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Written by Debbie BrideDebbie Bride

Security clearance on resumes: how to present it effectively

15 min read
Security clearance on resumes: how to present it effectively
Not sure about putting security clearance intel on your resume? Here, we’ll brief you on what can and should be disclosed when classified information safeguards are a hiring consideration.

Is security clearance relevant to your employability? If so, is it okay—or a good idea—to mention a security clearance on your resume? Mission Impossible clichés aside, these questions have become important in an ever-wider range of occupations and industries. 

As all of our career advice consistently emphasizes, standing out from the crowd is crucial in today’s competitive job market. A security clearance is a valuable asset that can significantly influence hiring managers in your favor. Knowing how to effectively showcase it on your resume can make all the difference. In this blog, we'll explore: 

  • What “security clearance” means
  • When to mention a security clearance on your resume
  • What to say (and not say) about your security clearance
  • How and where to present this information effectively

What is a security clearance?

A security clearance is a government-issued authorization granting access to classified information, facilities, or projects. It’s a stringent vetting process for evaluating someone’s trustworthiness and reliability in complying with an organization’s confidentiality or secrecy requirements. 

Typically it entails a thorough background check, including investigations into your character, finances, and personal history. Possible reasons for denying a security clearance include a failed credit check, criminal record, history of substance abuse, or pattern of unreliable behavior.

Not just for high-ranking government or military posts

In an employment context, security clearance is most commonly required in government or military positions, and not only for high-level officers. It can be a hiring condition for any staff or civilian contractors working in proximity to classified information—from janitors, caterers, and librarians to receptionists, accountants, and doctors. The same is true for a vast number of private-sector organizations with clearance requirements to protect trade secrets and other valuable data.

Security clearances are categorized at tiered levels, each with its own set of requirements and access privileges. The most familiar are these three federal government clearance levels:

Security clearance level Potential national security risk
Confidential Basic level Risk
Secret Mid-level Serious risk
Top Secret Highest level Severe risk
Expert tip

Security clearance requirements vary depending on the employer, occupation, and industry. It’s important to understand that government-level security clearances cannot be sought independently on a “generic” basis. They are only granted to those already hired for a job with specific clearance requirements.

To learn more about security clearances, visit the U.S. Department of State website.

When to mention a security clearance on your resume

Indicating a relevant security clearance on your resume is appropriate, and potentially beneficial, in the following instances:

Transferring to another position requiring security clearance

Security clearance info on your resume automatically demonstrates to hiring managers that you are eligible for another government or military position that requires access to classified information. If new hires can be granted a security clearance because they already have one, the employer will appreciate not having to conduct an additional background check for that purpose.

Possible limitations on whether a security clearance is transferable depend on the security level when it was granted, and any interruptions in your employment during this period.

A private-sector organization requires security clearance

Private-sector employers that require security clearances cover a wide spectrum of industries and occupations, from defense and intelligence to cybersecurity and business analysis. Yet, compared to government or military agencies, the pool of job applicants with a current or previous clearance tends to be smaller. Even though security clearances aren’t transferable in the private sector, showing past eligibility on your resume can elevate it higher in the stack.

You have an expired or inactive security clearance

Informing recruiters on your resume of a previous security clearance can give you an edge over other job candidates who have never had one or don’t mention it.

Wish to indicate desirable traits

Even if a job doesn't require a security clearance, mentioning it on your resume can still be beneficial as a testament to desirable personal attributes. Hiring managers can’t help but infer that you are trustworthy, responsible, detail-oriented, and capable of handling sensitive information.

Be clear: disclosure dos and don’ts

Now that you have a better idea of when to include a security clearance on your resume, let's explore what it might look like. First comes our usual advice about custom-tailoring your resume to each specific job opportunity and employer. In this case, make sure you clearly understand not only what the position entails but also the requirements and qualifications for your security clearance level.

As always, take the recruiter’s perspective in making it as easy as possible to pinpoint key information on your resume at a glance. At the same time, take extra care not to compromise yourself or anyone else associated with your security clearance.

Expert tip

Familiarize yourself with any relevant government regulations when determining what should and should not be disclosed on your resume. Search online for guidelines that specific federal employers might have published — for example, The United States Department of Defense (DoD) and the National Security Agency (NSA).

