Applying for a clearance with the government can be intimidating, overwhelming, and very much daunting. No matter the level of clearance you’re applying for, your past and life experiences will be analyzed. When applying for some government and contract positions, the start of employment may be conditional upon obtaining at least an interim clearance, A pre-employment screening may ask if you believe you may be denied a clearance. What should you say? First, it’s important to understand what may lead to clearance denial.

You can be denied security clearance for a few reasons. Here are the adjudicative criteria the government uses to make its clearance decisions:

  • Allegiance to the United States
  • Foreign influence or preference
  • Misuse of IT systems
  • Personal conduct
  • Financial considerations
  • Alcohol and drug abuse
  • Psychological conditions
  • Handling protected information
  • Outside activities

Serious drug use or foreign entanglements can cause barriers to ever get a security clearance. Other concerns are not likely to pose an issue, including things like purchasing a fake ID when you were 20. In any case, the government uses the ‘whole person’ concept to make a determination. That means a single issue is unlikely to result in security clearance denial. The exception is current, ongoing drug use. If you’ve recently used drugs, you may be better off waiting a year or more and reapplying for a cleared position.

Financial issues and significant foreign connections may pose clearance delays – and you may want to be up front with that in discussions with your hiring manager. But, keep in mind you don’t need to disclose those issues, and they’re not a guarantee of a clearance denial. In general, honesty is the best policy when it comes to the security clearance process, but don’t give answers to questions they are not asking.


Much about the clearance process resembles the Pirate’s Code: “more what you’d call guidelines than actual rules.” This case-by-case system is meant to consider the whole person, increase process security, and allow the lowest-risk/highest-need candidates to complete the process. However, it also creates a  lot of questions for applicants. For this reason, ClearanceJobs maintains – a forum where clearance seekers can ask the cleared community for advice on their specific security concerns. Ask CJ explores questions posed  on the ClearanceJobs Blog forum

If you have a tough security clearance question, you can post your questions or concerns on

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Katie Helbling is a marketing fanatic that enjoys anything digital, communications, promotions & events. She has 10+ years in the DoD supporting multiple contractors with recruitment strategy, staffing augmentation, marketing, & communications. Favorite type of beer: IPA. Fave hike: the Grouse Grind, Vancouver, BC. Fave social platform: ClearanceJobs! 🇺🇸