Why Pursue a Security Clearance?

Many other industries and employers – including banking, manufacturing, engineering, IT, healthcare, law and state/local government – require some workers with security clearances. Those employers, along with the federal government, aren’t just hiring computer programmers and cyber warriors for those “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.Why you should pursue a security clearanceBecause of that demand, employers make extra efforts to attract and retain “cleared” workers. Cleared jobs pay higher salaries – as much as 20 percent more than the same job for a worker without a security clearance. Cleared workers also enjoy other perks, including ample job prospects and job security, generous vacation and other benefits. Security clearance provides opportunities to create the kind of lifestyle they desire.

Cleared Salaries

The demand for workers with security clearances has been growing steadily in America. The number of job openings posted on 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 $104,836 as of 2020.

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.

Professional and Lifestyle Benefits

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 is compelling. In a 2018 survey, only 7 percent of cleared workers said they would consider taking a job in the uncleared job market.

Who Needs A Clearance?

The range of workers who need security clearances is both extensive and highly varied. Of course, members of the military, the Department of Homeland Security, State Department, Central Intelligence Agency and Federal Bureau of Investigations 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.

However, even some individuals who have nothing to do with government work need a form of security clearance.  Many employees of casinos, banks, investment companies, technology shops, healthcare facilities, research labs and law firms must pass background checks developed by those industries. Furthermore, those processes look at most of the same issues that the federal clearance process covers. So regardless of your career plans, learning about security clearances could open doors for you.

Getting Cleared

A security clearance, quite simply, is a determination by the U.S. government that a person is sufficiently trustworthy and reliable. They are then allowed to safely access classified information, such as details of military operations or cybersecurity software. 

To obtain a clearance, individuals must pass a detailed background investigation. It starts by filling out the Questionnaire for National Security Positions (Standard Form 86). It asks about your education, work history, financial history, places of residence, drug and alcohol use, police record and other aspects of your life. Federal officials verify your responses through records checks and interviews with you and other individuals. 

Individuals can earn different levels of security clearances, including Confidential, Secret or Top Secret.