Your marriage license, child’s birth certificate and security clearance are all life-changing documents that depend on a form. For cleared job seekers, accurately filling out the Standard Form 86 (SF-86) – or the future Personnel Vetting Questionnaire (PVQ) – is vital to getting approved for your security clearance. So here are a few tips to help you prepare for arguably the most crucial form you’ll ever submit for your career.

Read the instructions thoroughly.

Note that one of the first sentences you’ll read on the SF-86 reminds applicants to follow the instructions completely, or the application won’t be processed. An overlooked detail or box left blank will send you back to square one. So read the instructions carefully, take your time filling everything out, and contact your FSO if you have any questions.

Be completely transparent.

The security clearance process includes an in-depth background investigation. Your family, friends, acquaintances and coworkers will be interviewed, and the information you provide on the SF-86 is the groundwork for the official investigation. Don’t make the mistake of thinking you can hide something from the federal government; you can’t. We all make mistakes, but failing to report yours will likely cost you your clearance.

Don’t be afraid to go into detail.

It can be anxiety-inducing to inform the federal government of your party days or that credit card you maxed out in college; the “additional comments” section is your opportunity to set the record straight. Use this space to provide as much background information as you see fit. Being forthcoming is always a plus.

Keep your documentation organized.

Once you’ve certified everything, print it out, and put it somewhere safe for your personal records. As we make the move from eQIP to eApp, you want to be sure you’re tracking your information. It’s never a good idea to risk your information getting lost – make sure you are storing a version of your information in a safe place.

Like any significant life event, it’s essential to be prepared. Follow directions, take your time and be transparent; you’ll be one step closer to your clearance.


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Phoebe Wells is the Public Relations & Partnerships Marketing Manager at ClearanceJobs and loves every aspect of her role. Creating content and working with the CJ team to connect cleared candidates with employers is incredibly rewarding, as the work ClearanceJobs does ultimately supports the mission of the U.S. As the daughter of a veteran and former cleared worker, she knows the sacrifices security and defense professionals make. She is honored to assist them in leveling up their careers. Plus, she gets to work from home in the Adirondack Mountains with her partner and two huskies!