Filling out your SF-86 is one of the most important, and probably second-most dreaded (after the polygraph), parts of the security clearance process. Why is that?

It’s long.

It’s probing.

And it makes you remember things that happened over the course of your life. Sometimes, these are things you’d rather forget.

While it might not be the most entertaining thing you’ve ever done, it doesn’t have to be awful, either. Here are a few tips to help you fill it out, and they may even help you get your clearance faster.

Gather information before you start

You already know a few of the questions they’ll ask. You’ll need to provide references, your work history, and addresses you’ve lived at. Save yourself some time and increase your accuracy by gathering this information before you start filling out your form.

Be honest

We know you know. But it’s worth mentioning again–please don’t lie on your SF-86. You’ll probably be discovered, it just looks bad, and you know your parents were right when they taught you lying was wrong! It can cost you your clearance approval, cost you your job, or even send you to jail.

…But not too honest

Honesty is the best policy, but TMI isn’t. Don’t answer the unasked questions on the SF-86. Provide a clear, honest response to the question. That’s it. Don’t add unasked-for information. If your investigator wants to know more, they’ll ask.

Take your time

It can take six or seven hours to fill out the SF-86. If you can, break this up over the course of a few days, or even a week or two. This will help you fill the form out more accurately. Whatever you do, don’t procrastinate and then have to rush to complete it the day of the deadline! You’ll need to find references, remember addresses, and find your employment history among other things. Rushing tends to lead to mistakes or skipped questions. And speaking of skipped questions…

Don’t skip anything

Think you’re done completing the SF-86? Go back and check your answers! Make sure you answered all the questions and that the answers you provided are accurate and honest. If you do forget something on your SF-86 you can fix it, but it saves time if your form is completed correctly the first time.

Filling out the SF-86 is one of the first steps in your career in the security clearance space. Taking the extra time to fill it out correctly saves time and headaches, and can help your clearance go through faster.

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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