While some interview questions are obvious to avoid in cleared recruiting, others can have blurred lines that both candidates and recruiters wonder about.

A subscriber to the ClearanceJobsBlog was confused if a recruiter can ask about the status of their security clearance:

“Is it illegal for a recruiter to ask an applicant if they have a government clearance, and then refuse to continue the conversation when an applicant refuses to answer? I know there are proper ways for a recruiter to determine the status of applicant’s security clearance through a company’s FSO.

The question is: is the recruiter breaking the law and if this is something that should be reported to the recruiter’s FSO?

It should be noted that the applicant contacted the recruiter, so it was not a phishing attempt targeting the applicant.”


There are some best practices when it comes to the rules of engagement in defense hiring such as being direct, researching the company, understanding the requirements, and outlining your own expectations. Most of all: be polite. If you are reaching out to the recruiter and they are taking the time to have a conversation, have a positive attitude.

If they are a defense contractor with positions that require a security clearance and you are inquiring about their openings, it is only natural (and absolutely permissible) that they would ask if you have a security clearance. A security clearance is not a right, and more so not a protected class (ie race, color, national origin, religion, gender, pregnancy, disability, or age).

Sure, you can refuse to answer if you have a clearance or not, but then the recruiter also has the right to move on to the next candidate.


If you are worried about OPSEC principles and trying to avoid disclosing your clearance to a potential adversary, you could instead ask for their FSO’s contact information to verify your clearance and their position within the company before moving forward in the conversation. But really, I’m wondering why you reached out to them in the first place if you are that worried about the fact that you have a security clearance getting into the wrong hands?


This question on the ClearanceJobsBlog will serve as a good reminder to recruiters on what they are allowed to ask, and to candidates what they can refuse to answer. The good thing is, a lot of questions are already asked when filling out an SF-86, so you will know the answer just because someone has an active clearance and can completely avoid in an interview (credit, arrests, citizenship, etc.). Main rule of thumb is if you are unsure, don’t ask the candidate and leave it up to the HR forms if they’re hired.

The clearcut protected classes you absolutely should not be asking about are race/ethnicity, pregnancy, sexual orientation, marital status, genetic information and religion.  Of course, there are other confusing subjects.


  • Allowed: What branch did you serve in? Are you currently a reservist? What experience and training did you receive while serving that would be beneficial to this job?
  • No-no: Direct questions about discharge. (Although, you are allowed to ask for a copy of their DD-214)


  • Allowed: How long have you been at your current address? What is your current address?
  • No-no: Do you own your own home or rent? Who do you live with?


  • Allowed: What days and shifts can you work? Are there shifts you cannot work? Do you have a reliable transportation to work?
  • No-no: Directly asking about weekend work could be seen as a proxy question for religious observance. Any questions about evening work or childcare arrangements recruiters should also be weary of.


  • Allowed: Accurately describing the position description and asking if the candidate can perform the functions of the job.
  • No-no: Do you have a disability? Have you ever been involved in an injury at work?


  • Allowed: Do you have a high school diploma or equivalent? What college degrees do you have?
  • No-no: What year did you graduate high school?


  • Allowed: Accurately describe the job then ask the candidate if they can perform the functions. (you are only allowed to verify this information for deployment positions until after the individual is hired and starts their CRC requirements).
  • No-no: How much do you weigh? How tall are you?


  • Allowed: Do any of your relatives work for us or any of our competitors? Could you provide the names of who work for us?
  • No-no: What is the name of your relative who work for our competitors?


  • Allowed: How long do you plan on being employed with us? Do you have any leave planned? Are you able to perform the duties listed in the job description?
  • No-no: Are you pregnant? Are you trying to start a family?

Networking, recruiter engagement, and making a real connection takes time, thoughtfulness, finesse, and understanding what is allowed to be asked under federal law.


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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Katie Keller is a marketing fanatic that enjoys anything digital, communications, promotions & events. She has 7+ 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! 🇺🇸