In today’s digital age, the I.T. industry is thriving. It offers some of the greatest opportunities for innovation and financial gain around the world. According to the Digital Spillover study from Oxford Economics and Huawei, the global digital economy was worth $11.5 trillion in 2016, which is equivalent to 15.5% of gross domestic product (GDP) worldwide.
While the I.T. sector’s growth is inviting, security clearances form barriers within the industry. Dave Underwood, President of TAC Secured, has made a career from placing highly sought-after I.T. workers who possess active security clearances. Underwood has said security clearances are like “a secret handshake” in the industry. Getting one both invites you into the I.T. industry and keeps you there by making it easier to find government, defense, and security jobs that require clearance.
As the unofficial prerequisite for advancing in the I.T. industry, there are numerous benefits of having a security clearance. At Sentient Digital, Inc., we provide technology solutions to defense, federal, and commercial clients, and our cleared I.T. professionals have industry insight to share about the benefits of having a security clearance. Learn more about how having a security clearance can attract employers, increase your earning potential, and offer you easier access to higher clearances in the future.
SECURITY CLEARANCE LEVELS
Anyone hired to do business with the federal government must undergo a general background check, but security clearances grant you valuable access. The eligibility guidelines and degree of difficulty for obtaining a clearance depend on the sensitivity of the information the clearance makes accessible.
The more sensitive the information, the more stringent the requirements to be able to access it. Unsurprisingly, there are more benefits of having a security clearance at the highest levels of access. If you’re in the process of acquiring a clearance, take a moment to learn how to avoid security clearance delays.
4 Security Clearance Types
- Interim Security Clearance: An interim security clearance grants you the ability to execute classified tasks on a short-term basis while a thorough background investigation is in progress. An applicant will be considered for an interim security clearance upon their hiring official’s request. Rather than requiring investigation over a particular period of time, an interim security clearance depends on what the investigation finds. Therefore, an interim clearance can sometimes be granted very quickly following the request, if investigation does not reveal anything of concern.
- Confidential Security Clearance: A confidential security clearance grants you access to information that has the potential to adversely affect national security if disclosed to the public. Many military personnel are given this level of security clearance, and are usually reinvestigated every 15 years. A confidential clearance requires a National Agency Check with Local Agency Check and Credit Check (NACLC).
- Secret Security Clearance: A secret security clearance grants you access to information that could result in serious ramifications for our nation’s security if disclosed to the public. A CSIS assessment must return a positive reliability status result before a secret security clearance becomes available. This clearance grants the ability to access information up to secret level on a need-to-know basis. As with confidential security clearance, secret security clearance requires an NACLC.
- Top Secret Security Clearance: A top secret security clearance grants you access to information that could result in the gravest of consequences for our nation’s security if disclosed. Clearances at this high level will naturally require more intensive scrutiny than the lower levels. A top secret clearance grants the ability to view designated and classified information on a need-to-know basis.
Taking into account the intensity of the process, you may be wondering, “How much is a top secret clearance worth?” As reported in January 2021, the average cost of a top secret security clearance was between $3,000 and $15,000, and these costs tend to be paid by the government for its own employees.
The literal financial answer to “How much is a top secret clearance worth?” in terms of return on investment, depends on the job that a particular individual obtains with the clearance. However, opening up additional employment opportunities via obtaining a top secret security clearance certainly increases one’s earning potential.
2 Categories of Highly Classified Information
SCI and SAPs are two categories of top secret information. The intelligence they contain has an even higher risk level than standard top secret information, and they require additional clearances. Security clearances for SCI and SAPs are provided to an extremely limited few.
- Sensitive Compartmented Information (SCI): SCI clearance holders have access to intelligence sources, methods, and processes that have the potential to undermine national security if disclosed.
- Special Access Programs (SAPs): SAPs provide clearance holders with access to projects, policies, programs, and operations that have the potential to undermine national security if disclosed. SAPs are especially sensitive operations and unsurprisingly may require numerous additional screening services and documentation than other security clearances.
BENEFITS OF HAVING A SECURITY CLEARANCE
In our experience as a government I.T. contractor, these three benefits of having a security clearance can make a substantial impact on your I.T. career.
1. Access to Exclusive Hiring Opportunities
It goes without saying that security clearances are often required to perform I.T. work for government entities. However, not enough cleared professionals are available. As John Shaw of the Northern Virginia Technology Council states in the 2018 ClearanceJobs Compensation Survey, “The tight market is really driven by two things—the experience creep, and the security clearance creep.”
Because I.T. professionals who have security clearances are in such high demand, there are many additional hiring services to attract them. Entire companies have been developed for the purpose of sourcing cleared I.T. professionals.
Tech Expo USA, for example, is an online career center that organizes job fairs for cyber security and security-cleared professionals, connecting them with the defense contractors, government agencies, technology companies, and consulting firms that desperately need them. Dice is another company that holds career events exclusively for cleared candidates. When an entire industry has been born to source cleared professionals, the demand for their services is undeniable.
