How do I get my first clearance?

I talk to a lot of job seekers interested in jobs in defense and intelligence.  Sometimes they are incredibly smart graduate students, ready to launch into an analysis career, or waiting in a long queue to be considered for a prestigious government position.  Some of them have already been through the conversation a few times with recruiters.

Recruiter:  Do you have a clearance?

Job seeker: Unfortunately, no

Recruiter: Well your resume looks great, but unfortunately we are only hiring actively cleared personnel at the moment

Job seeker: I understand.  I need a clearance to get hired, but I can’t get a clearance unless I get hired.  Catch 22.

Recruiter: I know. Sorry!

It is a very frustrating chicken-and-egg problem. So, what to do?  Here are a few of the tips I give people in this situation, when they are determined to land a job in national security:

  1. Consider the military as a first step – Often, a job seeker in this situation has not considered the military as an option because for one reason or another they considered themselves ineligible (due to age, health, degrees, etc.).  However, the U.S. military is a very large enterprise with a wide array of opportunities.  You might be surprised to find you are still eligible for some of the programs if you just talk to a few recruiters.  If you score well on language aptitude tests, that can be a great segue to cleared work later on.  And if you can’t join the military in uniform, there are a lot of government positions that serve alongside military personnel with less of the age and health limitations.
  2. Apply for a government position – While government job application sites can feel like a black hole, there are a few things you can do to improve your odds here.  You could hire a professional government job career coach, like Corliss Jackson or others, to help you navigate the application process.  I generally advise people to explore jobs they want at agencies that are less obvious.  Everyone has heard of the CIA, and as you would expect, there is a lot of competition to get in the door.  There are myriad programs within government that might be easier to land a first job.
  3. Don’t search for jobs. Search for companies – All of the companies that do business with the government are publicly listed in the SBA Dynamic Business Search (DSBS).  You can search for companies based on keywords that relate to your resume, then visit their website to see if they have open positions.  The DSBS is a great place to start to find companies that might not have publicly listed positions, but who might align with your interests and be open to a conversation.
  4. Search for jobs with the phrase “must be able to obtain” – A lot of defense contracting jobs require clearances.  Some don’t.  In some cases it is possible to find a job that will sponsor you for a new clearance, but these are hard to find.  One of the most common phrases to see in job listings where a new clearance is being sponsored is something along the lines of “must be able to obtain” a secret, or top secret clearance.  A Boolean search for this exact phrase can turn up decent results for the specific segment of jobs you need to get the first clearance.


Have more questions?  You might want to consider joining us for our career networking events through or reach out to me for a one-on-one coaching session.  I’m happy to help.



Interview with Alexia D’Arco – President of Young Professionals in Foreign Policy

Alexia D’Arco is currently the President of the Young Professionals in Foreign Policy. YPFP is a nonpartisan 501(c) organization that engages, builds, and amplifies NextGen voices to advance innovative solutions to global challenges. With thousands of members and weekly events, YPFP is well-known for its strong commitment to public service and its efforts to create dialogue between future foreign policy leaders and today’s accomplished experts. In addition to its activities in Washington D.C., YPFP has active branches in New York, London, and Brussels, lending the organization a truly global voice and international perspective. For more information, visit

Alexia has over a decade of experience in foreign affairs and international security issues. She was Frontier’s first Hiring our Heroes Fellow and continues to support Frontier as a foreign policy advisor with a particular focus on Pakistan and Afghanistan. Prior to Frontier, Alexia worked as a Program Development Consultant for the TOMODACHI Initiative, a $34 million public-private partnership created by U.S. Embassy Tokyo and the U.S.-Japan Council that develops bilateral youth programs between the United States and Japan. From 2011-2013, she served on State Department political-military affairs teams at Embassy Tokyo and the office of the Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, where her portfolios included security assistance, defense cooperation, counterterrorism, and planning for chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear incidents. She received a superior individual honor award and a group honor award for her contributions to the U.S. negotiating strategy to reopen the NATO supply lines in Pakistan.

While pursuing her MA, Alexia worked at The Scowcroft Group, the National War College, and as a teaching assistant for former Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel. She previously served as Executive Assistant to Fred Kempe, President and CEO of the Atlantic Council and as a Program Assistant at the Berlin-based think tank Atlantik-Brücke. Alexia is a former Fulbright Scholar, and Presidential Management Fellow. She previously served as an Adjunct Lecturer at Temple University (Japan) and Rhodes College. Alexia is currently a Security Fellow at the Truman National Security Project and an Adjunct at the University of Memphis. She holds an MA in Security Studies from Georgetown University and is a graduate of Dartmouth College.

