sound like a no brainer, it’s recommended you invest in pens and notebooks, printer cartridges and paper – so factor in those out-of-pocket costs when considering salary.
What you earn
Most contract investigators are paid hourly and reimbursed for mileage, phone and travel expenses generally calculated at set government rates. Pay differs by both region and company. While the average salary is about $63,000 annually, hourly rates vary from $30 to $45 per hour. Those earning higher hourly rates at close to a full time basis can earn around $90,000 per year.
What to watch out for
Forget about camaraderie. For the most part, you’ll be working solo. And just as in any investigative field, the information you learn must remain private and cannot be discussed outside of those to whom you report. Time management is critical, as you must meet agency deadlines when they’re provided, and keep an accurate account of all time spent. Additionally, keep government holidays in mind. They add up to about two to three weeks a year, so it’s a good idea to recognize when they occur so you can plan for slow-downs.
FYI: You may want to check out some of the forums in which contract investigators discuss issues like work/life balance, pay and other factors. Though you’ll likely hear opposing views, those discussions can help you determine how earnings, regions and agencies impact job satisfaction.