Transcript: Friday, June 30, 11 a.m. ET
Friday, June 30, 2006; 11:00 AM
Avoid: sweaty palms, white socks, long-winded answers and little white lies to clinch a new and better job. You can learn more about every stage of the job hunt, from recruiting to networking to transitioning to a new career, by checking in with our
Derrick Dortch is a career counselor who specializes in government job searching and military transition. Currently, he is president of The Diversa Group , a firm that focuses on career counseling and development, entrepreneurship, leadership and organizational consulting, training and development. He also runs The Career Success Group as well as Targeted Resumes .
Find more career-related news and advice in our
The transcript follows below.
Derrick Dortch: Good Morning, Good Morning! Well we are doing a special show today on both Private Sector Background Checks and Government Security Clearances. Many companies now are conducting background checks on their new hires and more and more government agencies are beginning to classify information and have personnel receive security clearances. Well what goes into these background checks and security clearance investigations is what we are here to discuss today. So if you have any questions about background checks, security clearance investigations or your career then please ask.
A SPECIAL NOTE: Next week (Friday, July 7th) at 11:00 AM I will be having as my special guest Kathy Dillaman, Associate Director of the Office of Personnel Management's Federal Investigative Service Division. She will be on to discuss to government's security clearance process and to take any of your questions.
Well without delay on to the show. Thank you for stopping by and ENJOY!
Northern Va.: Mr Dortch: Wondering about how heavily credit scores are considered for a sales career (non-government). What is the process and how often are potential applicants rejected due to lower credit scores?
Derrick Dortch: Hello NOVA,
Good to hear from you. Companies are not beginning to investigate a number of things on employers but what they investigate really depends on the type of job you will be doing. Credit is always important in jobs dealing with money/finances. If you are in accounting or banking or any related field your credit is going to weigh heavily on you being employed. If you are a manager (mid or senior) credit will also be important because you may have control of a budget, have a corporate credit card and other resources and assets under your control.
In sales it really depends on how much you are responsible for to determine how much credit will weigh in. Now depending on the company and if they decide to give you a corporate account, credit car, and car, etc then your credit may be an issue. If you are just making the sale and not dealing with a great deal of resources or money then it might not be as important. Depending on what you are selling this may also be an issue. If it is a high value product then credit will be more of an issue if not then it may get check but not be a main factor.
Companies are checking various factors depending on the job. If a person is a driver, clerk or network administrator and had no reason to work with money then credit will not be a main issue or may not even be check. Companies are really looking to verify that you are who you say you are and that your skills, education, experience and training is valid.
Take care and I hope this helps.
Baltimore, Md.: I enjoy your advice whenever I can get it. Thanks! Can you tell me what a general background investigation (not security clearance) entails. Once again thanks!
Derrick Dortch: Hello Baltimore,
Thanks for your question. Background checks on the private and non-profit sector include a number of factors. According to the Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM) employers check and verify a variety of information on potential employees, including:
- Eligibility to work in the United States
- Criminal record check
- Credit check
- Former employers
- Dates of previous employment
- Former job titles
- Certifications, licenses, etc.
- Former job responsibilities
- Degree(s) conferred
- Schools, colleges and/or universities attended
- Driving record check
- Malpractice or professional disciplinary action
- Past salaries
- Articles published, speaking engagements, etc.
Companies and organizations contract out these services or may have their own internal team who does background and reference checks. It really depends on the size of the organization. The type and amount of information checked depends on the type of job you will be working in.
SHRM indicates that about 96% of employers will conduct some type of background or reference check. Now that technology has improved it has made it more cost effective for even smaller companies/organizations to conduct checks. You will continue to see a rise in checks as technology continues to improve and the need for companies to verify that they have a good and accountable and honest employee increases.
