Bill Gates wanted to be a businessman when he grew up. As a child, Barack Obama wanted to be president of the United States. Not everyone has the vision and drive to achieve career goals decades in the future. Most of us discover passions along the way, make choices about what to pursue and change direction more than once.

For students and young professionals who want a career doing meaningful work that safeguards the nation, obtaining a security clearance could diminish or eliminate the uncertainty that often comes with beginning the job hunt after graduation. And with more than five million open positions nationwide requiring some type of clearance, doing the necessary prep work to ensure your clear-ability is a no-brainer.

Federal agencies and contractors want employees with secret and top secret clearances for various roles ranging from program management to operations to the more technical. Holding a security clearance can mean a salary that is at least 10% higher, increased opportunities supporting the public sector and greater job security.

Now, you can’t go off and purchase your own clearance in advance. But what you can do is research cleared careers—the specific work and skillsets that are required and the missions of companies looking for clearable candidates. You should also educate yourself on what is needed to pass a background investigation. I recently participated in a panel for the George Mason University Clearance Ready Program, and here are a few tips we discussed:

  1. Find a passion: Do a variety of internships and informational interviews to learn what energizes you
  2. Focus on your strengths: If you enjoy math and science, then concentrate on those areas. Avoid the thinking that you have to be great at every subject because eventually you will make choices about direction
  3. Fit: Prove you are the right one. Take tests such as the Clifton Strengths assessment or the Myers-Briggs personality indicator, and have those results ready to include in your application materials
  4. Foresight: What you do today has a lasting impact on your career. Being untruthful on job applications, giving in to peer pressure or putting up social media posts that showcase disreputable behavior could all impact your future and your ability to receive or keep a clearance
  5. Financial judgment: From a security clearance perspective, being too far in debt can make a person susceptible to making bad decisions, which can hinder your ability to obtain a clearance. Be sure to live within your means and know that a career with the government and contractors can bring financial stability

The path to a security clearance – and a mission-focused, well-paying cleared career – is made infinitely easier when candidates are informed about both the clearance process and the steps needed to be an attractive candidate. You don’t have to be Bill Gates or Barack Obama to forge a meaningful career path – obtaining a clearance can help you find a job where you make a difference from day one.

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Yvette Sullivan is vice president of Trusted Workforce Initiatives for Perspecta, which supports the operations of the IT and case management system known as the National Background Investigation System (NBIS) for the federal government. She has worked in the intelligence community, Department of Defense, and Department of Homeland Security. She is a regular participant in George Mason University’s “Clearance Ready” program. Contact her at or visit