Living in a metropolitan area that’s rich with defense and intelligence work long enough, and I find that it’s common to have your name placed as a reference when people fill out their SF-86 for a security clearance. But what does that interaction look like for your friends, coworkers, or neighbors? What should they expect from the interaction, and how could you be impacted?

5 Things Contacts on Your SF-86 Can Expect

It takes a lot of time to fill out the SF-86, but it’s important to pick the right people to list as a reference – not because you are trying to control the message, but rather, you want contacts who can easily give your investigator a clear picture of you, as  efficiently as possible. So, what will the interview be like? What are investigators looking for?

1. Brevity.

The investigator isn’t there to make friends. They are cordial and light-hearted, but at the same time, they are extremely to the point. They have a task, and the goal is to accomplish that as quickly as possible. It’s not a social call. In fact, if answers are easy, the whole call should take less than 15 minutes.

2. Relationship.

There needs to be a picture of how your contact knows you, and they need to verify your contact’s full name, address, etc. They also need to estimate frequency and context of your relationship. What are your activities together? What does your contact know about you? This might not be a bad time to put down your book club friend instead of your bar hopping friend. Whoever you choose, make sure you pick someone who can articulate your relationship well.

3. Specifics.

The background investigation is all about building and verifying a picture of you. It’s like asking people who know you details about your resume. Do dates line up generally? Does the context of your relationship line up? Expect the same question to be asked in a few different ways, and expect for your contact to be asked specific questions about your relationship with them.

4. Honesty.

A key component in all of this is for the background investigator to verify you are who you say you are, and that you can be trusted with information. They also want to know how you feel about rules. Are you someone who can be trusted to follow the rules in place? Questions that touch on rule following, trustworthiness, and honesty can come up a few different ways throughout the brief conversation. Sometimes, they’re tacked on to the end of a question on specifics, and sometimes, they’re asked directly.

5. Loyalty.

Really, a background investigator wants to how you feel about the United States of America. Many questions may seem like they’re about finances or foreign travel, but really, they’re about who is funding you if you don’t have a job, or who may be connected to you that might want to bribe you. It’s not that it’s bad to have foreign relationships or to be living on savings due to job changes. It simply warrants more questions to ensure loyalty to our nation’s security. Traveling is fine, but the investigator will want to know the reasons for the travel, as well as, the timelines and people visited. The questions about your close and continuing foreign national relationships and your personal finances come down to how your loyalty might be tested in the future. You may be a friend now, but the investigator’s job is to clarify whether or not you’ll ever become a foe.

Pick the Right People for your SF-86 verifiers

So what does this mean for you when you’re filling out your SF-86? It means picking the right people. In other words, if you have the choice between a friend who rambles on about every story you have together and one who can list off items about your interactions with a little more precision, choose the precise friend. Or if like me, you had a neighbor secretly dubbed as NoseWatch16, and another who baked homemade bread and apple pies for your family, steer away from the nosy neighbor with a personal scanner and write down the information for the neighborhood baker. While your investigator wants a full picture of you, they also don’t want to go down unnecessary rabbit trails.

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Jillian Hamilton has worked in a variety of Program Management roles for multiple Federal Government contractors. She has helped manage projects in training and IT. She received her Bachelors degree in Business with an emphasis in Marketing from Penn State University and her MBA from the University of Phoenix.
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