Wondering what a security clearance is? It’s basically another term for eligibility to access classified information. There are two types of security clearances – personnel security clearances and facility security clearances. Each requires specific steps in order to obtain access.

Read more in our Security Clearance FAQ.

In order to obtain a personnel security clearance, an individual must undergo a background investigation. There are 13 adjudicative criteria used to determine if an individual should be granted access to classified information. Decisions are based on national security and a ‘common sense’ judgment of the person’s overall trustworthiness. Mitigating factors are considered, and adjudicators are instructed to consider all relevant aspects of the case. This is referred to the ‘whole person’ concept, and is a very important consideration for candidates for a federal security clearance who may have negative things to report in their background investigation. Potential issues include drug use, or a misdemeanor offense. Through the passage of time – and the whole-person concept – even these negatives may be mitigated.

How do you apply for access?

You can’t sponsor your own security clearance. But if the government deems your need for eligibility to access classified information – through being issued a tentative or permanent offer of employment with the government or a defense contractor – you will be submitted for access. The application process typically includes completing the Standard Form – 86, or SF-86. The SF-86 asks very specific questions about your background, previous employment, and any criminal history.

What is a Facility Security Clearance?

A facility security clearance (FCL) is provided to a defense contractor as a result of a contract requiring performance on a classified effort. Like a personnel security clearance, a facility security clearance may not be requested by a company, but is granted by the government based on a need for access to classified information.

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