Answer: NEVER. Or at least you shouldn’t.

As security clearance applicants are glancing over the SF-86, they may recall scenarios in their past that create anxiety around their chances of obtaining a security clearance. Sometimes, some will even create pre meditated excuses if their answers come into question. Ignorance is never a good excuse for when a background investigator comes knocking. The “Oh, I thought it was really asking this”  angle may not work, either.

Honesty continues to be the best practice – it’s easier to mitigate bad behavior almost a decade ago with time passed, but lying about it proves you may not be trustworthy with other sensitive information.

buenosjumper on the ClearanceJobsBlog writes:

I was fired 8 years ago, in completing SF 86 question 13A.5 I must provide a reason for leaving. Then the next portion has a time frame “in the last 7 years” have you been fired. I seems like I can’t answer the first part honestly without giving the details of the firing when the second part explicitly ask not to mention if under 7 years ago.


Section 13 of the long form asks about your employment activities and history. Some candidates get tripped up on this section and that can delay your background investigation. In addition to listing all of your employment activities (not including places where you received an offer, but didn’t start), include unemployment and self-employment, beginning with the present and working back 10 years. The entire period must be accounted for without breaks. If the employment activity was military duty, you will list separate employment activity periods to show each change of military duty station. Provide separate entries for employment activities with the same employer but having different physical addresses. Applicants shouldn’t list employment before your 18th birthday.

13 A.5 should be completed by applicants if they have had an employment type like Active Duty, National Guard/Reserve, USPHS Commissioned Corps, Other Federal employment, State Government, Federal Contractor, Non-government employment, Self-Employment, or something else.

For this employment section, the form asks if any of the following happened in the last seven years:

  • Quit after being told you would be fired.
  • Left by mutual agreement following charges or allegations of misconduct.
  • Left by mutual agreement following notice of unsatisfactory performance.

Buenosjumper will have to answer yes, and in this case the opportunity to provide context and mitigating information in the additional comments section is actually a positive thing.

For the SF-85P, honesty is still the only option in termination scenarios. But take note of the slight year differences between the forms.

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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! 🇺🇸