I hope this is helpful
Washington, D.C.: Hi Derrick,
I have been in a job over 15 years where the director and his management style was very controlling, dismissive, intimidating and often times disrespectful -- your basic bully boss! I want to leave the management more than the actual job. So how do I interview other jobs and managers to smoke out this disempowering trait? I don't ever want to work in this type of environment again. I stayed too long where I am because I had financial and family obligations that my salary had to fill. But now, I'm able to consider something else and I want to screen for this problem work place issue so that I can join up with a creative job and work style that allows me the opportunity to provide my best work and attitude to my tasks, management and organization objectives. Any help that you can provide would truly be reviewed many times, appreciated and incorporated into my strategy for finding my next job. Thank you.
Derrick Dortch: Hello Washington DC,
Its funny you mentioned this. I was on a call about this same topic just this morning. You make an important point. When interviewing it is just as important for you to interview your boss and employer as it is for them to interview you. You need to make sure they are the right type of employer for you. It is critical that you make sure the management and leadership style of the organization fits you as well as the environment. I tell people all the time that working for an employer is just like being in a relationship. There are some relationships that are great and fulfilling and there are others that are terrible, negative and destructive and they zap the life out of you. When choosing a job and employer both of your want to make sure their is chemistry and it is a right fit. This way both you and the employer succeeds.
When considering a job either during the interview or after you receive the offer you need to ask some serious questions. If possible you want to talk to your supervisor and ask what is his/her management style. Do a search on this person in Google or some other search engine to see what comes up. Find out what their philosophy is. If you can talk to other employees and try to have honest conversations with them. Also talk to the HR person and see what you can find out. You want to probe without being obvious. Also take a look around the environment and see how people are acting. Are they too busy to look up. Do they seem comfortable and happy with their job. I could go on and on but check out all of these things before signing the dotted line. Just like a relationship you know when you have establish a good connection with someone. Look for red flags in the organization's personality and if it feels right and you have check it out then go for it.
If you have more questions about this topic then contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org - I think we are going to have to write an article on this topic.
Thanks for the question.
Frederick, Md.: I've been arrested three times and convicted twice of misdemeanors.
Does that basically blow my chance of getting a top security clearance?
Derrick Dortch: Hello Frederick,MD,
Maybe and maybe not. It really depends on the reasons for your arrest and convictions and how recent these incidents were. The main mitigating factor for you will probably be time and you showing a consistent pattern of positive change and responsibility. The more time has elapsed since these incidents occurred and the more you can show that over the past couple to a few/several years you have been a good and law abiding citizen then you may be okay.
This is what the Adjudication Desk Reference (ADR) says about criminal conduct: Potentially Disqualifying Conditions
Conditions that call into question a persons reliability, trustworthiness or judgment include:
* A single serious crime, regardless of whether the person was arrested or convicted for that crime. A "serious" crime is often defined as a felony, as distinct from a misdemeanor or ordinance violation. Conviction, admission, or strong evidence of a felony will usually support a recommendation for disapproval unless there are unusual mitigating circumstances. If there is good reason to believe the person committed a felony, but the crime was plea-bargained down to a misdemeanor, it counts as a felony. Which crimes are considered felonies varies from one state to another and changes over time. The following actions may be considered a serious crime or breach of trust even if they are not categorized as a felony:
(1) Any crime punishable by confinement for more than one year.
(2) Any crime involving the use of force, coercion or intimidation; violence against persons; or the use of firearms or explosives;
(3) A violation of parole or probation.
(4) Any criminal or civil offense involving breach of trust or fiduciary duty, including embezzlement, bribery, insurance fraud, or falsification of documents or statements for personal gain of more than $500.
(5) Obstruction or corruption of government functions or deprivation of civil rights.
* Two or more lesser crimes or civil offenses that indicate a pattern of illegal or irresponsible behavior, regardless of whether the person was arrested or convicted for any of these offenses. A violation of parole or probation suggests a possible pattern of criminal behavior. Multiple offenses indicate intentional, continuing behavior that raises serious questions about the person's trustworthiness, reliability, and judgment. A pattern of disregard for the law is more significant than the monetary value or penalty ascribed to a given crime. See Pattern of Dishonest, Unreliable, or Rule-Breaking Behavior under the Personal Conduct guideline.
