“The Willy Wonka golden ticket.”
That’s how Mark Zaid, a national security attorney in Washington, D.C., describes having a security clearance. It gives individuals the ability to tap numerous, varied and well-paid job opportunities.
“It opens incredible doors that otherwise would never be opened, and they typically have a bigger pot of gold at the end of the rainbow than non-cleared positions,”Mark Zaid
A security clearance opens doors to great careers in national defense, cybersecurity, intelligence, criminal investigations and international relations. Americans with security clearances lead critical missions in protecting our country, pioneer advanced technologies, and function at the heart of U.S. government operations all over the world.
Members of the military, the Department of Homeland Security, State Department, Central Intelligence Agency and Federal Bureau of Investigation need clearances. So do many employees of Justice, Energy and other federal departments, as well as private contractors who access classified information as they perform work for the federal government.
Many other industries and employers – including banking, manufacturing, engineering, IT, healthcare, law, research labs and state/local government – require some workers with security clearances.
And those employers aren’t just hiring computer programmers and cyber warriors for “cleared” jobs. They need carpenters, electricians, graphic designers, accountants, clerical staff, foreign language experts, logistics specialists, cell phone technicians, nurses, truck drivers, security guards, tour guides and so many others.
While some fields use their own clearance processes, they typically scrutinize the same issues that the federal clearance process covers. So regardless of your career plans, learning about security clearances and preparing to obtain one could open doors. Obtaining a security clearance, however, takes time and discipline. The best way to start earning that “golden ticket” is to learn about the process and requirements now.
Workers with security clearances are in high demand, so employers make extra efforts to attract and retain them. Cleared jobs pay higher salaries – as much as 20 percent more than the same job for a worker without a security clearance.
The demand for workers with security clearances has also been growing in America. The number of job openings posted on ClearanceJobs.com has ballooned from 10,005 in 2015 to 34,353 in 2018. Meanwhile, in what has been described as the “incredible shrinking pool of cleared talent,” the number of cleared U.S. workers has shrunk. It is down from its peak of 5.1 million in 2013 to 3.4 million in 2018 due partly to changing federal requirements for clearances.
Consequently, workers with security clearances can command handsome salaries. A person with an Intelligence Community security clearance earned an average total annual compensation of $122,243 in 2018. The average worker for the National Security Agency earned $111,130 annually. Among all federally cleared workers in Maryland, the average annual salary exceeded $101,000.
Furthermore, cleared workers make thousands of dollars more per year than people doing the same jobs in uncleared positions. According to the Human Resource Association of the National Capital Area, cleared workers, on average, earn 5 percent to 15 percent more than their uncleared counterparts.
Finally, the demand for cleared workers is pushing those salaries higher and, in many cases, that growth is outpacing the pay raises granted to uncleared workers. In 2018, average compensation for all cleared workers increased by 7 percent. Construction workers with security clearances received the most significant increases – 11 percent. Cleared health and science workers received the second-largest increase at 9 percent. During the same year, however, median household income in America grew less than 1 percent.
In addition to collecting premium salaries, workers receive other benefits from having a security clearance.
Job Options: Ample job openings give workers the freedom to change jobs in order to achieve desired work conditions or pursue specific career goals.
Elite Opportunities: As the people at the center of the nation’s most critical defense, security, intelligence and justice missions, cleared workers have access to the most cutting-edge tools in their professions. It’s a platform to advance their careers and even shape a profession, and daily opportunities to have profound impacts on the security and wellbeing of the nation.
Employment Benefits: Employers are eager to hang onto cleared workers. They regularly offer them generous vacation time, desirable health insurance and retirement savings plans, tuition reimbursement, relocation assistance, free transit and onsite facilities, such as daycare services and fitness centers.
Lifestyle: Cleared jobs can offer distinct opportunities to create the lifestyle you want. Some cleared employees have frequent opportunities to travel domestically and internationally, and even live in other states or countries. In some cases, cleared jobs can only be performed at designated, secure sites and/or within set times. Employees can’t take their work home with them or chip away at work projects during their off-hours – a restriction that can create a healthy work-life balance.
For the overwhelming majority of workers, the pay, benefits, opportunities and mission of cleared jobs are compelling. In a 2018 survey, only 7 percent of cleared workers said they would consider taking a job in the uncleared job market.