Whether you’re hoping to get your Secret clearance upgraded to a Top Secret or you want to apply for a job that requires one, you may be wondering what kind of questions you will get asked. While the security clearance process can be combersome, it isn’t as shrouded in mystique as many think.

The goal of the process isn’t to weed out candidates. The goal is to get candidates cleared as quickly and safely as possible without giving the keys to the castle to the wrong people. That being said, what can a Top Secret clearance holder wannabe expect in the process? One Reddit user wondered the same thing, asking “what’s[sic] the questions for you to get the Top Secret clearance and what are the red flags?” Despite the questionable grammar, it is a common question when you’re not familiar with the process.

Top Secret Clearance Questions

The investigation process is more extensive for the Top Secret clearance compared to Secret. However, the application process identical. Time frames should be carefully watched, and you need to be sure you answer appropriately – whether that’s reaching back seven years,  10 years, or ‘ever. ‘ It’s important to track the length of time for your contacts, residential history, education, and employment.

All security clearance determinations use the same adjudicative criteria. If you think that you may run into problems with any of them, it may not hurt to check in with a security clearance lawyer. An ounce of prevention could be worth way more than a pound of cure. An hour or two of a lawyers time is much cheaper than retaining them for the full denial process.

Red Flags That Will Lead to Denial

The best part of sites like Reddit are the snarky commenters. Of course, those are also the worst parts too. One commenter said, “You. You are the red flag.” Perhaps that’s true. But it’s not the first time an applicant wondered what might keep them for getting a security clearance. When employment and career opportunities are tied to a obtaining a Top Secret clearance, applicants start to get a little concerned.

A major red flag is lying. Top Secret applicants who skated past the Secret clearance process can get surprised by a denial when the investigation process takes the same questions and dives a little deeper. Drugs or arrests may not bubble to the surface during the Secret investigation, but that’s not because there are different guidelines. And remember that if you are denied a Top Secret clearance, you lose your Secret, as well.

The federal government isn’t looking for perfect clearance holders. If that was the goal, no one would be in national security. However, they do want to minimize the risk of an employee or contractor being extorted for classified information. The federal government wants trustworthy people in national security. If the process feels a little intrusive, it’s not because you are being judged for your lifestyle. It’s because the decision to grant or deny a security clearance has to be done with the whole person in mind. Don’t be cryptic in your answers when more explanation is needed. While you don’t want to shoot yourself in the foot, you shouldn’t be afraid to use the comments sections throughout the form to provide additional context.


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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.