Capitol Hill

Landing a Cleared Job Without an Active Clearance

By Michael Orange
MS in Biohazardous Threat Agents and Emerging Infectious Diseases

Both federal agencies and government contractors hire cleared jobs in the CBRNE and Defense communities – positions that require an active security clearance. In my experience, a candidate profile is more attractive if they have an active or current security clearance listed on their résumé. There are three types of security clearances: 1) Confidential, 2) Secret, and 3) Top Secret. There are also positions that require Sensitive Compartmented Information (SCI), which acts more as an access determination rather than a clearance. This allows access to intelligence information. Having any type of clearance makes you a more economically suitable candidate as it is far easier and cheaper to expand a clearance rather than obtain a new one. The problem, however, is that organizations are sponsoring fewer employee clearances. This means that graduate students trying to enter the federal workforce are witnessing a growing problem similar to what I refer to as the “millennial conundrum.” To clarify, the millennial conundrum is when undergraduates leaving college feel that to get a job, or even internship these days, they need experience. How do you get experience without a job? Likewise, you need a security clearance to obtain a government job in the biomedical field, but how do you obtain the clearances first if organizations are not willing to sponsor clearances?

Do not be discouraged, as there are still a handful of agencies and companies to my knowledge willing to sponsor you. For instance, you may be made a contingent offer, meaning while you go through the initial clearance process, the company may have you work on unclassified material. Or, some organizations may make a contingent offer in which you must be able to obtain at least interim clearance eligibility. In my experience, even simply stating on your résumé that you are willing to participate in a government clearance investigation may go a long way. Gather the information you will need for the SF 86 security questionnaire ahead of your job interview and then emphasize your willingness to take initiative on this step. (Find information regarding the SF 86.)

When it comes to obtaining clearance, do not underestimate the value of networking. Spend time researching which government contractors will provide paths for sponsorship. Then, either leverage the network you built during your time at Georgetown, or use LinkedIn to connect with individuals who can provide you with more information on how to acquire a position with their respective organization. My method was to first reach out to professors and colleagues who worked at companies where their clearances were sponsored. Then, I sent e-mails to HR recruiters from each of those organizations. In the e-mail, I attached my résumé and a generic cover letter detailing my interest in their agency and my willingness to participate in a clearance investigation. On a monthly basis, I followed up with each recruiter detailing my continued interest in the company and any entry-level position hiring managers were willing to sponsor. Although I stressed over annoying and possibly messaging these organizations too often, the persistence paid off in the end.

The HR Recruiter at ANSER, for instance, kept in close contact with me after I had reached out about my interest in the organization’s biodefense division. She would occasionally forward me positions at ANSER that did not require an initial clearance upon appointment, I would send my updated résumé, and then she would reach out to those hiring managers with my application materials. In addition, by keeping her informed of recent interviews and changes to my résumé, this allowed her to speak on my behalf to hiring managers in a clear and concise manner.

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