Rock, meet hard place.
June 25, 2014 10:26 AM   Subscribe

I have no idea what to do. Eight months ago, I accepted an offer from Job A. Job A is limited in duration. I have a standing offer from Job B, which I am free to accept after Job A ends. Both jobs are in the same field, albeit geographically remote from one another. Sounds great, right? Well, just you wait.

I've just found out - 2.5 months before I'm slated to start at Job A - that Job A requires I go through the security clearance process. (During Job A hiring, this was described merely as a background check.) Based on my research, I have serious doubts about my ability to ultimately be granted a clearance. I absolutely WILL NOT lie during the clearance process.

It is a near-certainty that I will not receive an interim clearance (the preliminary version you receive while the in-depth investigation occurs). I have no idea what will happen at Job A if/when I am denied the interim. As my hiring paperwork said my job was contingent upon a favorable "background check," my guess is that I would be fired.

Being fired from Job A would be horrible not only for professional reasons, but also for personal ones: I am (was?) planning a cross-country move to work in Job A. So, if all of the above occurs, I'll be unemployed and low on cash (not to mention humiliated).

If Job A were any other job, I'd renege and call Job B right away. But! It gets worse. The near-unanimous view in my field is that it is terrible, horrible, very-ultra-mega bad form to renege on a job like Job A. And!! Job B knows about Job A; if I call Job B, Job B will definitely ask me what happened with the whole Job A situation.

In sum, my options - both of which will damage my professional reputation - are:

(1) Continue planning my cross-country move for Job A despite the strong likelihood that I will be fired either immediately upon being denied an interim clearance, or, if I am permitted to stay on even after that occurs, upon being conclusively denied a clearance;

(2) Renege on Job A, which would require providing some sort of explanation to Job A regarding the reneging (how would I even go about this?) and providing some sort of explanation to Job B regarding why I am no longer going to Job A (again, how?).

Other potentially relevant facts:
- Job B also requires a major, albeit not cross-country, move;
- Job B pays more;
- Job A is in my preferred market, which is a small market in my already-small field.

What on earth do I do? Any perspective on any part of this is welcomed.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (21 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
own up. It is far more professional.

Dear Job A, upon further research it is unlikely that I will get a clearance due to xyz. What would you like to do?

Then job A either works around it or says it probably won't work. This probably happens with Job As all the time. They would rather you told them than they spent a lot of time and money training you.

If job A says it won't work, you write job B

Dear job B, good news and bad news. Bad news is I can't take job A because I smoked weed in college, good news is I am totally ready for job B, let's do this thing!
posted by Mistress at 10:32 AM on June 25, 2014 [21 favorites]

Okay, so with Job A, they're going to find out whatever it is if you do the security clearance, so there's nothing to lose to call them and say you do not believe you will clear. You don't have to say why just yet, just say so. Tell them the truth, you thought only a background check would be required and that is no problem (this should be reassuring to them) but the security clearance is.

Let them decide how to proceed.
posted by Lyn Never at 10:33 AM on June 25, 2014 [6 favorites]

Call job A. Find out who they use to do their background checks and then pay to see what they will get. You can do your own check.

You'd also be surprised at what they don't give a rat's ass about. I had to have one at my current job and I'd previously had one to be granted a security clearance in the military. In the first (military) I was afraid I'd be rejected because I wouldn't lie either, and there were questions about drug use. Current job I thought I'd get dinged because I am currently repairing a super trashed credit history.

Both cases I was fine.
posted by cjorgensen at 10:33 AM on June 25, 2014 [16 favorites]

Well, the cross-country move gives you a a rock solid out if you don't want to get into the security clearance issue. "I'm sorry, Job A, but family circumstances have made it impossible for me to commit to moving to your location. Thank you so much for the opportunity and I hope we may be able to work together at a future time."
posted by something something at 10:34 AM on June 25, 2014 [3 favorites]

Something like 20-30% of people who apply for a security clearance are not granted an interim security clearance. I think you should speak to the hiring manager/HR at Job A about what will happen if you do not get interim clearance before making any decisions. If your job is "contingent" on obtaining interim clearance than it seems to me like you won't be fired - they will just withdraw the offer.

