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Security Background Check: Five Things to Expect When You're Going for Top-Secret Clearance


There are some federal government jobs that require a full-on background check conducted by the FBI and the State Department. If your potential job involves dealing with highly sensitive government information, you may need a secret or top-secret security clearance. The security background check can be invasive and difficult to pass for people with spotty backgrounds. If you find yourself in this position, here are five things you should expect.

The authorities will speak to almost every person you've ever known

While the above may be a bit of an overstatement, federal authorities will interview several people from your past. Family members and close friends should expect a call from the FBI or State Department. Past employers and co-workers might also receive a visit. In some cases, your landlords or roommates can get a knock on the door. These people will answer questions about your past to give federal authorities a good sense of what you're all about.

Your financial history will be investigated closely

One of most common reasons why people sell state secrets to enemy nations is because of financial problems. Those in heavy debt can be tempted by the large paydays that come with this sort of corruption. With this in mind, top-secret clearances will only go to those people who have strong financial histories. Your credit score, credit history, and current debt situation will be considered in your application.

You can't hide your adult criminal records

There exists a small selection of background checks that can access even those records you've sealed or expunged. A security background check falls into that category. Expect every arrest, conviction, and acquittal to come up in the search. While an arrest won't necessarily disqualify you from earning a security clearance, you will run into problems if you have a checkered record.

Juvenile records are fair game, too

For the most part, your juvenile records are off limits to employers and other people who may be looking to check you out. This is not so for the federal government. Federal authorities will want to know certain things about your childhood, including your family life and whether you ran afoul of the law. Expect to answer for the childhood indiscretions you thought you left behind.

Past employment history

Some employers won't call back your references. If you're going through a security background check, expect every job and reference to be verified. These checks serve two purposes. First, they allow federal authorities to get a sense of your job performance. Beyond that, these checks ensure that you're being completely truthful on your application.

When you go through a security background check, you'll face some of the most stringent searching possible. The point is to protect the nation from treason and other harmful behavior, so the feds will look under every rock for an indication that you're a risk. It's critical to prepare for this by alerting your friends and loved ones they'll be contacted. If you've done your homework and kept a clean life, you'll have nothing to worry about.


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