In addition to specifying your level of security clearance, it’s important to note whether it’s still current or expired. Regardless of where this appears on your resume (we’ll discuss that next), your relevant employment history highlights should be generally descriptive enough to showcase the nature and value of your work experience. At the same time, you should avoid any mention of specific compromising details.

Do
  • Disclose whether your security clearance is current or inactive, indicating the dates in effect
  • Specify the security clearance level — e.g., Top Secret, Secret, or Confidential.
  • Highlight the clearance most relevant to the job application, if you hold more than one active clearance.
  • Be honest. Misrepresenting your clearance can have severe consequences.
Don't
  • Disclose sensitive Information about your work under security clearance: specific details such as names of classified projects, missions, tools, or programs; or the department, location, job title, and supervisor.
  • Overemphasize security clearances on your resume. It's just one of your qualifications and should not detract from the skills, experience, and achievements you showcase.

Effectively showcasing a security clearance on your resume

There are four places on your resume where a security clearance can be presented effectively.

Header

Displaying your security clearance prominently in the header section, along with your name and contact information, ensures it's one of the first things hiring managers will see. The header example below illustrates.

Example of including a security clearance in your resume header 

GEORGE AUSTIN

Data Analyst
Secret-Level Security Clearance

____________________________________________________________________

Washington, DC                       (202) 555-6789            [email protected]

Summary

Highlighting your security clearance as a summary statement, alongside your key qualifications and attributes, also gives it a great chance of being noticed right away. Keep in mind that some busy recruiters make snap judgments about a job candidate’s suitability based on whether the summary is persuasive enough. Either way, they might not read any further.

Here’s an example of what a security clearance might look like as a resume summary statement.

Copyable example

Data Analyst with over five years of experience in collecting, analyzing, and interpreting complex data sets to drive informed business decisions. Proven track record of delivering actionable insights and strategic recommendations. Proficient in data visualization tools and statistical analysis. Possess a secret-level security clearance, ensuring the secure handling of sensitive data for government clients.

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Employment History

Security clearances can be noted here in relation to your relevant work experience highlights. Use bullet points to succinctly describe your duties and accomplishments in roles that required your clearance, being careful not to disclose any sensitive details.

Here’s an employment history example related to a security clearance.

Copyable example

Data Analyst at TechData Solutions, Washington, D.C.

July 2019 – Present

  • Maintain a secret-level security clearance while working on critical data analysis projects for government clients, ensuring compliance with strict federal security protocols.
  • Implement robust data backup strategies to safeguard sensitive information, routinely uploading encrypted backups to secure offsite servers, enhancing data integrity and disaster recovery capabilities.
  • Deliver comprehensive security training to users, emphasizing best practices and compliance with security guidelines, contributing to the organization's commitment to data protection.
  • Enhance the security posture of data systems by employing advanced encryption techniques, fortifying the confidentiality and integrity of sensitive data.
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In a separate section 

If you’ve held multiple security clearances that would interest prospective employers, listing them in a dedicated resume section allows you to elaborate on the level of clearance, issuance dates, and any relevant certifications or training. You can add this below the other essential resume sections, either with its own “Security Clearances” title or under a subheading within a broader “Additional Information” section.

Copyable example

Security Clearances

  • Secret-level clearance | June 2022 – Present
  • Confidential-level clearance | August 2018 – May 2022
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Copyable example

Additional Information

Certificates

2023 IBM Certified Data Engineer - Big Data

2021 Data Analytics Graduate Certificate, Harvard Extension School

Security Clearances

  • Secret-level clearance | June 2022 – Present
  • Confidential-level clearance | August 2018 – May 2022
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Key takeaways

  1. Security clearance is a valuable credential that can set you apart from other job applicants when featured prominently on your resume.
  2. While the decision to disclose a security clearance on your resume depends on the position you're pursuing, it can enhance your prospects in both government and private-sector job markets, particularly when the competition among well-qualified candidates is tight.
  3. The advice and examples provided in this guide can help you confidently display your security clearance information in a distinctive manner, without detracting from any other essential resume content.
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