Q and A: Security Clearances, Simplified

Mention the phrase "Security Clearance" and many people envision covert military activity and deep-cover espionage. In fact, security clearances aren't that glamorous – they're simply an essential part of the process of getting a job with some companies who fulfill government contracts.  To provide a brief overview of the security clearances, we asked Alesa Trager, Facility Security Officer for Volt Workforce Solutions, to answer a few questions that job applicants often ask:    

Why would I need a security clearance? 

Officially, a security clearance is an administrative determination that an individual is eligible, from a security point of view, for access to classified information. Many companies supply the government with products and services that are essential to national security, so the company has to protect the security of the product/technology at every step of the production process. If you want a job with these companies, you'll need to get clearance.

What types of security clearances exist? 

There are three common security clearance levels:

  • Confidential – Protection of information that could cause damage to national security
  • Secret – Protection of information that could cause serious damage to national security
  • Top Secret – Protection of information that could cause grave damage to national security

There are also higher levels of clearance that are less common and based on specific needs. Those clearances are handled on a case-by-case basis.

How do I get a security clearance? 

A person cannot apply for a security clearance in advance of getting a job. The clearance has to be requested by an employer, as the clearances are associated with the government contract being fulfilled. If you are hired for a job, the hiring company will work with the Department of Defense (DOD) to ensure you have valid clearance for that position.

How long does it take to get a security clearance? 

The processing time depends on the sensitivity of the work being done, the life history of the employee, and whether they currently have or previously had a security clearance. All clearances are processed b y the DOD, and processing time can vary greatly.  We advise our recruiters to expect these time frames:

  • New request for security clearance: 2 to 12 months processing time
  • Existing and active security clearance: employee can usually be cleared for new position in one week
  • Inactive clearance, less than 2 years expired: employee can usually be cleared for new position in one week
  • Inactive clearance, more than 2 years expired: 2-12 months, same process as requesting new clearance
  • Upgrade to another clearance level: 2-12 months, same process as requesting new clearance

Employers can also request interim clearance, which allows the employee to begin work while the security clearance is being processed. Interim clearance is usually granted/denied within one week.  Life history that impacts processing time includes extensive work overseas, family members born outside the United States, financial irregularities, and anything else that makes them a concern to national security.

I have clearance, but I'm working a job that doesn't require it. How can I keep my security clearance active?

Security clearances are associated with particular jobs. They're not like a Microsoft Certification that you can take from employer to employer. If someone with a security clearance is working a non-clearance job, then seeks a job that requires clearance, they will simply work with the new employer's Facility Security Officer to get it reinstated when necessary.   

If you have additional questions about security clearances, contact your local Volt recruiter.