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I have a question regarding about the Security Clearance at a Air Force in US. I have phone interview next Monday and I do not possess a security clearance. Do jobs requiring a clearance require that I have one before starting, or can I get one after the job is offered? What is the process and what are the requirements?

The job for which I am interviewing is in another state and where I live there is a military installation nearby, about 30 miles from my home.

If I get an offer and need to do the security clearance, can I go to the base near my home and apply for the security clearance there?

  • @PROBERT - Since we can't know the requirements for your specific job, I edited one sentence to make the question on topic. Questions about how this works in general are answerable--some positions need a pre-existing clearance so you can start immediately, while others just require that you be eligible to obtain one. For this specific job, the only way to find out is to check the job requirements or to ask. – Kelly Tessena Keck Dec 31 '14 at 13:14
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    @KellyTessenaKeck thanks for that edit; that makes this much better. I've reopened. – Monica Cellio Dec 31 '14 at 13:28
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To answer you first question about whether or not you need clearance before getting hired, the job requirements should have specified whether or not you needed to have an active security clearance beforehand or not. If it did not, then it will be discussed in a phone interview. As for obtaining clearance on your own, you cannot do it. While the clearance does belong to do and will follow you if you change jobs, you cannot get cleared on your own. Only your company/government agency can request it for you.

But exactly what happens depends entirely on the specific job and the level of clearance required.

I interviewed with and was hired by a department within the US Army CECOM as my first job out of college. The job required CONFIDENTIAL clearance, which I did not posses. I was still allowed to start working while my clearance was pending.

At the same time, I had friends on base who actually required SECRET (or better) clearance that actually were forced to work in an off-site location while their clearance was being processed. Usually that work was only tangentially related to their job since their actual job involved stuff they could not access without their clearance.

The short version is we were all hired without the appropriate clearance. But were still allowed to being working while the clearance process went through. How detailed the investigation is also depends on what level of clearance is needed. Mine was a simple questionnaire and references (who were also sent a questionnaire), but higher levels of clearance will require more thorough investigations. My experience is as long as you are 100% honest on your history and you don't have any major red flags (a criminal record, ties to terrorists organizations, etc), you should be ok.

Now, if the job requires previous security clearance (whether it is an active or inactive/lapsed clearance), it is unlikely you would get the job as it usually indicates the company is unwilling to wait for the clearance process or does not want to pay the costs associated with getting you cleared (the second one usually does not apply to government agencies and only to government contractors).

  • I would recommend an edit of "significant criminal record". It is a vague phrase. Any felony is an automatic disqualification, misdemeanor drug or fraud convictions are also often disqualifiers. Multiple misdemeanor infractions may also be considered red flags. – Joel Etherton Dec 30 '14 at 1:33
  • @JoelEtherton I removed significant. Considering I have no criminal record, I guess, I see most of what you described as significant, but I see how may be too vague. – psubsee2003 Dec 30 '14 at 1:37
  • Someone who is a serial traffic offender wouldn't consider it "serious", but it would be a potential disqualifier. I've known several people who were denied clearances because of an assault misdemeanor from a minor bar fight. – Joel Etherton Dec 30 '14 at 1:39
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    @JoelEtherton I have also known people to gain TS clearance despite significant drug and/or criminal records. It varies on the investigating officer and the individual. – Venture2099 Dec 31 '14 at 7:42
  • @Venture2099 and probably the job itself. – psubsee2003 Dec 31 '14 at 9:44
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The good news is that you probably won't need to go on base for any part of the clearance. The initial stage is paperwork, and the investigator will come to your place of employment for the interview. The only exception would be for some top level clearances that require a polygraph exam; that would need to be done on site at a govt installation.

The bad news is that it's not something you can get quickly; it involves a very lengthy background check. It normally takes several months from completing the paperwork for the granting of an interim secret clearance; it will take at least a year for a final secret clearance (or higher) to come through.

The job application should state if you need to have an active clearance; or just need to be able to get one after being hired. If it's the former, you're out of luck. If the latter, you just need to have a clean background:

  • No major financial problems.
  • Nothing that would make you vulnerable to blackmail.
  • No serious criminal record.
  • No strong ties to anti-government organizations (eg not a member of the Communist Party of the USA, not a member of ISIS, etc.)

While waiting for your clearance to come in, you'd spend a period doing other work; normally related to what your clearance is being granted for. In the software industry an example would be working on an application where the tools/processes for data manipulation themselves don't need any special protection; but for which some or all of the real data is classified.

  • Most secret clearances do not take this long. Typical secret clearances are you usually complete in about 30 days though may take as long as 90 days. The clearance you're referring to is SCI, and positions requiring SCI normally require to the SCI endorsement to be current and already in place. – Joel Etherton Dec 30 '14 at 1:30
  • @JoelEtherton have they really streamlined the process that much over the last few years? The timelines I referred to were what I saw for S/TS roles when my employer/program was hiring a number of junior engineers in the ~05-09 time frame. – Dan Neely Dec 30 '14 at 2:11
  • The Confidential/Secret has been that timeframe for easily the last 20 years. The longest I've seen it take (personal experience not universal) has been 90 days. TS/SCI is the one that traditionally used to take 3-6 months but the backlog has gotten to it to potentially up to a year. – Joel Etherton Dec 30 '14 at 2:25
  • Also, my thinking for OPs question was that the clearance necessary would be confidential/secret. Anything above that would require the clearance to be "in hand" before even the phone interview. – Joel Etherton Dec 30 '14 at 2:26

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