* A close and continuing voluntary association with persons known to be involved in criminal activities. Association with family members is generally considered non-voluntary in this context.
The security significance of criminal behavior does not depend on whether the person was caught or upon the final outcome of legal action. It depends only on the individual's intentions and actions, and what these show about reliability, trustworthiness, and judgment.
These are the mitigating conditions:
Mitigating circumstances that might justify approval despite a criminal record include age at time of offense, nature and circumstances of the offense, and amount of time elapsed since the offense. People do change, but as a general rule adjudicators should require positive evidence of change, not simply the passage of time. Evidence of change might be a change in associates and lifestyle, repayment or remorse, a pattern of responsible behavior, or results of detailed psychological evaluation. Continuing evidence of any form of antisocial, irresponsible, violent or high risk behavior may contribute to a decision against approval despite the passage of time since the criminal offense.
Mitigating conditions include:
* The criminal behavior was not recent.
* The crime was an isolated incident.
* The person was coerced into committing the crime.
* The pressures or other circumstances that led to the crime are not likely to recur.
* There is clear evidence of successful rehabilitation.
As you can see you can get past this but much is dependent on your current behavior and how much time has elapsed. If you can show clear evidence of successful rehabilitation then you should be fine.
If you need more assistance with this then please contact me directly at email@example.com.
Take care and I wish you the best.
Washington, D.C.: I was recently offered a job within the federal government that requires a security clearance. In filling out the necessary paperwork, one of the questions was if I'd ever been fired from a job. I was recently let go from a position because my skill set didn't match their needs (i.e., the work I was asked to do was totally different from my previous work experience of 25 years). Do you think this will adversely affect my ability to get a security clearance?
Derrick Dortch: Hello DC,
I don't think so. From what you are telling me it sounds like there was just some incompatibility between you, the position and the organization. If you were not fired because of misconduct, behavioral or major negative performance issues then you should be fine. Be honest on the security clearance forms and explain your side in detail. Do not I leave it up to the investigators and adjudicators interpretation. Tell your side of the story and make sure you are clear. You may also want to contact your old employer/supervisor to find out what they will say if contacted (they probably will be contacted). If you left on good terms then you should be fine. If you did not leave on good terms try to settle everything and heal any wounds that may have been left upon your departure.
I think you should be fine. If you need more assistance contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Take care and I wish you the best.
Washington, D.C.: Does the government security clearance include investigating health/medical issues. For example, if a person has been treated for something like depression will that be seen as negative.
Derrick Dortch: Hello DC,
YES, is the quick answer. Mental Health issues or Psychological Conditions are a concern. Here is what the most recently released "Adjudicative Guidelines for Determining Eligibility for Access to Classified Information" says:
The Concern. Certain emotional, mental, and personality conditions can impair judgment, reliability, or trustworthiness. A formal diagnosis of a disorder is not required for there to be a concern under this guideline. A duly qualified mental health professional (e.g., clinical psychologist or psychiatrist) employed by, or acceptable to and approved by the U.S. Government, should be consulted when evaluating potentially disqualifying and mitigating information under this guideline. No negative inference concerning the standards in this Guideline may be raised solely on the basis of seeking mental health counseling.
28. Conditions that could raise a security concern and may be disqualifying include:
(a) behavior that casts doubt on an individual's judgment, reliability, or trustworthiness that is not covered under any other guideline, including but not limited to emotionally unstable, irresponsible, dysfunctional, violent, paranoid, or bizarre behavior;
(b) an opinion by a duly qualified mental health professional that the individual has a condition not covered under any other guideline that may impair judgment, reliability, or trustworthiness;
(c) the individual has failed to follow treatment advice related to a diagnosed emotional, mental, or personality condition, e.g. failure to take prescribed medication.