I also think you might want to speak with a lawyer who specializes in the security clearance process (there are some that will do consultations over the phone or email). There are no saints in this world and there is a lot of behavior that can be absolved if the applicant makes the right moves towards straightening out their life.
posted by muddgirl at 10:35 AM on June 25, 2014 [4 favorites]

Own up, immediately. That is the course of action which MOST-minimizes any potential negative fallout which will come your way.

Seconding that you'd be surprised at what is/isn't okay in a the whole employee vetting process. A friend spent a week HORRIBLY worried about a then-recent DUI conviction when it came up during the hiring process for their last job; after friend had been hired, an HR rep scoffed, "Pfffft! EVERYONE here has one!" Blew my friend's mind.
posted by julthumbscrew at 10:37 AM on June 25, 2014 [3 favorites]

Also, the security clearance process is a background check. The question is: what standards of behavior are they looking for as disqualifiers?
posted by muddgirl at 10:41 AM on June 25, 2014

I know a contractor for the Pentagon who dated dual-citizens in college, has parents of non-US origin, admitted drug use while he was a member of ROTC, and he was honest on his checks. He now does their networking.
posted by cjorgensen at 10:43 AM on June 25, 2014

Call Job A and talk to their security person. They'll have a security officer or somesuch if by security clearance you mean US government security clearance. Keep in mind that there are different levels (confidential, secret, top secret, etc) that have different investigation requirements (see link for description of levels and what is required to be declared for each).

Don't freak out until you talk to their security officer about what, exactly, the process is and run your specific scenario past them. Talk to this person honestly as well.

If they were going for a high security clearance, they would probably have discussed the process and your likelihood of eligibility with you during the interview process. So, call and find out specifics so you can have all the information you need.
posted by bookdragoness at 10:44 AM on June 25, 2014 [5 favorites]

Call Job A and Tell them what your concern is.

"Hello Samantha. I understand that rather than a typical background check, that you'll be doing a full on security clearance. I need to understand the scope of this, because due to some youthful indescretions, I have a concern about being granted a security clearance. Before we proceed further in the process, I'd need to know that these indiscretions would NOT impact my clearance. If there's a question, I think it's best for both parties if I withdraw my application for the position."

I don't know what you did, but you may need to disclose that to the HR person/Hiring manager before proceeding.

Don't move until this thing comes back clean.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 10:45 AM on June 25, 2014 [4 favorites]

I have a lot of experience on both sides of the security clearance process. MeMail / EMail me and I can give you a good assessment of your odds and what you might face.
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 10:47 AM on June 25, 2014

The nature of Job A matters a lot. If it's a bank, any hint of criminality regarding money will be a killer, but many other things will slide. If it's a defense contractor, there are other considerations.
posted by SemiSalt at 10:49 AM on June 25, 2014 [3 favorites]

There's always "family issues".

I'm sorry, i'm unable to make a cross country move right now due to "family issues", but job B, which doesn't require a move will be workable.
posted by Oktober at 11:11 AM on June 25, 2014 [2 favorites]

To me this is some serious goalpost-shifting on Job A's part. A background check and a security clearance are entirely different things. If it were me, unless I were really desperate for Job A, I'd say, "I'm happy to undergo the background check that we discussed during the hiring process and which is described in your offer letter. I never agreed to undergo the invasive security clearance process, and I won't be doing so now. Please let me know whether you would like to continue the hiring process under the original terms which we both agreed to."