While security clearances are not always a prerequisite for attending I.T. industry career fairs, you will likely benefit from having a security clearance at any hiring event. Richard Lim, an Infrastructure Protection Analyst at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, indicates that even if clearances are not required to attend intelligence career fairs, candidates are often measured by their clearances.
Once again, we see security clearances act as a “secret handshake,” granting you access to the industry where those who lack them may be shut out. Maria Whitney, a Senior Recruiter at Smartronix, wrote, “Many companies are straying away from pursuing clearances and are only seeking out viable candidates that are already cleared.” If you have a security clearance, then you have access to both classified information and exclusive hiring opportunities.
2. Increased Earning Potential
Given the relatively high demand and low supply of cleared I.T. candidates, employers will pay a premium to bring you onto their team. Just like any market with a skewed supply and demand, the service’s value is driven up—and so is its cost.
According to Military Benefits, security-cleared professionals often make thousands of dollars more than uncleared workers in similar positions. In 2017, the Human Resource Association of the National Capital Area surveyed security-cleared professionals in the Washington area and found their salaries were 5–15% higher than their uncleared counterparts. What does this 5–15% difference look like in terms of annual salary? According to TAOnline, security clearances could grant you an additional $5,000 to $15,000 per year.
The highest levels of clearance can lead to even higher salaries. The Human Resource Association of the National Capital Area also reported that employees with top secret security clearance could earn up to 60% more than those without top secret clearance in certain jobs. While salary can vary greatly depending on the company, job position, and clearance level, it’s clear that one of the biggest benefits of having a security clearance is an increased earning potential.
3. Easier Access to Higher Clearances
Your first security clearance helps pave the path to obtaining higher security clearances, which can lead to even more job opportunities and higher pay. Compared to uncleared candidates, there is a less extensive investigation process for many previously and currently cleared workers. In certain cases, outlined in Title 5 Part 731.104 of the Code of Federal Regulations, you may not even be required to undergo an investigation process.
What’s more, there is an increasing number of I.T. roles in state executive branches that consider security-cleared workers who don’t require reinvestigation, to be top candidates. In 2017, Governor Chris Christie signed an Executive Order empowering Officer Dave Weinstein to centralize New Jersey’s I.T. for over 70 executive branch agencies and departments. Officials were only given 30 days to provide Weinstein with a complete list of workers responsible for I.T. functions and operations, and Weinstein in turn only had 180 days to submit a plan for centralizing I.T. to Christie. With quick turnarounds such as these, cleared professionals are in high demand, as their clearance can help streamline the hiring process.
If you’re still hoping to obtain a security clearance, know that it does get easier to advance once you have your first clearance. If you already have your first clearance, it is important to proactively maintain your current level of access. In order to keep your clearance active, you must use it at the level it was issued. For example, you cannot keep a top secret clearance if you are only performing work that requires a secret clearance. This makes sense due to the need-to-know nature of security clearances; if your responsibilities do not require access to particular information, then you don’t need to know it. Maintaining your clearance can allow you to reap the full benefits of having a security clearance over the years to come and take advantage of emerging roles in I.T.
INACTIVE SECURITY CLEARANCES, LAPSED SECURITY CLEARANCES, AND REINVESTIGATION
Leaving your position or no longer having the responsibilities requiring a clearance can cause it to become inactive, beginning a 24 month period in which it has not yet lapsed and you do not have to submit a new application. Within that 24 month period, accepting a position or responsibilities requiring the clearance are potential ways to keep the clearance active, so that you do not lose the benefits of having a security clearance that has not lapsed.
Note that even a clearance that remains active may require reinvestigation, within a period of years that varies by the type of clearance. If you are still evaluating the question, “How much is a top secret clearance worth?” you may want to take into account reinvestigation requirements, but again, as a clearance can open doors for you to many additional employment opportunities, you will likely conclude that this reinvestigation requirement does not mean that the effort is not worth it.
FIND YOUR DREAM JOB WITH SENTIENT DIGITAL, INC.
Put your security clearance to work today at Sentient Digital, Inc. and enjoy doing the kind of work that is one of the major benefits of having a security clearance. Our technological expertise serves commercial clients and wins government contracts. In fact, we were recently awarded a $49M contract by the U.S. Navy to supply the Military Sealift Command with innovative I.T. engineering support.
Sentient Digital’s team of software engineers and scientists, including those affiliated with recently acquired defense contractor RDA, Inc., provide technology services to military, government, and private sector clients. Developing and maintaining critical mission software solutions to meet our clients’ objectives is a core component of our work, and providing this support often inherently requires our employees to have security clearance.
As a small, veteran-owned company with an aggressive growth model, we know that our employees are integral to our success and we prioritize their development. We value the expertise and efficiency each person contributes, and we’re always looking to add high-performing members to our team. At SDi, we create a collaborative environment while encouraging personal advancement.
If you’re seeking dynamic work in an intellectually stimulating environment where you can achieve your goals, check out Sentient Digital’s open positions.