Would I know if I were considered a security risk?
August 31, 2009 10:36 AM   Subscribe

If I had been rejected from a job in the US that required a security clearance because I was a security risk, would I know it? Or would I just keep getting rejected from other clearance-required jobs without being told why?

Over my career as a computer geek I have applied several times for jobs with US intelligence agencies where I would be required to pass a intensive security clearance, including a polygraph. Twice I know I passed the process as they offered me the job. Those two times I didn't take it because other opportunities had sprung up in the meantime and I was no longer available. The third time, I had an awful time with the polygraph because of things going on in my life. I was honest, but they kept claiming that I was hiding something because I was still reacting on the poly. I didn't get that job. I fear it was because they thought I would do bad things security-wise.

Fast forward 10 years. I applied for another job that required a clearance. The interview didn't go very well, quite frankly, and I didn't get the job. But I was wondering - did I not get it because I was a bad fit, or did I not get it because since maybe, just maybe, they did a background check and found I was a considered a security risk? If so, would I know? I might want to apply for other jobs and don't want to face constant rejection.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (8 answers total)
As far as I understand, they will hire you with the condition that you then pass a security check. If you fail, presumably you would then know. The costs of a serious security check—have you seen one of those 30 page questionnaires?—are high enough that it is probably only worth conducting on applicants passing an interview stage.
posted by fatllama at 11:09 AM on August 31, 2009

There are many flavors of "security clearance" and those less than Top Secret (TS) don't require a polygraph. They have name like Secret or Confidential Clearance. Also, it depends who you're working for -- DoD and DoE are different, and other organizations also have different requirements. I've had a Secret Clearance while working for NASA, and the FAA required a similar check but they collected information on a different form, the 85P.

You can be hired without a clearance, they'll process it in your first few months on the job.

But I have no idea what an HR department might uncover about a candidate in a background check which they'd consider a security risk.
posted by Rash at 11:14 AM on August 31, 2009

Complicated question. It is different for intelligence agencies than for clearance-required positions in other agencies. First, the vast majority of Top Secret Clearances don't require a polygraph. There are strict limits on the use, and frankly, the government cannot afford to poly everyone who gets one. That's why they only poly you after they offer it--they can't afford to waste the money on a polygraph examination unless they think you will get a job.

They do go after you like that in those interviews and are willing to toss out false positives just to make sure they don't get a bad apple in there.

I doubt it was the clearance and it was likely the bad employment interview that did it, or they had somebody in mind the whole time. A lot of time that happens because they are required to advertise positions even if they think they have the right person.

I could write a whole treatise here.
posted by Ironmouth at 11:23 AM on August 31, 2009

In my experience (mostly with scientists getting Q/Top Secret clearances from National Labs) they offer you a job and then begin the clearance process (and you get to sit in your office doing nothing for 6 months while you wait for your clearance to go through). It seems like you couldn't have gone through a full Q/TS background check pre-employment because it almost always takes a few months to fully process. Did you fill out an "SF86"?

I know in the national lab / DOE end of things you would be told if you failed to get your clearance. But it's possible the intelligence agencies do things differently I guess.
posted by pseudonick at 11:46 AM on August 31, 2009

You would know - thats pretty much the entire reason Microsoft opened its' new development center in Richmond, BC - Canada. To hire people that are waiting or denied clearance.
posted by jkaczor at 12:23 PM on August 31, 2009

DoD here, we use the 85P. The way it works in my agency is we offer you the job, then you get the clearance. So yes, people do perform other tasks while waiting for their clearance. We've seen folks not get clearance and go back to their old job(s). Also, I would not assume that agencies share info, even though that makes sense.
posted by fixedgear at 1:32 PM on August 31, 2009

Where I am, first you get hired, then they put you in for clearance. Your getting hired is not contingent on possibly not getting clearance.

Also, at the lower levels, getting clearance is almost trivial. And, as far as I know, if you don't "pass", they let you know. But I think that is a company issue - if they let you go because you didn't get your clearance, I believe they have to state that for the reason for your termination.
posted by ObscureReferenceMan at 9:57 AM on September 1, 2009

See other questions also.
posted by ObscureReferenceMan at 10:01 AM on September 1, 2009

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