Being a field background investigator can take a toll. You may encounter some strange scenarios, but luckily, you have options if you decide your investigator career is over. You can pivot to a new career with some of the skills you’ve acquired in the field. For those making a career as an investigator or looking to remain on the job, you’ll have to deal with two different cohorts – the applicants, and the government customer. Work is regularly audited, and if the Defense Counterintelligence and Security Agency (DCSA) isn’t comfortable with your work product, you will hear about it.

One background investor on the ClearanceJobsBlog writes:

Got an e-mail last week telling me that some of my handwritten notes were hard to read and that I used some unapproved abbreviations. Has anyone else had this happen to them? I’ve been a contractor on the DCSA contract with one of the “big 3” companies for about three years now. Never had this happen before, never heard of it happening to another investigator. No discipline, just ‘use better handwriting going forward.’ But it was ominous. I believe I am a diligent and thorough investigator; I ask all the questions and strive to fully resolve every issue. I don’t cut corners. But here it is in 2022 and I could lose my job (or at least I am worried I will) because of bad penmanship. Madness.

While most of the applications you come across online don’t explicitly require “excellent handwriting skills” for a background investigator under DCSA, it is best to just heed the advice and move on. Take your time when writing notes in the field and remember that being able to understand what you’ve written is critical for the adjudicator’s ability to do their job.

As for abbreviations, other investigators on the thread recount their stories of warnings. One writes, “I got flagged once for using the abbreviation of San Fran for San Francisco. I audibly laughed when my supervisor called and told me that.”

While it’s humorous, in all serious, documentation is an important piece of the background investigation process, and you don’t want to leave any detail left to be assumed for when adjudicators are deciding if someone should have access to classified information or not. Was San Fran a nickname for a mental institution that the applicant didn’t disclose, or that lovely city with the big bridge? Far-fetched, but you get it.

Contractors usually have handbooks/memos with examples of acceptable and unacceptable abbreviations. The original poster goes on to say, “WORTH NOTING: drawing a smiley face is not an acceptable abbreviation for ‘happy.’”

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Katie Helbling is a marketing fanatic that enjoys anything digital, communications, promotions & events. She has 10+ 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! 🇺🇸