A security clearance really refers to eligibility to access classified information – and you can’t get a clearance (or access) on your own. In order to obtain a security clearance, you must first obtain a job that requires one. Your employer – either the federal government or a government contractor – will walk you through the process of obtaining a clearance, after they’ve decided they want you for the job. Step one – find a job. Step two, obtain a clearance.

types of Security Clearance

There are three main types of security clearance:

The government recently updated the process for obtaining a security clearance. The Federal Investigative Standards now include a tiered system:

INVESTIGATION POSITION REQUIREMENT REINVESTIGATION FORM
NEW OLD NEW OLD
Tier 1 NACI Low Risk, Non-Sensitive, including HSPD-12 Credentialing None None SF85
Tier 2 MBI Moderate Risk Public Trust (MRPT) Tier 2R NACLC SF85P
Tier 3 NACLC & ANACI Non-Critical Sensitive National Security, including Secret & “L” access eligibility Tier 3R NACLC SF86
Tier 4 BI High Risk Public Trust (HRPT) Tier 4R PRI SF85P
Tier 5 SSBI Critical Sensitive and Special Sensitive National Security, including Top Secret, SCI, and “Q” access eligibility Tier 5R SSBI-PR & PPR SF86

Who Can Get a Security Clearance

To obtain a security clearance you must be sponsored by a government agency for a position which requires access to classified information. You must be a U.S. citizen to obtain a security clearance.

Many individuals are under the false impression they get to ‘keep’ their clearance after they separate from military service or leave a cleared job. It’s important to note that at any time, a clearance is under the purview of the government. And what the government giveth, the government may take away. Policy dictates that a clearance is ‘current’ for a period of two years after leaving service. If you move out of a cleared job and into another within that period, your clearance can be easily reinstated – assuming your investigation hasn’t expired.

Periodic reinvestigation Problems

A major issue for many separating service members today is the significant backlog in periodic reinvestigations (PRs), along with budget issues for the Office of Personnel Management (OPM). A service member about ready to leave service today will find that in most cases, his or her security officer will not bother putting in the investigation – due to the time and cost involved. That means something that used to be a major hiring advantage (a current background investigation), no longer exists. That service member will need to find an employer willing to sponsor a new investigation – with the patience for the months long wait.

The good news is that if you’ve held a clearance in the past, you’ll be seen as ‘clearable’ by many employers. Consider including the date of your previous investigation on your resume.

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Lindy Kyzer is the editor of ClearanceJobs.com. She loves the NISPPAC, social media, and the U.S. military. Have a conference, tip, or story idea to share? Email lindy.kyzer@clearancejobs.com. Interested in writing for ClearanceJobs.com? Learn more here.