Note: This is the second in complementary articles on security clearance. Read this article for specifics on going about obtaining security clearance in a civilian role and then read this article covering how former service members who have security clearance possess an additional advantage when competing for a job that requires this designation.
If you are attending a university or community college and studying information technology, software design, or a field working with computers, you may have the opportunity to one day work for a company that requires you to have security clearance. This type of designation for employees is usually required by companies that deal in government contracts, national defense, the cyber world, or areas where sensitive information is involved. National corporations like IBM or Google, or Louisiana-based Lockheed Martin or General Dynamics all require security clearance for a range of positions. Former members of the military often exit the service with security clearance; however, for civilians seeking to gain this status, it is a long-term process that includes in-depth background checks that often take over two years. If you believe you may want to work in a field requiring security clearance, we have compiled a list of recommendations to make the process easier.
Sandra Partain, Associate Vice Chancellor for Innovative Learning at Bossier Parish Community College (BPCC) has helped the school work on a program that lays the groundwork for students to gain security clearance when they enter the workforce. She says preparation begins early in your college career. “If someone is considering a career where security clearance may be needed, I remind them that their digital footprint is forever and your past does follow you,” she said. “The clearance process is very conservative at this point, so choices you make in college can affect your future.” Partain said taking part in “youthful activities” such as drinking and drug use even in states where it is legal and posting them on social media could be harmful down the road. In addition, visiting websites that deal with volatile topics like Snowden’s leaks, terrorism, etc. may raise red flags. “When you go through the clearance process, the government will contact your friends, family, colleagues and neighbors along with schools you may have attended,” she said. “They are legitimately checking you out and it is the highest level of investigation. On another note, if you do have some questionable behavior, it is better to be open and honest, and come forward with it to let them know early in the process.”
Laying the groundwork early for careers that require clearance-based jobs is beneficial said Partain. She advises students to research and find out if there are cleared positions within a company and if so, inquire about an internship. If a student performs well during this trial period and the company is interested in hiring them, the clearance process could begin early so the intern is cleared by the time he or she is ready to begin a full-time job.
“You might work at a help desk for $12 per hour, but with security clearance you might make $17 per hour,” stated Joseph Townsend, Military Relations Talent Acquisition Lead for General Dynamics Information Technology. “Companies are able to put cleared employees on more lucrative contracts, which makes you more competitive in the market for companies that do government contracting.” Townsend urges job seekers to apply for a position with a company at any level just to get a foot in the door, then work on clearance and the company may end up sponsoring you while you’re working with them. While the clearance process is arduous, the rewards are great. Most of the companies requiring cleared jobs offer good pay and benefits. In addition, many of the positions are exciting and related to roles that have a higher calling like serving and protecting our country. Gaining security clearance can literally open doors for you to a great career, just be ready to invest the time.
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