What should I do about my dishonest job interview?
November 30, 2009 5:22 PM   Subscribe

I was not truthful about my past drug use in a job interview. Now I have a job offer and need to get a secret security clearance. What should I do?

I smoked weed five days a week for most of this year (from maybe January to halfway through August) before quitting and moving out of the college town. In the past couple years before that, I have a smattering of other drug uses (shrooms, coke, addy; 3-5 times each and in small quantities). I might be able to make a case that I was in a different situation then since I had become a member of a fairly drug laden crowd which I'm now completely disconnected from.

Two weeks ago, I went in for a job interview at a defense contractor and things went smoothly. Towards the end, the interviewer asked me if there was anything that would prevent me from getting a secret level security clearance and listed off a couple of things such as bankruptcy or a criminal record. I said no. After I said no, he made some joke about drugs and we laughed. I silently realized that my drug use might be an issue, something I hadn't thought about until that point. I'd previously figured they'd give a drug test, I'd pass, done deal. Last week, I got call from them saying they were going to be offering me a job.

I've been doing research on security clearances and realized that past drug use can definitely be grounds for clearance denial, but the details on how much use and how long you've been “clean” are fuzzy. I'm not sure if I should even be thinking about accepting their offer. I'm nervous about going for the clearance and ashamed that I ended up being dishonest to the interviewer (even though it was mostly accidental). As soon as he mentioned drugs, even though it wasn't a direct question, I should have piped up but I didn't and now here I am.

My main question:
How should I approach this? Should I call them up and say “I've made a mistake and was dishonest, take me or leave me”? Maybe it's not as bad as I think and they can still work with me. It would be a nice job if I get it. Or should I turn down the offer, give some vague reason, and make the problem go away? I don't need the money and have plenty of time to keep looking for other jobs. I'd still feel bad about the whole thing, but nobody would have to know.

The third possibility, which I've been rejecting as unethical, is not saying anything them, accepting the offer, and then acting surprised if my clearance ends up being denied.

Secondary question:
What are the chances of me actually getting a security clearance given my habitual drug use until three months ago?

Related question
posted by anonymous to Law & Government (23 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
You should not have lied, even by omission. Don't mess around with this; come clean now.
posted by ellF at 5:32 PM on November 30, 2009

I knew a guy who was a straight up crackhead and was able to get DoD clearance after getting clean and completing a PhD in engineering. However, he was honest about the use up front and had a number of years clean at the time he got the clearance. He said the interview about his drug history was super intense, like two dudes in suits he had never met before taking him into a room with only a chair in it, shining a bright light in his face and grilling him for a couple hours kind of intense. He was going for a pretty high level of clearance, though, like designing weapons systems and whatnot.
posted by The Straightener at 5:35 PM on November 30, 2009 [1 favorite]

As soon as he mentioned drugs, even though it wasn't a direct question, I should have piped up but I didn't and now here I am.

This is not legal advice: It would be difficult to demonstrate that you lied about drug use if you were never directly questioned about drug use.
posted by applemeat at 5:38 PM on November 30, 2009 [2 favorites]

Secret is pretty basic and almost a given, in some ways. Also, most of the questioning is about being honest, now AND in the future, not about what you have and have not done to this point.

If they don't see a reason why you'd subvert the state (betting or other debts, history of other crimes, etc.), that's usually not a dealbreaker.
posted by kcm at 5:39 PM on November 30, 2009

Come clean. My brother got a secret clearance during a period of his life during which he not only smoked pot from time to time, but also had two different passports from two different countries. (They cared a hell of a lot more about that second one.) A secret clearance is pretty easy to get, typically; if your drug use is a problem, they'll tell you what you need to do to be eligible.
posted by KathrynT at 5:40 PM on November 30, 2009

You should definitely call them back and tell them...it would be much worse for them to find out after they go through the hassle of sponsoring you for a security clearance.

