The reference section of your SF-86 gives background investigators the chance to learn more about you and your background. References can vouch for your qualities such as your work ethic, timeliness, and trustworthiness, giving the investigator a multi-faceted view of who you are as a person before they grant your clearance.

Choosing Your References

The people you choose to list as references can make or break your clearance chances, so take time to consider who you’ll write down. Your references should include people in these four categories:

  1. Current or former employers
  2. Someone who knows you from volunteer work or other community engagement
  3. A teacher, professor, or instructor
  4. A personal friend you’ve known many years

Out-of-date contact information will only delay your background investigation, so make sure the information you provide is current. You can check it yourself – by getting ahold of your references to let them know you’ve listed them on your application.

A Heads Up is Nice

Letting your references know that a background investigator may contact them is a common courtesy and gives them a chance to prepare beforehand. But you won’t be able to give them much information about when they might hear from your background investigator. It could take weeks, months, or even a year before your reference is contacted, if they’re contacted at all.

When they are contacted, your reference can expect a brief, to-the-point conversation about you, the relationship you’ve had with them, and confirmation on dates, places, and your loyalty to the United States.

When Your References Don’t Sing You Praises

So what happens if a reference says terrible things about you? Whether it’s a disgruntled ex-spouse, an upset former employer, or the neighbor who was annoyed by your dog barking, you may be forced to use references or contacts who cast you in a less than perfect light. But the background investigator’s job is to get a view of you as a whole person. They’re trying to find out if you’re trustworthy and if giving you access to information could compromise the United States. When combined with several positive references, one negative one will probably not change their mind about you.

We all have people in our past who have less than glowing memories of us. Even if you have to use someone who may give you a negative reference, the whole person concept ensures that the big picture of your life and the person you are today isn’t overshadowed by mistakes you may have made in your past.

Related News

Brynn Mahnke is a freelance writer specializing in researching, writing, and ghostwriting for clients in the career, finance, SaaS, and B2B/B2C niches. She focuses on writing case studies, whitepapers, ebooks, and articles showcasing the value her clients bring to their customers. When she isn't writing, you can find her running, cycling, or wrangling children. She can be reached through her website or at