Security Clearance Attorney Sean M. Bigley represents clients worldwide in security clearance denials and revocations. He is a former investigator for the U.S. Office of Personnel Management. For more information, please visit

Whether you are applying for your first or your fifth security clearance, sitting down with a background investigator can be a nerve-wracking experience. A lot is on the line, and many candidates are uncomfortable discussing highly personal issues like finances, drug use, and marital history. You may not be able to change unfavorable facts in your background, but you can help influence your investigator’s perception of you. That may encourage the investigator to cast you in a more favorable light in his or her written report – which is supposed to be objective but is invariably colored by human biases.

Here are a few suggestions for putting your best foot forward from someone who has been on both sides of the table:

Put Some Effort into Your SF-86

Some of the most crucial things you can do occur long before your investigative interview. To start, take the time to carefully read the questions on the SF-86 and understand exactly what you are being asked to answer. Then, provide information for references and verifiers as though these people are actually going to be contacted – that includes providing accurate zip codes (which is how work is assigned geographically to investigators). Finally, provide helpful information in the comments sections, where relevant (e.g. this reference is hard of hearing, works nights, etc.). Nothing irritates an investigator like being forced to do extra work because an applicant was lazy or didn’t think ahead. For example, I once drove 45 minutes out into the middle of the desert to contact a reference who didn’t have a telephone. The subject forgot to mention that the reference had three vicious pit bulls that made approaching the house impossible.

Dress the Part

When I was an investigator, most of my subjects showed up to their security interview dressed either in a suit or in business casual. Nonetheless, I had a non-negligible amount of subjects arrive in, shall we say, less professional attire. That included one gentleman in flip-flops and a tank top, as well as another in sweaty gym clothes. If you are someone who shuns business attire, I suggest making an exception for the day of your interview.

Show-Up Prepared

Every security clearance applicant should arrive at their interview with a few basic provisions. You’ll need a government-issued identification to even start the process. A notepad and pen will be helpful for writing down any follow-up information your investigator needs – something which frequently occurs. And finally, you should bring your cell phone and/or address book (if anyone still has those) to provide your investigator with additional references or verifiers when necessary.

Listen Carefully to the Questions Your Investigator Is Asking

I’ll end my advice with an old proverb that I learned years ago in Spanish classes: “En Una Boca Cerrada, No Entran Moscas” (Literal translation: In a closed mouth, flies will not enter). Listen carefully to the questions your investigator is asking you and answer just those questions. Sure, there are times where you’ll need to clarify something or you may wish to add helpful mitigating information that is relevant to the particular question. But don’t be a chatty Cathy. Unless a piece of information is clearly helpful to your case, its probably harmful.


This article is intended as general information only and should not be construed as legal advice. Consult an attorney regarding your specific situation. 

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Attorney Sean M. Bigley represents clients worldwide in security clearance denials, revocations, and the security clearance application process. He is a former investigator for the Defense Counterintelligence and Security Agency (then-U.S. Office of Personnel Management). For more information, please visit Readers will also find a low-cost, self-help option for obtaining copies of their security clearance background investigations and DISS/Scattered Castles records at