Filling out your SF-86 requires careful strategy, especially if you’ve accumulated years of experience and numerous references. Recent college graduates with fewer entries may find it easier, but regardless of your background, it’s crucial to think through each question meticulously—ignorance or carelessness won’t be excused. While some people breeze through their clearance process, others face delays due to simple mistakes, not actual issues. Give this form the attention it deserves to ensure it doesn’t hinder your career in national security.

Top 5 Tips for Filling Out Your SF-86

Filling out the SF-86 (or soon to be PVQ – Personnel Vetting Questionnaire) can be daunting, but with the right approach, you can streamline the process and avoid common pitfalls. Here are five tips to help you navigate the security clearance questionnaire effectively.

1. Plan and Organize Your Time

Don’t wait until the last minute. Create a schedule to tackle the SF-86 in manageable sections. Make a list of references and locations you’ll need, and gather all necessary information beforehand. This proactive approach will make the process less overwhelming.

2. Do Your Homework

Ensure all the information you provide is accurate. Pull your credit report, check your social media dates, and verify all details. Doing this homework upfront will save time and prevent errors during the submission.

3. Take Breaks – Don’t Do It All in One Sitting

While it’s possible to complete the SF-86 in one go, it’s not advisable. Break down the form into sections and complete them over several days. This will help you avoid mistakes and reduce stress.

4. Use the Comments Section Wisely

Leverage the comments sections to provide additional context where necessary. Explaining any discrepancies or unusual details can be crucial. This transparency helps investigators understand your background better and can expedite the process.

5. Be Honest and Thorough

Accuracy and honesty are paramount. Answer all questions within the specified timeframes (e.g., last five, seven, ten years, ever). Don’t omit information or lie, as this can lead to severe consequences, including denial of clearance or legal trouble.

Welcome to Your Career in National Security

Once you hit submit, the waiting game starts. Hopefully, you get an interim clearance quickly, but the process can drag on for you. If your employer can onboard you before your clearance is finalized, look for unclassified work to stay busy and billable. This could be your key to job security while you wait. All you can do is complete your SF-86 honestly and thoroughly, and then trust the process. Your new career in national security is just around the corner.

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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.