29. Conditions that could mitigate security concerns include:
(a) the identified condition is readily controllable with treatment, and the individual has demonstrated ongoing and consistent compliance with the treatment plan;
(b) the individual has voluntarily entered a counseling or treatment program for a condition that is amenable to treatment, and the individual is currently receiving counseling or treatment with a favorable prognosis by a duly qualified mental health professional;
(c) recent opinion by a duly qualified mental health professional employed by, or acceptable to and approved by the U.S. Government that an individual's previous condition is under control or in remission, and has a low probability of recurrence or exacerbation;
(d) the past emotional instability was a temporary condition (e.g., one caused by a death, illness, or marital breakup), the situation has been resolved, and the individual no longer shows indications of emotional instability;
(e) there is no indication of a current problem.
The key thing with this is to be honest. I have a masters in counseling so I am an advocate for people getting the help they need. If you need professional help to deal with certain issues then you need to get it. The key is as it relates to a security clearance is that you are now okay, your treatment has been successful, and you are fully functional.
Be honest on your forms. Next make sure you talk to your counselor, psychologist or psychiatrist and tell them what you are about to go through (security clearance investigation). Ask him/her what they will say if they are contacted. If you are fine and are or have successfully overcome the depression or other situation you should be fine. If not then you may want to rethink the clearance process and the position for the moment.
Another major mitigation factor is that depression was brought about because of a death of a loved one, divorce or major breakup, illness, etc. If this the case make sure you explain yourself in as much detail as necessary.
Be honest, tell your side and make sure you and your mental health professional are one the same page and move forward.
If you need more assistance contact me at email@example.com.
I wish you the best.
Portland, Oregon: Derrick -- I am a CISSP and C-EH, pardon this simple question, how does one get security clearance?
Derrick Dortch: Hello Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP)and Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH). Well you have to get a job with a government agency or government contractor that requires you to have a security clearance. This is the only way you can get a clearance. You can not get one yourself. Given that you are working in a high demand and growing field then I would suggest you begin look on USAJOBS (usajobs.gov) and AVUECENTRAL (www.avuecentral.com) and see what IT security jobs are out there. Department of Defense (DOD), Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Secret Service (USSS), Department of Commerce, etc all have a need for you. There are also a number of government contractors who would have an interest in your with those credentials and the right experience including, Booz Allen Hamilton, CSC, SAIC, Northrup Grumman, SRA International, and others.
Begin targeting these companies. Go to:
and look for jobs that say "CLEARABLE". This means that you do not have to have a clearance and the employer will clear you. If you get a job with the federal government and you require a clearance then they will clear you. It is not required for you to have a clearance to get a government job. One other way you might consider getting your clearance is by enlisting in the armed forces. There is a need for computer experts in the military and most people who work in that field had Top Secret and above clearances.
Take care and I hope this helps. I wish you the best.
Arlington, Va.: How long is adjudication process after the background investigators have completed their investigations? And why does it take so long for adjudication?
Derrick Dortch: Hello Arlington,
There is no set time period for adjudication. It really all depends on your background and the factors that the adjudicator has to look at to determine your suitability. In adjudication they are looking at the whole person so if you have had some red flags in the past in regard to your credit, criminal conduct, etc., this will slow up the process as an adjudicators weighs all these factors. If you have traveled and lived in various foreign countries then the adjudicator will have to take this into consideration in regards to foreign influence and preference.
According to the "Adjudicative Guidelines for Determining Eligibility for Access to Classified Information" the Adjudicative Process looks is an examination of a sufficient period of a person's life to make an affirmative determination that the person is an acceptable security risk. Eligibility for access to classified information is predicated upon the individual meeting these personnel security guidelines.
The adjudication process is the careful weighing of a number of variables known as the whole-person concept. Available, reliable information about the person, past and present, favorable and unfavorable, should be considered in reaching a determination.
In evaluating the relevance of an individual's conduct, the adjudicator should consider the following factors:
(1) The nature, extent, and seriousness of the conduct;
(2) the circumstances surrounding the conduct, to include knowledgeable participation;
(3) the frequency and timing (was it recent?) of the conduct;
(4) the individual's age and maturity at the time of the conduct;
(5) the extent to which participation is voluntary;
(6) the presence or absence of rehabilitation and other permanent behavioral changes;
(7) the motivation for the conduct;
(8) the potential for pressure, coercion, exploitation, or duress; and
(9) the likelihood of continuation or recurrence.
