For many students, the process behind getting a top-secret security clearance can seem a little…top secret.
Even the savviest student who has mastered all the standard job-hunting rites of passage can stumble when it comes to clearances. From misjudging how closely investigators scrutinize personal finances and international contact, to the shock of learning that getting a clearance can take six months to a year—even with a job offer in hand—the process can be full of surprises for the uninitiated.
But a new Mason program aims to demystify the process. Launched in fall 2017, Clearance Ready is an initiative from University Career Services that prepares students for everything they will encounter once they enter the world of security clearances.
According to Matt Myers, assistant director of industry advising at University Career Services, the idea for the program originated from a need expressed by both students and employers.
“Students didn’t understand the process, didn’t understand the timeline,” Myers said. “And employers—it’s a big struggle for them to be able to find people who can get through the clearance process.”
The program offers students a variety of sessions and panels, including higher-level overview sessions and workshops that assist with filling out the dreaded SF-86, the 136-page National Security Questionnaire form.
Employer volunteers assist at all Clearance Ready sessions and are available to answer student questions and offer insight into the process. Additional industry-focused panels and roundtables have featured such area employers as the U.S. Department of Energy, FBI, CIA, National Security Agency, Environmental Protection Agency, and more.
It’s a win-win model: Students learn what to expect and how the decisions they make now might impact their future ability to be cleared, and employers make connections with potential applicants. “[If] students…are being honest with themselves and honest with us,” Myers said, “we can present them to a group of employers where we are as confident as we can be that they are clearable.”
The program is winning praise from both students and employers.
“It’s helped me understand what are facts and what are myths about the government and law enforcement,” said Taye Folk, criminology, law and society major. “They make sure you have a foundational network before you even step foot into your internship or job.”
John Amos, president and CEO of participating employer Invex Technology Solutions, is an enthusiastic supporter of the program.
“The Clearance Ready Program helps us quickly get connected with students who are eager to enter the ‘cleared’ job market and enables us to create a ‘talent pool’ for our public sector marketplace” he said.
Since the program’s launch, 586 students have participated, and Myers says he’s heard from several students who made connections for their current job or internship via the program.