The Security Clearance Interview Process

Berry & Berry


This is a sponsored column by attorneys John Berry and Kimberly Berry of Berry & Berry, PLLC, an employment and labor law firm located in Reston Town Center that specializes in federal employee, security clearance, retirement, and private sector employee matters. They write weekly on Reston Now. 

When a security clearance applicant or re-applicant completes an e-QIP or SF-86 security clearance form, an assigned security clearance investigator will usually contact him or her to schedule a face-to-face interview.  Since the interview is one of the most important steps in the security clearance process, we strongly recommend that applicants prepare for the interview beforehand as much as possible.

Background Check

The security clearance investigator will typically review and confirm most of the information that an individual has provided prior to the interview. For example, the investigator may speak with former supervisors, neighbors, co-workers, family members, as well as social references to get a full background of the individual seeking the clearance. In addition, the investigator will most likely check with law enforcement agencies in areas where an individual has resided and thoroughly review other relevant background information on the individual.  When the review of the information is complete, the investigator will generally contact the individual for an interview.

Preparation for the Interview

Since the investigator has generally reviewed the individual’s submission prior to the interview, he or she will have already identified any significant areas of concern. In our experience, the individual being interviewed will have some awareness about potential areas of concern that might come up during the interview and, thus, will generally have time to prepare how he or she should address them.

For instance, if the individual was involved in a recent alcohol-related driving offense, he or she should be prepared to fully explain the incident to the investigator, discuss any alcohol counseling sought and what steps have been taken to avoid the same situation in the future, and provide other relevant details.

If an individual’s case involves known security violations or other concerns then it is important to obtain any relevant documents prior to the interview, especially if they can be helpful in explaining or mitigating the potential security concerns at issue.  We strongly advise discussing and reviewing such documents with an attorney in advance to provide the best opportunity to help increase the chances for a successful interview. 

The Initial Interview

The security clearance interview itself tends to last approximately one to two hours, although the duration varies depending on the difficulty of the case.  Usually, just one investigator is assigned for the personal interview, but in some cases there can be two investigators. If there are two investigators, usually one will be assigned to ask the majority of questions while the other may ask some follow-up questions.

We recommend that individuals bring a copy of their SF-86 form or e-QIP application to the interview to assist them in the questions that will be asked by the investigator.  An investigator will generally go over an individual’s security materials thoroughly but may raise other questions not covered on the security forms, such as issues related to illegal downloading of materials, viewing of inappropriate materials, and other types of misconduct that could raise security concerns.

During the interview, it is important to be as responsive as possible and to honestly address the areas of concern raised by an investigator. This is clearly not the time for an individual to be defensive or refuse to answer an investigator’s questions. Failure to cooperate may delay the individual’s ability to obtain a security clearance (at best) and, in some situations, may result in the denial of a security clearance application.

The Follow-up Interview

After the initial interview, the investigator may often have additional questions and may decide to conduct a follow-up interview either by telephone or in person.  We advise individuals to be responsive to an investigator’s request for a follow-up interview and make every attempt to provide investigators with enough information to successfully conclude the investigation. An individual does not want an investigator to give up on his or her security clearance application and conclude that the security concerns are too significant to overcome.

Contact Us

Our firm represents federal employees and government contractors in security clearance matters and provides legal advice on how to prepare for a security clearance interview. Please be advised that this information is strictly for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. If you are interested in obtaining legal advice regarding a security clearance issue, please contact our office at or (703) 668-0070, to schedule a consultation.  Please also visit us on Facebook.

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