If you are recruiting candidates that have all the skills but lack the credibility to obtain the necessary clearances, then it may be time to look at your cleared recruiting process. It may be easier to recruit a candidate that already has a clearance, but with many out of work for longer than two years or more (the time it takes for an active clearance to become an expired clearance), you might find yourself looking for a candidate who has the skills plus the ability to obtain a clearance.

But how do you know if a candidate can obtain a clearance? The system may be beyond your control, but your hiring procedures aren’t. Here are some tips for selecting a candidate that can get through the security clearance process.

‘Absolute’ denials

Know what will prevent a candidate from receiving a security clearance.

With rare exceptions, the following will result in a denied clearance:

  • Criminal conviction resulting in incarceration for a period of one year or more
  • Current unlawful use of or addiction to a controlled substance
  • Determined to be mentally incompetent by a mental health professional approved by Department of Defense (DoD)
  • Discharge or dismissal from the Armed Forces under dishonorable conditions
  • Unwillingness to surrender a foreign passport

Some Negatives Can Be Mitigated

Know what common reasons could be grounds for denial but also can be mitigated. Financial problems, false statements during the investigation process, recent illegal drug involvement, recurrent alcohol abuse, and a pattern of criminal conduct or rule violation are frequent reasons for clearance denials. However, for many people, these issues can be rebutted or mitigated during a security interview or in response to a Letter of Intent.

Learn the adjudicative guidelines

Know what will be scrutinized in the adjudication process. A single attribute or flaw will not be the deciding factor for denying a clearance. An adjudicator uses the whole person concept to determine if the candidate’s strengths and assets outweigh the weaknesses and risks. A history of alcoholism may not prevent an honest trustworthy person from getting a clearance. Here’s where it is really important to stress to your candidate the need to be honest and upfront about everything. The adjudicator will look at your candidate’s interviews with friends and family members, credit reports, work evaluations, criminal records, news reports, and social media sites. Disparaging information from any of these sources, could cause and adjudicator to determine that the candidate is not trustworthy, reliable or invulnerable to blackmail or coercion.

Pre-screen your applicants

Know what ways you can make some preliminary determinations before offering the candidate the position and beginning the security clearance process. Start with the candidate’s employment background and determine if the s/he was honest about employers, positions, and employment dates. Cross-reference the resume with the interviews. Really consider the candidate’s reasons for leaving former jobs and prior job performance. You are looking for whether or not the candidate was honest about everything in the employment history and anything that might raise questions in the clearance process. Background checks can give you some information about the employee’s criminal and credit history. Basic web searches can also help identify any red flags.

It’s not easy to recruit for cleared positions. Security clearances and investigations are complicated. However, a good understanding of why candidates can be denied clearance can help ensure you don’t waste any time or money on ineligible candidates.


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Jillian Hamilton has worked in a variety of Program Management roles for multiple Federal Government contractors. She has helped manage projects in training and IT. She received her Bachelors degree in Business with an emphasis in Marketing from Penn State University and her MBA from the University of Phoenix.