Interested in applying for a security clearance job? Here’s a round up of what you need to know, from security clearance levels, how security clearance determinations are made, and perhaps most importantly, what kinds of jobs are available.

What is a security clearance?

A security clearance is a determination by the federal government that an individual is eligible to access classified information. “Eligibility for access” and a security clearance are terms used interchangeably on government websites referring to security clearance procedures.

What are the security clearance levels of access?

The three primary levels of access are:

These levels are used by the Department of Defense, which issues the vast majority of clearances. Some agencies, specifically the Department of Energy, have different clearances that are the equivalent of these three levels.

How do I know if I’m eligible for a security clearance?

The government uses 13 adjudicative criteria, referred to as guidelines, for determining whether or not an individual should obtain access to classified information. Decisions are based on national security and a ‘common sense’ judgment of the person’s overall trustworthiness. Learn more about the 13 adjudicative criteria here.


Each of these criteria are considered in light of the ‘whole-person’ concept. The ‘whole-person’ concept refers to how a combination of variables are weighed, including the seriousness of conduct, frequency, motivation, likeliness of recurrence, and other factors.

What does the process for obtaining a clearance look like?

The security clearance process includes:

1. Submitting a security-clearance questionnaire, or SF-86.

2. A background investigation, based on the information submitted in the SF-86.

3. The review and adjudication of a completed background investigation. In this process, an adjudicator evaluates the background investigation and makes a recommendation as to whether or not the individual should obtain access to classified information.

4. A clearance determination to either grant the clearance, or a Statement of Reasons (SOR), which outlines why the individual’s request was denied. Those denied access may appeal that decision with a response to the SOR and a hearing before the Defense Office of Hearings and Appeals.

What kinds of jobs are available?

There are thousands of cleared jobs available. They include positions supporting the government, major defense contractors, and private industry. Universities conducting classified research employ cleared professionals, and many service members are required to obtain clearances in the scope of their duties. Some of the most in-demand clearance jobs available today include systems engineering, software development, program management, and logistics. But cleared positions range from blue collar careers working on classified military facilities to positions with NASA, the NSA, and the Intelligence Community, to positions for PhD’s doing cleared research.

If you’re interested in pursuing a cleared career, do your homework. See who’s hiring in your industry and obtain any credentials or certifications necessary. Begin gathering information for your SF-86 early. Attention to detail and a carefully prepared security clearance application can mean the difference between a favorable adjudication and extensive delays.

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