(b) Each case must be judged on its own merits, and final determination remains the responsibility of the specific department or agency. Any doubt concerning personnel being considered for access to classified information will be resolved in favor of the national security.
(c) The ability to develop specific thresholds for action under these guidelines is limited by the nature and complexity of human behavior. The ultimate determination of whether the granting or continuing of eligibility for a security clearance is clearly consistent with the interests of national security must be an overall common sense judgment based upon careful consideration of the following guidelines, each of which is to be evaluated in the context of the whole person.
As you can see there is a great deal considered in adjudication. During that time the Adjudicator is looking at the detailed "Investigative Report" and analyzing and evaluating the information to determine your suitability. it could take days or much longer. It really just depends on the person. The fewer issues you have the quicker your adjudication will go. Much of the delay is often times attributed to the backlog of people they are adjudicating.
I hope this helps. Hang in there and let me know when you get past this process.
West Chester, Penn.: What is the timeframe now for government clearances?
Derrick Dortch: Hello PA,
OPM's Federal Investigative Service Division is headquartered in PA. Full security clearances are taking anywhere from 3 months to 2 years. It really depends on the level of clearance you are getting, any investigative and adjudicative issues, and the backlog. Interim security clearances for people who don't have any red flags usually can be received in 20 - 45 days. These are only received when a person has no red flags in terms of financial considerations (i.e. credit), criminal conduct (no history), court records (no negative court records), etc.
Once a person gets an interim clearance they can begin working and will have to wait for their full clearance. I have know people to wait 6 months to 2 years for their full clearance.
We will have Kathy Dillaman from OPM on next week so this will be a great question to ask then as well.
Washington, D.C.: I heard through my networking/industry grapevine that someone is leaving a job I'd really like to have. I don't know him at all -- have never met him. But no one I talked to knows of (and I can't find any) job posting or advertising for his position... would writing an inquiry letter to his boss be considered "swooping" or otherwise uncouth?
Derrick Dortch: Hello DC,
Good question. If you heard through your networking grapevine that this person is leaving I would recommend that you contact the person who is leaving directly. I would not recommend you contact his/her boss because you don't know if this person has been told. The person could have just put it out amongst their network but not a his/her place of employment. It is not odd that you have not seen the job announcement. Often when a person leaves a job the employer/supervisor may take time to restructure the job, eliminate the job or make changes in the department. Depending on the changes will depend on if the announcement is posted or if some other announcement is posted and a person on the inside is promoted. You just never know.
I would find out who the person is and contact them directly. If they are leaving they will probably not mind sitting down with you over lunch or coffee to discuss the position and give you some advice on how to get their job and who you should contact to do so. I would suggest you use this strategy first and see how it goes.
Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org and let me know how it works out. Take care and I wish you the best.
South Carolina: How long after you leave the military is a security clearance still valid? Is the clearance still marketable after you leave the service?
Derrick Dortch: SC,
Thanks for your question. Once you leave the military with a clearance it is still in a quasi-active state for 24 months (2 years). During that time you can use it as a self-marketing tool and put it on your resume. I would suggest you begin searching for both private sector government contractor and government jobs. Begin your search at the following:
These are just a few. I would also recommend you begin posting your resume. Depending on your clearance level you may start getting calls right away. Companies like IntelligenceCareers.com and Techexpousa.com also have career fairs around the nation. I would recommend you attend those as well.
Take care and contact me if you need any assistance.
Washington, D.C.: This might be best saved for next week, but how much impact does the polygraph have on the clearance process. I just went through it, and have no idea how I did, nor how much it is used in making the final determination. I feel like I'm lost at sea at the moment. Thanks!
