The Benefits of Having Top Secret Clearance

Obtaining top secret clearance requires rigorous background investigations. Investigators follow up on everything from the applicant’s past financial decisions to foreign contacts and his or her allegiance to the United States.


If investigators uncover red flags, candidates are given a chance to address them and explain why they shouldn’t be cleared. Those with top secret access can expect significant financial and career rewards.

Career Advancement

A top secret clearance opens up job opportunities in the government and private sector. Many federal agencies, private firms that have contracts with the government and non-profit research institutions require a security clearance in order to work on sensitive projects.

The national security clearance process is lengthy, but the payoff is significant. Cleared professionals are highly sought after by government agencies, defense contractors, and cybersecurity firms for their ability to handle and contribute to national security efforts.

Applicants must undergo thorough background investigations that include interviews with relatives, friends, and associates in addition to public records searches for bankruptcies, criminal records, divorces, mental disorders, drug abuse, and more. The level of investigation increases as the clearance level rises. Those with top secret clearance have access to Sensitive Compartmented Information (SCI), which requires an even higher level of security clearance.

Clearances must be kept up to date through a series of checks and balances including periodic reinvestigations, called Periodic Reinvestigations (PRs), at five-year intervals. Previously, PRs were replaced by a system of automated ongoing evaluations known as Continuous Evaluation. When potentially disqualifying information surfaces, government adjudicators can take action to revoke clearance eligibility.

Sparks Group has extensive expertise in placing candidates for positions that require security clearances. If you’re interested in learning more about opportunities that require a clearance, contact us today.

Salary Boosts

Depending on the job position and responsibilities, having top secret clearance can bring an additional salary boost. This is because government agencies and defense contractors value employees who can work with classified information. This level of clearance enables access to highly sensitive documents and materials that, if disclosed, could cause exceptionally grave damage to national security.

This is why it’s important to note that the clearance process can take weeks or even months. But it is worth it in the long run. Students interested in the field should be aware that obtaining a clearance will also have certain lifestyle requirements, such as routine financial disclosures, reporting contact with foreign contacts and being extra careful with personal computers and cellphones.

The location of the work site can also have a significant impact on salaries for those with top secret clearances. For example, in high-cost cities like San Francisco or New York City, salaries may be higher than in other parts of the country.

According to the 2023 ClearanceJobs Security Clearance Compensation Report, about half of all cleared workers earn a six-figure salary. These statistics are based on data from the website that operates as a career marketplace for defense, intelligence and national security jobs. The company surveyed more than 10,000 cleared employees to gather this data. The report is compiled annually and is a helpful resource for individuals considering a security clearance-related career.

Education and Experience

Whether you work directly for the federal government or with one of its contractors, many positions require that you hold a top secret clearance or be able to obtain it. Your employer will help you through the process, but it can take anywhere from six to 18 months. During that time, you can’t work in anything that would expose you to national security risks.

A top secret clearance allows you to access data that could cause grave damage to the nation if leaked. This clearance level isn’t given unless you have a clean background as determined by a Single Scope Background Investigation (SSBI), which can include contacting your references, former employees, professors and even neighbors. You’ll also have to undergo a periodic reinvestigation every five years.

For a person to hold a Secret clearance, they must be sponsored by the federal agency that holds the information and have a “need-to-know.” This is the lowest level of national security classification, and it takes less time to obtain.

The SSBI and other investigations examine a long period of your life in order to determine if you are reliable, of good character, trustworthy and loyal to the United States. The investigations examine your criminal record, credit history and conduct, among other things. It’s important to be honest and cooperative with investigators from the beginning in order to avoid wasting valuable time and money.

Specialized Skills

Having top-secret clearance opens up more employment opportunities than other clearance levels. Clearance holders can take advantage of emerging positions in information technology, engineering and intelligence analysis. A top-secret clearance also provides access to Sensitive Compartmented Information (SCI) and Special Access Program (SAP) information, which involves sensitive intelligence sources and methods that could cause exceptionally grave damage to national security if disclosed. SCI and SAP clearances are granted only after rigorous SSBI processes, and the access is restricted to a very small number of people.

The clearance process includes criminal history checks, credit check and public record searches. Applicants must provide a detailed personal background, including family members and associates. They must answer questions about past relationships and activities, such as drug abuse, mental illness, gambling or dishonesty. Interviews of neighbors and acquaintances are often conducted. Applicants must disclose any bankruptcies and significant civil or criminal litigation. Clearances are normally renewed every five years, although the FBI is now requiring Tier 3R reinvestigations for people with Confiential and Secret clearances, DOE “L” and “Q” access authorizations and non-critical sensitive positions; Tier 5R reinvestigations are required for those with Top Secret and Department of Energy (DoE) “Q” access authorizations or who occupy critical sensitive or special sensitive positions.

Only US citizens are eligible to obtain a security clearance, but there is an exception for rare instances of naturalized citizens who have unique and valuable specialized skills. A clearance takes 6 to 9 months to obtain, depending on how long it takes the FBI to investigate the applicant and his or her connections.