The government recently implemented a new tiered background investigation process. The terms, ‘public trust,’ ‘Secret,’ and ‘Top Secret‘ are still commonly used to describe the security clearances obtained. There are now five tiers (Tier 1 through Tier 5) which describe the specific requirements of each investigation.

While the tier system lets you know which application you’ll need to fill out, and which automatic checks will be done, it can’t say for certain if you’ll need to be contacted by a background investigator, or which of your references will.

A recent question at the ClearanceJobs Blog Discussions site asked:

Is a personal interview with an investigator a standard protocol now for a T3 Secret DOD clearance?

The answer – no, not standard protocol. But it’s also not out of the ordinary. A number of things can trigger an interview as a part of a Secret clearance investigation.

I do Subject interviews for folks going through a T-3 investigation all the time – but then I am in investigator.

I have seen triggers for many things over the years – some serious, some because the Subject omitted information, and a lot of humorous triggers from Subject’s who don’t read the questions before answering.

A Subject interview is basically your opportunity to provide information to the adjudicator through an investigator/agent. This is not something you want to buzz through quickly. For Tier 3 – something jiggled the system. Ensure you give the full story and all the information you know. A good (experienced) investigator will try to pry the full story out of you, the good, bad, and sometimes ugly, to include the why and what happened afterwards. Hiding information during these interviews don’t work out for you.

The Tier 3 process, unlike the old NACLC/ANACI allows the investigator to talk to other folks to figure out the whole story – so give your side during the Subject interview to the investigator.

In other words, you can decrease your likelihood of requiring a subject interview by making sure you fill out your SF-86 accurately. But don’t view an interview request in the course of a Tier 1-3 background investigation to be an automatic red flag. It’s generally just a sign the investigator needs more information – and it’s in your best interest to be the one providing it.

Read more about what you can expect during the personal subject interview.

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