When you’ve worked in government for as long as many ClearanceJobs readers, it’s easy to forget what it was like first starting out your cleared career. Being the junior person in any professional environment is challenging. Now remember trying to learn your substantive job duties while dodging security landmines like co-mingling classified and unclassified material; forgetting to log-out of your computer when stepping away; and remembering the differences between regular email, SIPR, and potentially even JWICS.

Cleared careers can be incredibly rewarding, but they also invite plenty of opportunities for mistakes. Rules for operational security and handling classified information aren’t always intuitive to recent college graduates or those coming from the private sector. The fear of committing an inadvertent career-ender can be quite stressful.

That’s where you come into play.  Instead of turning a blind eye to the learning curve your younger or more inexperienced colleagues face, try turning the situation into an opportunity for mentoring.

Why Mentoring Is Good for Everyone

According to the National Mentoring Partnership, “Mentoring, at its core, guarantees young people that there is someone who cares about them, assures them they are not alone in dealing with day-to-day challenges, and makes them feel like they matter. Research confirms that quality mentoring relationships have powerful positive effects on young people in a variety of personal, academic, and professional situations. Ultimately, mentoring connects a young person to personal growth and development, and social and economic opportunity. Yet one in three young people will grow up without this critical asset.”

Those are plenty of great reasons to be a mentor, but here is another: mentorship pays dividends to both the mentor and the mentee. Studies have shown, for example, that mentoring a younger person in the professional environment can have a significant, positive impact on the mentor’s job satisfaction.

Moreover, a mentor’s positive contributions to the workplace don’t often go unnoticed. Take a look at who in your organization is being promoted into managerial roles. Is it the apathetic and selfish employees or those who care about making an impact and contributing to the greater good? Might your performance ratings and annual bonuses be favorably swayed by creating a positive impact through mentorship? Wouldn’t it be nice to be viewed by your younger colleagues as a source of wisdom instead of an old cog in the wheels biding his or her time to retirement?

To be clear, the fundamental purpose of mentoring is not to enrich the mentor or advance his or her career: it is to give back something positive to a younger generation by imparting knowledge and lessons learned. Nonetheless, the benefits of mentoring flow both directions. Mentoring can be particularly impactful in the cleared environment because operational security and the rules for handling classified information are sometimes best learned from the lessons of mistakes. And if you’ve worked in a cleared environment for any length of time, chances are good that you’ve made a few.  Share that knowledge and you’ll undoubtedly be better off for it.


This article is intended as general information only and should not be construed as legal advice. Consult an attorney regarding your specific situation. 

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Attorney Sean M. Bigley represents clients worldwide in security clearance denials, revocations, and the security clearance application process. He is a former investigator for the Defense Counterintelligence and Security Agency (then-U.S. Office of Personnel Management). For more information, please visit www.bigleylaw.com. Readers will also find a low-cost, self-help option for obtaining copies of their security clearance background investigations and DISS/Scattered Castles records at www.bigleylaw.com/security-clearance-investigation-records.