Eventually, the time comes for many of us to evaluate the marketability
of the skills, qualifications, and experiences we have gained through
military service. We hope a prospective employer will appreciate our
proven leadership abilities, sharp intellect, and valuable training
-- fortunately, many do. One of the most valuable, and perpetually
underestimated, qualifications that many of us bring to the table
is our active security
clearances. Today, thousands of employers are in a desperate hunt
for cleared individuals to support a myriad of government agencies
and programs. Qualified job seekers will find they have a tremendous
leg up on noncleared candidates and, almost certainly, will benefit
from a salary premium. Unfortunately, many people let their security
clearances lapse. An active clearance is a commodity that must be
actively maintained and managed.
With the global war on terror in full bloom, the creation of the Department
of Homeland Security, significant increases in defense spending, and
the growing intelligence community, there never has been a greater
demand for employees to work on classified programs. This strong demand
has put a significant strain on the Defense Security Service (DSS),
the government agency responsible for conducting background checks
for the Department of Defense and other agencies. In fact, a recent
report on DSS indicated it had a backlog of more than 500,000 applicants.
Unfortunately for government and civilian employers, it can take noncleared
employees between six months and two years to receive a new clearance
-- an unacceptable time frame for many organizations that have significant
contracts to deliver in the near term. In addition, the clearance
process often is very expensive.
A government security clearance requires a periodic reinvestigation
every 15 years for a "confidential" clearance, every 10 years for
"secret," and every 5 years for "top secret." When a clearance is
inactivated (because of switching jobs or leaving the military), it
can be fairly easy to reinstate within the first 24 months, as long
as that falls within the periodic reinvestigation window. After that,
it becomes significantly more difficult. In other words, if your clearance
is going to lapse, it is important for you to consider some options
to reactivate it within the first two years.
The easiest way for transitioned military members to maintain their
clearances is to take "cleared" positions with companies or government
agencies. There certainly is no shortage of those opportunities today.
A quick search among the nation's top job boards finds thousands of
open positions for individuals with active clearances. In addition,
the official job board of the U.S. government, www.USAJobs.com, run
by the Office of Personnel Management, lists more than 2,000 positions
requiring some type of clearance-- from the intriguing "supervisory
intelligence officer" position at the Defense Intelligence Agency
to the slightly more mundane "staff auditor." Browsing the site is
both highly entertaining and might lead you to your next career.
Another approach for keeping your clearance active is service in the
National Guard or reserves. "Many of the jobs we have in the Guard
and reserve require a security clearance," said Thomas F. Hall, Assistant
Secretary of Defense for Reserve Affairs. "Your continued affiliation
should allow you to maintain your active clearance for years." Reserve
and Guard service allows you to keep this valuable asset intact, regardless
of whether your current employer requires a clearance.
Finally, there are specialty staffing companies that assist defense
contractors and government agencies to fill temporary and full-time
positions with cleared individuals. "We provide our employees the
opportunity to work on tremendously important client projects. In
addition to allowing flexible work schedules, we work actively to
ensure our employees are able to maintain their security clearances,"
said Bob Merkl, president of Secure IT Services, a staffing firm specializing
in connecting cleared people with public- and private-sector opportunities.
Companies seeking cleared candidates, he said, often pay a 5-20% salary
Your active security clearance is one of the hottest tickets in town,
don't let it expire.
Christopher Michel is CEO of Military.com, the nation's
largest military membership organization. Military.com
connects over 3 million members to the lifelong
benefits of military service. Members trust Military.com
for career, education and financial services. Prior
to founding Military.com, Chris served as a Naval
Flight Officer in the United States Navy. While
on active duty, Chris flew as a P-3 Navigator, Tactical
Coordinator and Mission Commander in support of
maritime interdiction operations in the Red Sea,
NATO enforcement operations in the Adriatic, and
counter-narcotics missions in Central America. Following
his operational tour, Chris worked in the Pentagon
as Aide to the Chief of the Naval Reserve. He holds
degrees from the University of Illinois and Harvard