Derrick Dortch: Hello DC,
Polygraphs carry a great deal of weight. If you pass the polygraph you are fine. If you fail the polygraph then your offer can be rescinded. Some people fail the polygraph not because they are lying but because they are nervous or something is bothering them or for some other reason. This is sometimes called a "False Negative". It means you were honest but the polygraph detected you are being misleading or your results were inconclusive. In this case you can request to be retested. I have known some people to have 3 retests until they pass. The retest can be approved or denied by the agency. It is at their discretion.
For now you will have to wait for the results. If you have not heard anything in a few weeks to a month then you should be fine. If something negative has happened you will get a letter in the mail. I would recommend that you call your contact at the agency you have the conditional offer with in a couple weeks and follow up on the results then.
Let me know how it works out. Take care.
Anonymous: I have a misdemeanor arrest for destruction of property (long story). It is recent but a one time mistake. Does this preclude me from obtaining a security clearance?
Derrick Dortch: Hello Anonymous,
See the answer above dealing with criminal conduct. Everything is situational based so it may or may not affect you negatively in regards to a security clearance. I would need to know more details. If you need more assistance please contact me directly at email@example.com.
Baltimore, Md.: Hi Derrick,
I've been recently denied clearance with a fed agency, but I was told they don't have to tell me the reasons why they did. Is that true? I am still waiting for a letter in the mail about my clearance denial.
Derrick Dortch: Hello Baltimore,
I am sorry to hear that. Most agencies will send you a letter telling you the reasons why you were denied. Based off of what you put on your SF-86 (National Security Questionnaire) you may have an ideal. I would make another request with the agency and find out appeal options. I would also suggest you begin to find out how to submit a FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) and get your records.
Note, this is not the end of the road for you. Try to appeal, correct what was the disqualifying factor, and then apply again. If you dont succeed the first time you might just succeed the next.
Once you get your letter in the mail they will tell you your appeal options if any. IF you can appeal make sure you do so in detail. Take this very seriously. If you need more assistance contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Take care and I wish you the best.
Washington, D.C.: Dear Derrick,
I was essentially terminated from two jobs in a row within less than a year. Both employers claim that it's their policy to refer requests for references to their HR/administration officials. However, such officials would not be of much help as I seek other employment. What am I supposed to do if I need professional references and don't have useful ones?
Thank you for the advice!
Derrick Dortch: Hello DC,
Companies now refer everything to HR to avoid any lawsuits. HR will only tell any potential employer that you worked there and that is usually the extent of it. In terms of references I would suggest you begin looking at those who you had good relationships with at work. Maybe a co-worker, or someone you work on a project with. Talk to them and find out if they can be your references. You may also need to look back and get reference from other jobs where you were much more successful.
The next thing you need to look at is why you were terminated from these two jobs in a row. Take an honest look at yourself and figure out what is going on that is causing this to happen. Is is behavioral, is is tardiness, is it lack of professionalism, was it the wrong fit at both employers, etc. Whatever it is you need to make sure you rectify it before going to another employer. As Shakespeare would say "To thine ownself be true". Be honest about what you need to fix, fix it and eliminate those weaknesses. From there push forward to success. I know you can do it.
Take care and if you need more help contact me at email@example.com.
I wish you the best.
Washington, D.C. : I've had two reckless driving charges and one DWI. Do you think I would still be able to get a job as a flight attendant? Or work for an airline in customer service even?
Derrick Dortch: Hello DC,
I think you will be fine. Being a flight attendant or customer service person for an airline has little to do with your driving record. They may not even check it. Some do just to assess someone's behavior. A constant disregard for the law and getting numerous tickets may mean that the person has no regard for authority.
I hope this helps. Take care.
Derrick Dortch: Well my producer has just told me to wrap it up. Thank you for stopping by and for those questions I missed please submit them early for next show and I will do everything I can to get to you. Thank you to my producer Andrea Browne and to David P. Marino-Nachison, Editor of the Jobs section for all of their assistance. Stop by next week for a great guest and great show. See you then and enjoy the 4th of July weekend and remember to be safe!
Editor's Note: washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions. washingtonpost.com is not responsible for any content posted by third parties.