Every year, ClearanceJobs surveys its community on all things career and compensation. Numbers always tell a story. They can help us understand the whys behind satisfaction and career choices. But data also helps show some patterns. In a time when things can feel unsettled, the cleared community gave a few insights on different ways to increase compensation.

Make More Money With Your Security Clearance

If you’re reading this and you don’t yet have the privilege of being a part of the cleared community and supporting U.S. national security, it might be time to look into it. While you don’t need a security clearance for every job in national security, one key way to increase your earning power and employability is to get your foot in the cleared door. We talk a lot over here about how to get a security clearance. Know that there are a lot of opportunities if you decide to join the cleared community. But if you’re already in, how can you increase your earning power? Here are five ways.

1. Go for a higher clearance or move into the Intelligence Community (IC).

There’s a lot that goes into the compensation equation, but every year, higher security clearances routinely earn more. We look at average total compensation, surveying a variety of fields. And we have a large respondent pool. And every year, a Top Secret clearance earns a bigger average total compensation package. How much more? On average, a Top Secret or TS/SCI earns $14-16,0000 more than a Secret clearance holder. And if you want to work in the IC, agencies like the NSA or CIA have announced their hiring intentions. IC clearance holders make $20,000 more than DoD Top Secret clearance holders.

2. Go for a higher degree.

Is now the time to go for another degree? It’s a common question for many. It’s one that I faced myself when I was early in my career. In some fields, the payoff may not feel like a lot. But over time, any time you increase your income each year, you multiply your lifetime earning potential. So, if you don’t have a masters or even a doctorate, make the investment – especially if your employer is willing to support it. Learning is a gift, regardless of the bonuses or salary increases that may follow. But survey respondents routinely report higher salaries with a graduate degree. A master’s degree bumps up average total compensation to be $21,000 more than respondents with just a bachelor’s degree.

3. Get certified.

While baseline certifications may not increase your compensation potential, there are some that can make you stand out more from the crowd. For instance, respondents report lower salaries with just the CompTIA Security +, but that’s because it’s one of the beginning certifications on the cybersecurity ladder. You need it to get your foot in the cyber door, but you’ll want to add on to it if you want to grow your earning power. Consider adding certifications as an investment, as many of them will require ongoing maintenance. Respondents with at least one certification earn $16,000 more than those without any certifications. Adding one or more to your resume shows that you’re someone who is willing to go the extra mile.

4. Move to a top-paying location.

Some areas are more challenging in different life seasons. I had the luxury of making the move to northern Virginia in my twenties. To be honest, the D.C. metro region has a lot of challenges (hello, traffic), but it is filled with opportunities in the cleared community. It’s true that higher salaries generally reflect a pricier housing market. But they also point to locations with a variety of cleared work and employers. Want to work for a start-up, a federal agency, a large contractor, or a small business? Yep. You can do all that in the D.C. metro region. You can even freelance your career in this location. But other areas, like Florida and Texas are also growing, with each boasting 7% of cleared respondents – equal to D.C. or California. Florida is just shy of hitting the six-figure salary status, which is good because housing prices are on a major upward trend in Florida. You have to be happy where you live, but follow the money trails to see what some of the top-paying locations are in national security.

5. Make a move into management.

Not everyone is management material. And some people do not want the responsibility. But in the world of contracts filled with programs and projects to be managed, taking on a managerial role could be your ticket to higher compensation. The title alone doesn’t change your compensation. A project manager fresh out of an undergrad program may not garner a top-level salary. But the difference between a senior-level clearance holder (meaning 10+ years of experience) and someone at the management level in the majority of job fields is $20-30,000. And we’re not talking the VPs and CEOs of the national security world either. If you can be a manager in systems engineering, average total compensation is almost $40,000 higher than a senior systems engineer. Whether it’s taking on program management or directorate management in a more matrixed organization, stepping in the management shoes is another way to grow your earning potential.

It’s Not Just All About the Benjamins

Money may not be the biggest factor, but in a world where costs continue to rise, it’s part of the job satisfaction puzzle. But clearance holders stick around in this community for the meaningful work. Supporting U.S. national security is a major pull, and 57% of the respondents selected that as their reason for staying in the industry. But right after that, they selected job stability and good compensation. Between layoff talks and inflation, clearance holders are quite satisfied with both their jobs and salaries. Being part of the cleared community offers mission, opportunities, and compensation.



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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.