Some candidates have boasted about a six to seven hour stint in eQIP to knock out their SF-86 all in one sitting. While that is not the recommended strategy, the key is preparation. There are strategies to filling out your SF-86 – especially if you’ve lived a few years and done a few things that will take some time to fill out. On the other end of the spectrum are the recent college graduates with few jobs and references to document. The key is to think through each question carefully because ignorance or carelessness is not a valid argument.

Top 10 Tips for Filling Out Your SF-86

While some people breeze right through their clearance process, that’s not the case for everyone. And sometimes, simple mistakes are what hold back clearable candidates – not real issues. It’s important to give this form the right time and attention so that it doesn’t stand in the way of your career in national security.

1. Program manage your SF-86.

Know when your SF-86 is due, and plan your schedule accordingly. It’s not recommended that you wait until the last minute to complete, and your success rate will be higher if you come up with a schedule for when and what to accomplish. Make a list of references and locations that you need, and start to come up with a plan.

2. Do your homework.

If you do not know information, go get it. Do internet research and make the phone calls to get the correct information. This is a great time to pull your credit report or check your social media dates to be sure that what you have in your head actually lines up with reality. Getting things lined up ahead of filling everything out will go a long way in a smoother process.

3. Don’t do it in one sitting.

Rome wasn’t built in a day, and while it’s possible to complete your SF-86 in a day, it’s definitely not recommended. It’s better to do a few sections at a time so that it’s less overwhelming and stressful. Take it from someone who usually does a years worth of taxes in one day, it’s an easy way to hate your life and make simple mistakes if you do everything all at once.

4. The scope of the question matters.

Pay attention to whether the question says in the last five, seven, ten years, or ever.  A lot of negative or derogatory information might not matter, depending on the timeline. So, pay attention to when some information becomes obsolete for you, as that can speed up the processing time. You also want to watch the timeframe carefully to make sure that you’re correctly answering something. Leaving out information will be interpreted as lying.

5. Comments are your friend.

Use the comments boxes on every section, if applicable. No one in the process is a mind reader, so wherever you think you’d be best served with a little bit more surrounding information, take the time to do it. It could be a game changer to getting your security clearance. While you don’t need to overshare in the comments, you should take the time to clearly explain the full story.

6. Use the additional comments at the end.

This section is a great opportunity for you to reiterate your intention to protect U.S. classified national security information.  Specifically, if you have a few concerning items on your form, you can explain how you are not only not a risk to national security, but also a benefit to the U.S. You can also reiterate how some conditions have been mitigated or eliminated and no longer an issue. You don’t have to look perfect, but you should look proactive, honest, and loyal.

7. Choose your references wisely and give them a heads-up.

While you can’t skip over any family members, you can carefully select your references and friends that you use on the form. Think through which friends or supervisors understood you best and put their names down. It’s best to give references a heads-up so that they can make it a priority to answer the background investigator’s call.

8. Keep your documentation straight.

Just like any other important documentation in life, you want to be sure that you are managing your clearance documentation. After you certify your eQIP, you can print it so you have a copy for your personal records. Just in case a system goes down or information gets lost – which can happen – you have everything documented.

9. Don’t skip any sections.

While you may wish you could skip a few sections, unfortunately, that’s not an option. And if you put in a few placeholders along the way, intending to circle back on them, make sure you track which sections that need more information.

10. Don’t lie.

It may be tempting to gloss over details or exclude different issues, in other words, lie, there’s a lot more at risk than just being denied a clearance and a job. Falsifying or concealing a material fact is a felony which can stick you with fines and/or land you in prison for up to five years.

Hello Career in National Security

Once you click submit, the waiting game begins. For some, an interim clearance is granted quickly, but for others, the process can last much longer. If your employer is willing to onboard you before your clearance is in hand, make sure you find ways to support unclassified work on your contract or others within the organization. Finding ways to be billable could be your ticket to continued employment – especially if your clearance is taking longer than expected. All you can do is fill out your SF-86 as completely and honestly as possible and trust the process.


For more information, check out our 12 Tips For Speeding Up the Security Clearance Process.



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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.