When applying for any ol’ job, you might not think twice about telling your family, friends, or your neighbors—basically, anyone who isn’t your boss—that you’ve submitted an application. In fact, it’s often a pleasure to share the application process with others, who can commiserate over the stress of an impending interview, and celebrate with you when you receive good news.
But when you’re applying for a job that requires security clearance, it’s not always abundantly clear if you can tell just about anyone—or anyone at all. (Luckily, we’ve got the answers here.) And the fear of doing the wrong thing, or telling the wrong person, can be very, scarily real.
When it comes to divulging your security clearance itself, the rule of thumb is to use your best judgement: Ask yourself, “does this person need to know I have security clearance? And what will this person do with knowledge of my clearance?” It’s still not always easy to know who to share with—because advertising widely you’re privy to sensitive classified information can make you a target for counterintelligence officers—but at least it provides some guidelines.
However, talking about applying for a job that requires security clearance is slightly different—and making the wrong call can cost you a call back. (And we know you want really that job!)
Of course, there are some people you must tell, according to Charles McCullough III, partner at Compass Rose Legal Group, a national security law firm that advises its clients on employment law. For starters, he explains, you will need to contact both your former associates and references at the time you complete the SF-86 form—the form your potential employer will use to conduct a background investigation into you. Because the employer may reach out to these people, you must contact them to ask for their correct and up-to-date contact information, McCullough says.
Even so, McCullough advises against getting into too many details with your business associates and references. “I do not recommend that applicants contact people just for the purpose of letting them know that they are applying for a security clearance [job] and an investigator might come calling,” he says. “It’s often best to allow the investigative process to move forward unfettered.”
Without a clear policy in place to tell you who you should and shouldn’t tell, McCullough says discretion is always the best and safest policy. “The applicant should use their best judgment in this regard,” he says. “Not everyone is found eligible for access,” and telling the wrong people the wrong information could hurt your chances of scoring that new security clearance dream job.
Here’s another reason why telling too many people (or telling a few people too much) could hurt your job chances: It could affect the way you respond in a pre-employment polygraph test, says McCullough. “In the event an applicant will be undergoing a pre-employment polygraph, he or she will not wish to interact with those persons who would offer them unsolicited advice on how to handle the polygraph examination,” McCullough says. “Merely receiving such advice—even passively—can have a negative impact on an examination” that could yield inaccurate results.
Of course, some agencies—especially federal agencies—may admonish or forbid applicants from telling anyone about their application, McCullough says. “In those cases, the applicant should strictly abide by the admonishment,” he says. (Ignoring it could cost you the position.)
In other words, when applying for a job that requires security clearance, it’s best to only tell your associates and references—and even then, it’s smart to keep specific job details to yourself and the conversation short. Anything more could put you in hot water with a potential employer.