Whether you’re applying for a security clearance for the first time or upgrading your security clearance to another level of eligibility, you’ll need to fill out a new SF-86. While much has changed about the security clearance process, the security clearance application form is still very similar to what you’ve seen over the past decade or more. Minor tweaks to questions such as the mental health question have changed, but you’re still facing 100-pages of details. A little organization – and a quick checklist – can go a long way.

Whether you’re a security clearance applicant or a Facility Security Officer (FSO) reviewing the SF-86 before advancing it to the federal government, here are a few things to keep in mind.

Things to do before you submit the SF-86

1. Get a free copy of your credit report.

Note, if you have your credit frozen, you don’t need to unfreeze it in order for the government to get a copy. With financial issues being the primary cause of security clearance denial and revocation, it’s important you know about any credit issues before you apply. Address any issues you were unaware of immediately. If you wait for a Statement of Reasons to address any issues, your clearance will probably be denied.

2. Contact key references and gather critical information.

Don’t wait until you’re sitting at your computer to do this. Do it now. Use your Amazon account to look up the past seven years of residences; think through your past supervisors and find their contact information. Doing this research yourself will save your security clearance background investigator significant time versus if you just guess, and then put in the wrong information.

3. Read through a copy of the SF-86 online.

eApp, the electronic system used to process security clearance background investigations, has come a long way, baby. There are now auto-fill in options for things like education, and the ability to save and pick up where you left off. But that doesn’t mean you should jump in unprepared. Review the SF-86 online once before you start filling it out. The form is important, and worth the time. Make note of any questions and try to ask your FSO any questions at the beginning in a single email, versus sending a half-dozen messages as you go along.

SF-86 Checklist: Reviewing your completed application

1. Make sure every field is completed.

Unlike the old paper trail days, your SF-86 can’t be submitted with missing information. But you can still submit it with incorrect information or without providing helpful Additional Comments. Take the time to review the document thoroughly.

2. Ensure no references are duplicated.

In the modern era, finding people who know you at every address (like, they saw you at your house), and supervisors, and people who know you well can be difficult. Background investigators have no need for your Internet friends list. So while it may seem tedious, or impossible, do the work and come up with unique references for every field.

3. Use Additional Comments Judiciously.

Reading successful appeals at the Department of Hearings and Appeals website is like an exercise in seeing people who realized the ‘Additional Comments’ section on the SF-86 could be used. Most issues in a security clearance denial can be mitigated using the whole person concept. If you really don’t know where your brother lives, indicate that on your SF-86. Omitting it will just cost you time, and potentially a national security job.

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Lindy Kyzer is the director of content at ClearanceJobs.com. Have a conference, tip, or story idea to share? Email lindy.kyzer@clearancejobs.com. Interested in writing for ClearanceJobs.com? Learn more here.. @LindyKyzer