What Is the Difference Between a Background Check & a Security Clearance?

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Security is a major concern in today's world. Almost any well-paid technical or professional job today will likely involve some type of pre-employment background check. Many government jobs today require that applicants be approved for a specific security clearance and undergo a background investigation as a part of the application process. The thoroughness of the background check depends on the level of security clearance required for the job.

Typical Basic Backgound Check

  • Although there is some variation, a basic background check usually only involves checking your credit report and your criminal history. In some cases even a basic background check will include submitting fingerprints.

In-Depth Background Investigation

  • A more in-depth background investigation will possibly involve examining tax and financial records, medical history, past travel and associates, and interviews with employers, colleagues, neighbors, friends and family. The intensity of the background investigation depends on the security clearance required for the job.

Security Clearance

  • According to the FBI, the two levels of security clearance typically appropriate for law enforcement are secret and top secret. A secret security clearance involves a federal records check and criminal history and credit, and a top secret security clearance also involves a 10-year background investigation as described above.

Other Security Clearance Details

  • All those who receive a secret or top secret security clearance must sign a non-disclosure agreement. The FBI usually completes the review process for a secret or top secret security clearance within 45 to 60 days. Interim security clearances can be provided before the security clearance investigative process is complete in exceptional circumstances. A periodic reinvestigation must be conducted every five years for top secret clearances and every 10 years for secret clearances.

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