9 Security Clearance FAQs for Job Seekers

Security Clearance Frequently Asked Questions for Job Seekers


Despite the challenges of the current job market, demand for candidates with active security clearances remains high; giving those individuals an advantage in an increasingly competitive market.

People seeking jobs that require a security clearance have a few options at their disposal: they can look to online job boards, work through their networks and social media, or apply directly to government postings or government contractors that have posted jobs on their websites.

However, there is a significant benefit associated with working with a recruiting agency with expertise in placing cleared candidates. An experienced recruiter can connect a candidate with an open job, often before it is even published to the general public. Sparks Group leverages 50 years of business experience, including decades of successful placement of cleared candidates, to match candidates with open positions that suit their needs and further their careers.

 If you are a professional with a security clearance or have an interest in a position, consider these 9 frequently asked questions about security clearances.

New call-to-action

Frequently Asked Questions About Security Clearances and Cleared Jobs

1. Can An Individual Apply For And Obtain A Security Clearance?

Individuals are not able to apply for and obtain a security clearance on their own. To be considered for a security clearance, the Federal government or a cleared government contractor must sponsor the individual. The candidate must be either:

  • An active employee of, or a consultant for the Federal government or a cleared contractor; 
  • A contingent employee with a fully executed/accepted written offer of employment from a cleared contractor. The offer of employment must specify that the candidate's employment will begin within 30 days of receiving the clearance.

2. How Long Does It Take To Get A Security Clearance?

According to Government Executive1, significant progress has been made in reducing (by nearly 32%) the security clearance backlog. Despite this, along with upcoming significant overhauls to the vetting process, candidates should still expect to wait a long time to complete the clearance process. 2019 data revealed that processing times for DoD and private industry applicants averaged 468 days for Top Secret and 234 days for Secret security clearances.

Related Reading: What are Security Clearances: an Overview for Job Seekers

3. How Much Does A Security Clearance Cost?

Due to the thoroughness of the investigation and length of time it takes to complete, it is generally assumed that the clearance process is a significant expense. Surprisingly, the investigation is actually fairly inexpensive; a 2018 report2 from ClearanceJobs noted that a secret investigation costs only $433 while a top secret costs $5,596. Neither the candidate nor the government contractor pays for a security clearance, as the government assumes the full cost burden for the investigation.

4. Does The Department Of Defense (DoD) Issue All Security Clearances?

The DoD issues the vast majority of security clearances, issuing more than 80% of all clearances. However, other agencies such as the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the Department of Energy (DoE), the Department of Justice (DoJ), and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), and others also issue security clearances. Each agency’s respective clearances may include unique criteria and terminology. An example of this is the DoE's "Q" and "L" access authorizations that grant access to special nuclear material and data.

5. What Are The Levels Of Security Clearances? Is There A Clearance Level Above Top Secret?

The DoD has three levels of security clearances: confidential, secret, and top secret. There is not a level above top secret. However, some positions may have additional requirements such as “Sensitive Compartmented Information (SCI)” and “Special Access Program (SAP)”. These requirements are commonly associated with security clearance levels but are not themselves a clearance level—they are a classification and determination of access. The National Institute of Standards and Technology3 glossary’s definitions for SCI and SAP are as follows:

  • Sensitive Compartmented Information (SCI) - Classified information concerning or derived from intelligence sources, methods, or analytical processes, which is required to be handled within formal access control systems established by the Director of National Intelligence (DNI).
  • Special Access Program (SAP) - A program established for a specific class of classified information that imposes safeguarding and access requirements that exceed those normally required for information at the same classification level.
    Get the eBook: The Art of Salary Negotiation: Tips for Calculating Your Salary And Knowing Your Worth

6. How Long Does A Security Clearance Last?

Just like a CPA is required to complete certain items to maintain his/her certification/licensure, a periodic reinvestigation is required for security cleared professionals. The frequency is based on the level of clearance; for DoD clearances, these are:

  • Confidential – every 15 years
  • Secret – every 10 years
  • Top Secret – every 5 years

7. What Cleared Positions Pay The Most?

Compensation for cleared jobs largely mirrors the overall job market, with the highest paid positions being in technical and professional roles. According to the ClearanceJobs 2018 Compensation Report4, cleared positions with the highest average salaries are in Engineering ($102,012), Information Technology ($99,278), Finance ($90,282), and Intelligence ($88,933).

8. What Are The Different Types Of Security Clearance Statuses And What Do They Mean?

There are three different clearance statuses: active, current, and expired.

  • Active: An individual with an “active” security clearance is presently eligible to access classified information.
  • Current: A candidate with a “current” security clearance has previously been determined eligible to access classified information. However, they are not currently eligible to access classified information without a reinstatement. An individual may remain in “current” status for two years. After two years, the individual would move to “expired” status.
  • Expired: An expired security clearance cannot be reinstated and candidates looking to be considered for jobs that require a security clearance will again need to receive sponsorship and recomplete the clearance application process.

9. Will A Security Clearance Transfer From One Agency To Another?

In many instances, yes. The practice of one agency accepting a background investigation, suitability decision, and/or security decision from another authorized agency is called “reciprocity,” and is required, whenever possible, by Title III of the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act (2004). However, reciprocity may be contingent based on agency policy, and each instance is unique. Check with your agency or company’s Facility Security Officer (FSO) for more information.

Work With a Security Clearance Recruiting Firm

Sparks Group is a highly awarded security clearance recruiting firm and provides cleared professionals for both contract and project-based opportunities. We serve as a strategic staffing and recruiting partner to the Federal government and to government contracting firms of all sizes from Fortune 500 companies to small businesses.

Have additional questions about security clearances or looking to take the next step in your career? Contact Sparks Group today or view cleared jobs on our job board.

New call-to-action


(1) https://www.govexec.com/management/2019/04/progress-finally-being-made-security-clearance-backlog/156481/
(2) https://news.clearancejobs.com/2018/12/13/the-elusive-but-definite-monetary-value-of-a-security-clearance/ 
(3) https://csrc.nist.gov/glossary 
(4) https://about.clearancejobs.com/hubfs/2018%20Compensation%20Report.pdf

Written by Sparks Group Team

Sparks Group Team

View all posts by: Sparks Group Team

Easily find a new job or find top talent to join your team.

Find Talent Find a Job