As for question #2....as far as I know, past drug use is usually not such a big deal as long as you're honest about it and it's well in the past. The fact that you only quit a few months ago may be an issue. Then again, it's only weed, so it's not like it was the kind of drug habit that people will resort to criminal activity to support.
posted by cottonswab at 5:44 PM on November 30, 2009

Let them deny you the clearance, don't just volunteer it up. It doesn't sound like a follicle-testing position anyway, maybe the interviewer was just shaking the tree a little bit. You weren't being interviewed for clearance by this person anyway, and I imagine the law is that the only thing that is their business is whether you *do* get clearance or not, not the reasons behind it. I'd take it as far as I could rather than cutting my own legs from under me.
posted by rhizome at 5:44 PM on November 30, 2009 [3 favorites]

They didn't ask you on the record if you took drugs. You didn't fill out anything or sign an affidavit stating that you have never taken drugs. I wouldn't say a word more. There is nothing to come clean about. He somewhat vaguely asked you if there is anything that would prevent you from gaining clearance, such as bankruptcy or criminal record. Then he joked about drugs. Did you have to state yes or no to any of things on a form? It sounds like he just asked, you said no and that is that. I wouldn't say a word unless you have been arrested for drugs. Good luck with your new job.
posted by Fairchild at 5:54 PM on November 30, 2009 [6 favorites]

i have a secret clearance w/the dOd & i used to smoke up every day, all day. and pop some pills. and drink like a fish. and i'm not alone amongst those who have secret clearances.

i'm not an expert on clearances, but my understanding is that they want to know where your vulnerable points are. for instance: if you're an alcoholic, it wouldn't take much for 'the enemy' to ply you with drinks to get you to spill all kinds of things. same reason they're concerned with your finances: if you're in over your head, you might be tempted to 'sell' what you know. all those things compromise security.

however, casual drug use isn't that big a deal from what i can tell. you definitely don't want to go on about it at work. (if i were you, i'd be cleaning up my act outside of work, too. they just announced today that they'll be doing random complete searches of vehicles & persons at my work site. finding a roach in my purse or on the floor of my car would NOT bode well.)

caveat: i'm a recovering alcoholic, been sober now for coming up on ... 18? 19? ... years. i got sober a bit *after* i started contracting & got the clearance. so when i answer those questions, it's like something from another lifetime. however, i'm not kidding when i say i was a ripper & snorter, and i'm pretty open & honest about it. hasn't hurt me in the least when it comes to getting a clearance.
posted by msconduct at 5:55 PM on November 30, 2009 [1 favorite]

From my past experience in obtaining and maintaining my clearance, my advice is this: don't lie when asked directly. No one is going to care too much about your past drug use when you are going for a secret clearance. When you fill out your security questionnaire, be honest; you will not be the first person granted a security clearance (at any level) who admits past drug use.

As long as you can pass a drug screening and are honest on your questionnaire, you will be fine.
posted by doh ray mii at 5:56 PM on November 30, 2009

You need to fess up.

Security clearance at that kind of level is typically about working out if you can be blackmailed.

Security folks aren't generally too worried about things you have done that lots of other people have done (like used lower level drugs). If you didn't employ people because of that, then your candidate pool shrinks dramatically. They may test you to check you can do your job safely or to ensure you are not dangerously dependent, but if you're not currently using that's not an issue for you.

What they are concerned about is people who try to hide things, and who lie about it. The pattern they are nervous about is your willingness to hide and lie. This further suggests that down the track, were someone to find out about your hiding and lying, that you'd consider giving up secret information in exchange for keeping quiet. This makes security folk (and everyone else, frankly) really nervous.
posted by jjderooy at 6:18 PM on November 30, 2009 [1 favorite]

IANYSpy but I would say if you weren't asked about it directly, stay quiet. If it comes up, explain that you have moved passed that part of your life and did not wish to volunteer the information as it is personal and unrelated to the questioning as you understood it.

If you get denied, you're in the same boat?
posted by CharlesV42 at 6:24 PM on November 30, 2009

You weren't asked about it directly (or, in an official capacity), so it's not lying about it. The contractor firm wants a heads up to make their candidate pool up of only the most likely people to gain a clearance, but the key for the clearance itself is honesty and full disclosure. Just don't omit it at your actual clearance interview - you'll have to give more information about your past use, references for people who knew your involvement, possibly sign an official statement that while in the employ of the gov't you won't use it, etc etc.

There's no guarantee you won't get a total hardass agent who hates drugs, or that your relatively recent quitting won't disqualify you still. Emphasize that your experimentation ended with your association with the drug crowd and your college experience.

Since the plural of anecdotes is data, I knew a guy who got denied because he was tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars deep into gambling debt. I believe he also lied about it and tried to hide it.
posted by bookdragoness at 6:47 PM on November 30, 2009 [1 favorite]

the interviewer asked me if there was anything that would prevent me from getting a secret level security clearance and listed off a couple of things such as bankruptcy or a criminal record. I said no.

You weren't dishonest.

If asked about past drug use directly by the interviewer or during the screening process for security clearance, be honest. But don't confess to something you didn't do.
posted by Meg_Murry at 6:49 PM on November 30, 2009

I think it would be insane for you to say anything. Insane.

