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DoD security clearance: What defense employers are looking for

Who has the best shot at high-paying jobs requiring security clearances?

Wartime can be good for business, especially when you are working for the U.S. Department of Defense. Information security consultants can make up to $20,000 more per year working in sensitive defense jobs than in other positions, according to an expert. Massive DoD and U.S. Department of Homeland Security budgets are producing thousands of government contracts and high paying jobs.

What is active security clearance?

There's just one problem, however, and it's a big one. To make big bucks working for a DoD contractor, you will need to have DoD security clearance. And the only way to get DoD security clearance is to already have it [a status called active clearance] or to have had clearance within the past two years [called current clearance]. Almost invariably, that means you either recently completed military service, or recently held a job at a defense contractor. 

"It is a Catch-22," said Evan Lesser, who has managed technology projects at the Pentagon and is co-founder of Atlanta.-based, which helps defense contractors find workers with active and current security clearances.

Most veterans leave the armed forces with some level of security clearance, meaning the government trusts them around sensitive information. Civilians cannot apply directly for clearance -- they must be sponsored by a defense contractor willing to wait up to two years for that clearance to be issued.

The government already faces a backlog of 400,000 security clearance applications, which is putting thousands of defense contracts on hold. That means veterans, who make up half of the registered job seekers at, have the best shot at positions requiring security clearance.

"Defense employers are looking for current and active clearances. If you don't have that, you are not likely to get that job," said Lesser.

More than 100,000 active duty military personnel with security clearances will transition out of the armed forces over the next year, according to some estimates. Their clearances, plus their organizational skills, said Lesser, will move vets to the front of the line.

Still, information security consultants without clearance can find companies in top defense job markets, such as the Washington, D.C., area, willing to sponsor them for security clearances.

Even workers with active DoD security clearances must undergo additional scrutiny when they move from one DoD agency to another -- exacerbating the clearance shortage, said a recruiter for Herndon, Va.-based government IT contractor McDonald Bradley Inc., which employs about 350 people.

"With things as competitive as they are," said McDonald Bradley senior recruiter Brian Digby, "companies such as ours are considering hiring people without clearance, for placement in non-sensitive jobs, while they await their clearance."

Larger companies such as Raytheon, Boeing and Lockheed Martin also have pockets deep enough to take on workers they see as good candidates for security clearance jobs.

Said Lesser, "Go for a large company with the means to sponsor you for the two-year waiting period."

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