If they say no, then you're not reneging, they are, and that is what you tell Job B if they ask. If Job B is reasonable they will understand how intrusive the security clearance process is (if this is a US security clearance we are talking about, it involves FBI agents questioning your old coworkers and neighbors and means that you take on additional serious legal responsibilities regarding classified information that you don't have without a security clearance) and why even a perfectly law-abiding person might not be willing to undergo it, particularly in a bait-and-switch situation such as you've described.
posted by enn at 11:42 AM on June 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'd call job B now and say, "I started the hiring process with Job A and we're running into snags. If we can't iron it out, would it be possible to start with you on X date?"

May as well pave the way.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 11:52 AM on June 25, 2014 [3 favorites]

I agree with everyone saying call HR at job A. To be honest, if they need security clearance, they probably already know just about everything about you including your preferred brand of toothpaste and your last date, and remember, they still want to hire you. What they need is for you to come clean about whatever it is you find might be an issue.
posted by mumimor at 11:54 AM on June 25, 2014

And then next time this question comes up, go straight to HR at job A, even if you are in job B. Don't ask Metafilter
posted by mumimor at 11:56 AM on June 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

Dear heavens, don't tell Job B that you couldn't/wouldn't do a security clearance. Why would you poison your relationship with your next employer? Stay in contact with B, but nothing about the security thing.

People flunk out in the background/clearance step all the time; call Job A and ask what happens if you don't pass the interim check. The recruiter will have a process to follow.

Recruiters WANT to find people to hire. If you're good enough to have two gigs lined up, then they want to work with you. Off the top of my head here are two possibilities.
- They may also have a job opening at the company that doesn't require that clearance status.
- They may be willing to delay your start date a bit to resolve the clearance before the move.

But they can't do either of those things if they don't know that there's a problem.

Call. Call today.
posted by 26.2 at 12:02 PM on June 25, 2014 [2 favorites]

I assume that the clearance is government/military clearance?

You might need to ask yourself what are the 'serious concerns' regarding not getting the security clearance? What they are really looking for (in a security clearance) is what type of information are you so concerned about that you would cover up and could potentially be used as blackmail in the future. If you are upfront and open and show that you are not able to be blackmailed that is usually all they are looking for.

If it is something else, then you should contact the H.R. express your concerns and ask if they think you should continue. Sometimes people, in their own minds, build up what they consider to be faults to overblown proportions. Its possible that this is a non-issue.
posted by kookywon at 12:13 PM on June 25, 2014 [2 favorites]

- as previously stated, people with various somewhat questionable histories do have clearances; the things that are "questionable" in the clearance process aren't always the things you think.
- if you are very sure that you can't get a clearance, and if you will lose a lot of money moving across the country for Job A, call them up. Don't ask to speak to HR, ask for the security office. Tell them your concern, confess your secret, and ask whether that is likely to get your clearance denied.
- if you have contact with a supervisor for the project you'll be doing, ask them whether it's secret work, and how much of the project you'll be able to do before your clearance comes through. This will give you some insight into the probability that they'll fire you if you don't get clearance. Keep in mind that it's a limited contract, and if it's a 9-month project that you do the first 3 months of, they'd have to bring in somebody else for the last 6 months (3 of which that new guy wouldn't have a clearance yet) so your experience may override your clearance status.
posted by aimedwander at 3:06 PM on June 25, 2014

I just posted a similar question last night...but I am already at my job, have been in it for over 2 months, and just found out I need a Public Trust clearance. It's really not an official clearance like the Secret or Top Secret clearance, but it's still a very thorough government investigation. This has caused me great anxiety. But I am realizing my anxiety is most likely unfounded...the things I am concerned about probably would not result in a denial. I spoke with a consultant who is a former clearance investigator, and also briefly with a security clearance attorney. You may want to find out what level of clearance is needed, and if your concerns are really legitimate. Honestly, I have read about people that downloaded child pornography on their work computer, and still managed to get a security clearance! Not kidding...the Dept. of Defense posts the outcome of difficult cases, and explains the details. It may not be as bad as you think.
posted by Maggsie97 at 9:08 AM on June 26, 2014

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