You don't know what they're thinking. You don't know what his joke meant. You don't know if they would care.

It's possible that the guy's joke was his way of saying: "Stop smoking pot, so that when you get the drug test two months from now, you'll be clean."

You're talking about working with the US Department of Defense, man. If you're really that worried about a moral issue this small, you should be looking for a job somewhere else.
posted by bingo at 7:03 PM on November 30, 2009 [5 favorites]

You weren't asked, so don't tell.

If they ask when they're working on the clearance, don't lie.

Meanwhile, keep clean.
posted by alms at 7:16 PM on November 30, 2009

I'd keep looking for a job. Just think about having the clearance and the job -- and the quality of life that comes with knowing some other interested party is wanting to know what you're up to and by extension, influencing your decisions.
posted by countrymod at 7:34 PM on November 30, 2009

I can't speak for the US system, but in the UK, our clearances are handled centrally, by the MoD/Defence Vetting Agency rather than by the employing company. Be completely honest on your security clearance paperwork and they'll either give you a clearance or not - they won't tell the company why they deny a clearance in that case.

Never lie on security clearance paperwork - they're looking for any way someone can blackmail you or hold something over you. For that reason, I'd clean up my act, if I were you. Don't mention it to your employer unless directly asked by someone who works for said company.
posted by Nice Guy Mike at 8:04 PM on November 30, 2009

I would either fess up or withdraw the application. As mentioned above, the biggest thing they look at is whether or not you can be blackmailed- it's not what you've done, it's whether or not you feel the need to hide it. I am a personal reference for a friend who is a civillian engineer who does weapons contract work. Before she was hired, and every couple of years since, an FBI agent will call me up and ask me about her. First, they verify the background info she has given. Then, they ask about finances, relationships, alcohol, drugs, etc. Specifically- "has she done anything for which she could be blackmailed?" I'm not sure what level that job you applied for will be, but chances are you will have to give the names of a couple of friends, and someone may eventually call them up and ask them whether or not you've used drugs. So keep that in mind as you decide what to do.

Because your drug use was so recent, I doubt you'll get the job so you might want to just withdraw your application. If you smoked some pot back in the day but haven't done so in 2 or 3 years, it's probably not a big deal. However, right now, it's in your very recent past and will raise red flags in the hiring process.
posted by emd3737 at 8:11 PM on November 30, 2009

You should factor into your decision how well-known your pot use was to friends and acquaintances. The FBI likes to interview a web of people you know and ask them things like this.
posted by Kirklander at 10:08 PM on November 30, 2009

How long is your hair?

I applied for a job that had an extensive background check and drug test. It was so extensive, that I asked another Mefite if they knew what was up (they are in HR). They said the company did it for everyone, because they have government contracts.

So, the background check was done by a Private Investigator. I signed a 6-page waiver that gave the P.I. the right to verify everything, and to talk with neighbors, etc., about basically anything including vague things like "mode of living."

The drug test was hair and urine. For the hair test, they needed 100 to 150 hairs, 2-inches or longer, that they cut at the scalp. If the hair on your head was not 2 inches or longer, then they took the sample from elsewhere on your body (?!). If your hair grows 1/2-inch per month (that's average), then the minimum sample covered 4 months.

This doesn't provide any advice about what to do, but might help you make your decision. Even if you don't tell, you could be found out through the test and check.
posted by Houstonian at 3:52 AM on December 1, 2009

I don't think you need to 'fess up because you didn't lie. He joked, you laughed. If it comes up later, you can say you did not understand you were being asked a question. Because you weren't asked a question. You were being told obliquely that the company doesn't want drug users.

Lying on a job interview is a bad idea. But if he wanted to know whether you had ever done drugs, he would have asked point blank.

The longer this goes, the longer ago you can honestly tell them you did drugs. "I stopped doing drugs in August" is less convincing than "I quit drugs last year" or "I used to do drugs, but that was like 5 years ago."
posted by musofire at 6:48 AM on December 1, 2009

Were you ever arrested for the drug use? If so, get a pardon, ASAP, but it will probably be too late for this position. If not, then I wouldn't worry about it.

I'd definitely stop and definitely not discuss it at work, but aside from the regular police checks, and neighbour references I don't think there's much their going to do to check. (FWIW, I have a secret clearance, although mine is government and therefore bound to respect my privacy more than a private contractor would likely be.)
posted by Kurichina at 7:53 AM on December 1, 2009

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