The thought of sitting across from an investigator, answering personal questions, is intimidating.  But if you’re applying for a Top Secret security clearance, or if there are any issues to address in your Secret security clearance, you should expect to be interviewed by a background investigator. Keep in mind the personal subject interview (PSI) is a critical part of your background investigation – and an opportunity.

To be less nervous, be prepared. Here are some do’s and don’ts to keep in mind.

  • Do bring a copy of your SF-86. This will ensure the document you submitted is the same one the investigator has, and is reviewing.
  • Do ask the investigator for their badge, card, or credentials. If you’re going to be answering questions about your finances or personal history, you have a right to know who you’re speaking with.
  • Do address any negative information, and consider having a written response to those issues to give to the investigator.

Here are some things to avoid:

  • Don’t offer up new information, unless it’s to mitigate or clarify something from your SF-86.
  • Don’t ask what other references have told your investigator. If you’re curious, you can request a copy of your investigation file via privacy act request later.
  • Don’t ask the background investigator subjective questions about the process. It’s tempting to ask ‘hey, what are my chances?’ but keep in mind the investigator is not the person who decides if you get the security clearance. The investigator is the information-gatherer who collects information for the security clearance adjudicator.

The interview is your chance to clarify and inform. Use the opportunity to support what you’ve already submitted via your application, and prove your trustworthiness and reliability. Your background investigation interview is a critical step in both your initial security clearance process, and for subsequent investigations. A little simple preparation will ensure the interview is as simple, and stress-free, as possible.

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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.