5 tips for preparing for your security clearance interview

Published on: 5 Apr 2022

Obtaining a position that requires a security clearance can be a great career move for many people. These roles come with a large degree of trust and accountability, so can offer high salaries, great opportunities for promotion and a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment.

Before you can start a security cleared job, however, you'll have to go through the vetting process. What exactly this involves depends on the level of clearance required for the position, but for higher classifications, an in-person interview will be compulsory.

This can be a stressful process. However, ensuring you're well-prepared, including understanding what topics will be covered and what materials you'll need to provide, will help make the process as smooth as possible.

 

Will I require a security clearance interview?

Not every security cleared position will require a face-to-face interview. Some lower-level clearances, such as Security Check (SC) or Counter Terrorism Check (CTC) roles, will often only require a written questionnaire and a background check.

For higher level clearances, an interview is a must. In particular, if you're applying for a position that needs a Developed Vetting (DV) or NATO clearance, an interview is essential, as this will require you to handle highly classified information on a regular basis. 

Occasionally, an enhanced SC or CTC position may also require an interview depending on the materials you'll be working with, so it's important you establish early if this will be necessary.

 

Key things to remember when preparing for an interview

Like any other interview, preparation is vital. But unlike a traditional job interview, where a lot of the questions will relate to your professional skills and experiences, a security vetting interview is about you as a person. The interviewer will be looking to determine whether you have the temperament, integrity and background to be entrusted with sensitive data.

Therefore, here are a few things you can do to make sure you're ready for the experience.

1. Know who's conducting the interview

Interviews for clearances such as DV are carried out by a vetting officer from the United Kingdom Security Vetting service, which is part of the Cabinet Office. Staff are trained to be professional, respectful and culturally sensitive, and it's a good idea to familiarise yourself with the organisation's charter beforehand so you know what to expect.

Remember that these interviewers are professionals and are trained to be open-minded and not to make moral judgements. Whatever issues you have, they'll almost certainly have heard them all before. If you would feel more comfortable with an interviewer who is the same gender, ethnic background or religion as yourself, you can ask the vetting team to arrange this.

2. Familiarise yourself with the format

As is the case with any interview, it pays to know beforehand what kind of questions you can expect. A full DV interview will be very comprehensive and aims to build up a complete picture of you as a person - how responsible you are, your honesty and loyalty, and whether you could be vulnerable to bribery or blackmail.

Some topics that are likely to come up include:

  • Family background
  • Past and present relationships
  • Physical and mental health issues
  • Any time spent overseas
  • Your online/social media activities
  • Your hobbies and interests
  • Who you socialise with
  • Your spending habits

Such interviews can also be very lengthy - up to two hours is to be expected, but they may last up to three hours in some circumstances. Therefore, you'll need to be ready for this.

3. Bring the right documentation

You'll receive a list of documents that you are required to provide prior to the interview, which may be referred to during the session, as well as used for more detailed background checks. These include, but are not limited to:

  • Identification (eg, birth certificate, passport, driving licence)
  • Marriage/civil partnership and any divorce documents
  • Certificate of naturalisation or registration (if born outside the UK)
  • HM Forces (HMF) discharge certificate (if applicable)
  • Utility bills
  • Bank statements (usually for the last three months)
  • Mortgage/loan/credit card/savings details
  • Details of any County Court Judgments
  • Your CV

Where possible, these should all be originals rather than photocopies. Make sure you have all your documents in order well before the interview. If you need more time to obtain a document, ensure you let the vetting officer know as early as possible.

4. Emphasise how your experience will help

Some parts of the interview will be more familiar to anyone who's applied for a job before. Use these as an opportunity to highlight your experience and skills, and how they can be transferred to the specific role you're applying for.

For example, if you've served in the armed forces, you may well be asked to go into detail about your duties, where you served and what type of information you regularly had access to. Being able to showcase how you've used your skills and integrity in the past will help demonstrate your character to the interviewer.

5. Be ready to answer in-depth, personal questions

Interviews aren't an interrogation, but they can be uncomfortable. You can expect to be asked difficult, highly personal questions about any aspect of your life. For instance, topics that may be covered in a security clerance interview include sexual history and preferences, drug and alcohol use and watching pornography. You'll therefore need to mentally prepare yourself for a very frank and open conversation that covers areas you'd rather not talk about.

Above all, it's important to be open and honest throughout your interview. Attempts to hide any potentially embarrassing or compromising financial or personal history will reflect poorly on your application - especially as they are likely to be uncovered in background checks anyway. 

Applications are always taken on a case-by-case basis, so issues such as financial difficulties or even a criminal record may not necessarily be disqualifying. However, failure to disclose such information is often a reason for failing a vetting interview.

Do you think you have the character for a security cleared role? Upload your CV and browse our range of jobs today.