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What can prevent you from earning a security clearance?

If you want to work for the military or government, you may someday need a security clearance to advance your career. The application process can be daunting. It means the government will pore over your records and may even interview your former employers, co-workers and friends. Could your past mistakes lead to a security clearance denial?

The truth is that everyone makes mistakes. And if you wonder whether you should report yours faithfully or not, it’s worth understanding how your clearance will be approved or denied.

Clearance awards are based on whole-person assessments

First, it’s important to note that security clearance awards aren’t based on your ability to do the work. In fact, clearance awards have nothing to do with your job skills or experience. The government doesn’t even start looking into your security clearance until after it gives you a conditional offer of employment.

Instead, security clearances exist to protect vital secrets. If a position requires you to gain information that others might potentially use for harm, your agency wants reason to believe you’ll keep that information safe and secret. Generally, this means the government wants proof that you are:

  • Honest
  • Trustworthy
  • Stable
  • Reliable
  • Sound of mind and judgment
  • Loyal

During your background check, officials will look for any red flags connected to any of these qualities. Naturally, if you left one company and sold its trade secrets to another, you shouldn’t expect to gain a security clearance. However, the government may deny security clearances for anything it views as a mark against your character. Reviewers could deny you for previous drug use, late mortgage payments or romantic relationships that others might see as conflicts of interest.

Appealing a security clearance denial

If your security clearance application is denied, you’ll receive a Statement of Reasons. This is an intimidating letter that arrives in a double sealed envelope, and it lists the reasons your security clearance was denied.

If you receive a Statement of Reasons, you need to respond appropriately. Importantly, your successful response may include more than the letter immediately indicates. Your clearance is awarded based on a whole-person evaluation, and you might:

  • Include documents and evidence that support your refutation of government claims—or that seek to mitigate them
  • Provide other testimony and evidence that positively support the traits your past failures call into question

And attorney may help as you consider your response. Will you attempt to refute or mitigate the claims against you? What proof will you offer?

Let them see the real you

You don’t want to lie about your past. Instead, a sound strategy may help you overcome past mistakes and earn your security clearance.

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