Years ago, my defense contractor decided to add my name to the list to be sponsored for a Top Secret clearance. We were about to pursue some different contracts, so it made sense to have more employees cleared and ready. I was told that my Top Secret clearance could automatically give me the ability to earn $12,000 more a year. I was young and in my twenties, so I was always up for earning more cash. Of course, that was before Edward Snowden changed the clearance landscape, so I got my interim within weeks. Fast forward a few years, and I can say that I never saw that extra $12,000. Of course, that’s because my life took a different course so I never got to see the result of the experiment.
Compensation is Higher for Top Secret Clearance Holders
But every year, ClearanceJobs surveys cleared candidates, asking a compensation questions (current survey is open NOW – be on the lookout). As per usual, about 36% of our respondents have a Secret clearance. And 13% have a Top Secret clearance, with 34% having a Top Secret/SCI. From a high level, if we compare Top Secret/SCI to Secret clearance compensation levels, there’s a difference of $24,125. And respondents with just a Top Secret still earned over $20,000 more. The key is not about whether or not a clearance holder has an SCI added to the mix. It’s really just getting a Top Secret clearance that earns higher compensation.
Experience, Education and Other Differentiating Factors
So what about experience or job? While it’s true that education level, experience, certifications, location all impact compensation, the reality is that a Top Secret/SCI is still a salary game changer.
For instance, entry level respondents (less than two years) with a Top Secret/SCI earned $10,000 more than their peers who only had a Secret clearance. At the five year mark, Top Secret/SCI clearance holders start earning over $16,000 more than their Secret clearance peers. At 10 years, the difference is over $22,000, but at the higher management levels, the difference grew to almost $27,000.
When it comes to location, some regions show a bigger gap between compensation for Secret and Top Secret/SCI clearance holders. In the West, Northeast, and Southeast, a Top Secret/SCI clearance can bring in between $23-27,000 more than a Secret clearance. However, in the Midwest and Southwest, it only brings in about $14,000-$18,000 more.
So what about the type of work a clearance holder does? How does that factor into the equation? The reality is that even if we look at IT and engineering, where many clearance holders work, the gap between Secret and Top Secret/SCI is almost $23,000. Of course, in the intelligence fields, it jumps up an extra $5,000.
Of course, the same goes with education. Respondents who had a high school diploma and a Secret clearance earned an average total compensation of $66,804. But for those at the same education level with a Top Secret/SCI, average annual compensation was $85,720, which is almost $19,000 more money each year in the bank account. Every education level showed a similar gap, highlighting that no matter how you slice it, your clearance level is a factor in your compensation.
Not all jobs or roles are created equal. However, when you’re negotiating your salary, it’s important to keep in mind that your ability to be trusted by the government with classified documents should be compensated. And the good news is that it’s way higher than the $12,000 I was promised. Plus, while the economy fluctuates, defense contracting provides a lot of job stability for cleared candidates.