Given the number of government positions that require an active federal security clearance, many individuals wonder if they can obtain a security clearance themselves, as recent graduates or job seekers. After all, if you can get a Six Sigma Black Belt, why not a security clearance?

A security clearance is a job requirement for as many as five million employees in government and contractor positions. However, individuals cannot obtain one. All security clearances are granted through an employer, either the government or a private contractor. While a security clearance is granted to an individual it’s aligned with a position – and the position must require a clearance before the person working in it can be cleared.

Think of a security clearance like a drug test or a pre-employment physical. In those cases, no one is going to let an individual provide his or her own results. A security clearance is not a plaque for your “brag wall” or an employment certification. It is granted after an in-depth investigation into your background. The Federation of American Scientists lays out the true meaning of a security clearance in a quote from Executive Order 12968:

… eligibility for access to classified information shall be granted only to employees who are United States citizens for whom an appropriate investigation has been completed and whose personal and professional history affirmatively indicates loyalty to the United States, strength of character, trustworthiness, honesty, reliability, discretion, and sound judgment, as well as freedom from conflicting allegiances and potential for coercion, and willingness and ability to abide by regulations governing the use, handling, and protection of classified information.

Simply put, you have to be offered a position by an employer that requires a security clearance. You must complete the process with guidance and direction from your prospective employer. They will pay for the investigation, and if a security clearance is granted, you will have a job.

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Charles Simmins brings thirty years of accounting and management experience to his coverage of the news. An upstate New Yorker, he is a freelance journalist, former volunteer firefighter and EMT, and is owned by a wife and four cats.