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The Meaning of "Have You Ever Held a Security Clearance?"

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When potential or current employers ask if you've ever held a security clearance, they're usually referring to government-issued security clearances. Because multiple levels of clearance are available, you'll have to discuss details of your former or current status with the employer so she can determine if your clearance meets requirements. In most cases, a security-clearance question doesn't mean a company- or university-issued badge that allows you to enter private parking lots, private entrances or employee-only areas.

Some Jobs Are Top Secret

Some government employers ask about your security clearance status because you must have it for the specific government job you're applying for and a current security clearance makes it easy to update, upgrade or renew your current clearance. Unless your security clearance was revoked or issues arose related to your integrity and use of the clearance, getting an updated or renewed clearance is usually a matter of completing paperwork. The employer might also run current reference checks or require security-related interviews. If you've never held a government-issued security clearance, answer the question with a simple "no."

For Your Eyes Only

The Bureau of Human Resources determines if a government job requires security clearance. All government jobs that entail reading, maintaining or processing classified information require security clearance, and potential job candidates can't start the process of obtaining clearance until they receive a conditional offer of employment, according to the U.S. Department of State. A government-issued security clearance tries to ensure that employees are trustworthy, loyal and reliable and will protect classified national security information at all costs.

No Security Breaches

Government agencies have three levels of security clearance – confidential, secret and top secret. Because most federal security clearances transfer from one agency or department to another, the "Have you ever held a security clearance?" question is a starting point for determining what steps need to be taken to initiate, update or renew your clearance. According to the State Department, as long as a job applicant's last security investigation took place in the past five years for a top-secret clearance or 10 years for a secret clearance and no break in service of more than two years has occurred, the security clearance will likely transfer.

A Fishing Expedition

The Office of Personnel Security and Suitability at the Bureau of Diplomatic Security conducts security clearance reviews, performing criminal background checks, law enforcement checks and credit history checks on job applicants who have received contingent offers of employment. If a nongovernment employer asks if you've ever held a security clearance, he's likely probing into your status as a former or current government employee. By revealing that you currently or previously held a security clearance, you reassure the employer that former background checks didn't reveal any red flags. A nongovernment employer doesn't have legal access to those security checks or personal records, however.


As curriculum developer and educator, Kristine Tucker has enjoyed the plethora of English assignments she's read (and graded!) over the years. Her experiences as vice-president of an energy consulting firm have given her the opportunity to explore business writing and HR. Tucker has a BA and holds Ohio teaching credentials.

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