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Interview with Louis Tucker – SEAL, CIA, Innovation for Government

Mr. Louis Tucker serves as the Chief Executive Officer of Mission Sync LLC. Mr. Tucker is a Navy SEAL reserve officer, formerly was a CIA Operations Officer and was a Staff Director of the Senate Intelligence Committee. Mr. Louis Tucker serves as a Member of Advisory Board at Invincea, Inc. and Sovereign Intelligence, LLC. As President of the non-profit, Foundation for Innovation and Discovery (FINND), he helps connect government personnel with commercial innovators. Mr. Tucker holds a BA in History from Dartmouth College and an MS in Strategic Intelligence from the National Intelligence University.

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Why the Pentagon Needs More MacGyvers and less Edisons

Frank Prautzsch is the President of Velocity Technology Partners, LLC. He is a 1977 graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point, NY, and a 1986 graduate of the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, CA. Over his military career he served in a variety of technical and operational capacities on numerous global missions, and focused his expertise on establishing satellite communications and space as critical military enablers. Upon retirement from the military in 1997, he was granted the Military Legion of Merit.

Mr. Prautzsch joined Hughes Space and Communications and spent approximately 6 years developing military and commercial spacecraft that are in service today. He then joined Raytheon where his technical skills shifted to a roadmap of satellite terminals, advanced networks, advanced disruptive technologies, and renewable energy solutions. Several of his innovations are in use saving lives today.

He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Engineering from USMA, and a Master’s Degree in Command and Control Systems / Space from the Naval Postgraduate School, and certification from the Raytheon Business Leadership program at the University of Chicago. He is a member of the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association, the National Defense Industries Association, the Institute of Electronics and Electrical Engineers, and the American Society of Mechanical Engineers.

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Interview with William Treseder – husband, father, and author of RESET

William Treseder is a cofounder of BMNT, an innovation consultancy headquartered in Silicon Valley.  He is the recent author of “RESET: Building Purpose in the Age of Digital Distraction“.  He has educated and mentored thousands of entrepreneurs around the world through partners such as Stanford University, GE, and Singularity University, and has helped governments and large organizations solve hundreds of problems. William is a former U.S. Marine who served in both Iraq and Afghanistan. He lives with his wife and children in the San Francisco Bay Area, and he loves to share lessons learned with others who are striving to improve themselves and their families.

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Also recommended in the podcast:

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Jay Harrison – Serial Entrepreneur, Defense Innovation Expert

Jay Harrison is a defense industry entrepreneur and technology innovator and an advocate for military acquisition reform. In 2006 he founded Mav6, a defense technology company recognized by Inc. magazine in 2011, 2012, and 2013 as one of the fastest growing privately held companies in America. In 2016 he was named inaugural director of the MD5 National Security Technology Accelerator, a human capital innovation program within the Office of the Secretary of Defense.

Harrison was born in Memphis, Tennessee. He graduated Magna Cum Laude from the University of Memphis with a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1995 and then went on to earn master’s degrees from the University of Florida, the Naval War College, and the National Intelligence University. He attended but did not complete the Master of Business Administration program at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania and is a Ph.D. candidate at the New York University.

In 2002 Harrison was selected by the United States Office of the Secretary of Defense to lead the Technical Operations Support Activity (TOSA), a secretive military organization created in 2003 chartered with finding and repurposing commercial technologies for sensitive military missions. Harrison arranged for TOSA personnel to be embedded with operational military units in Afghanistan, Iraq, and around the world to observe military and counter-terrorism operations, resulting in a number of revolutionary products delivered to the battlefield in the early phases of Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom. During Harrison’s tenure, the United States Army awarded Army Greatest Invention recognition to three TOSA programs – the Unattended Transient Acoustic MASINT System (UTAMS) (2004), the Persistent Threat Detection System (2005), and the Constant Hawk aerial surveillance system.

In 2006, Harrison left the military and co-founded Mav6, LLC, where he served as managing director and chief technology officer from 2006-2014. By 2011 Mav6 was earning about $120 million in annual revenues and had won three Inc. 500/5000 awards by creating collaborations between academia, industry, and military organizations. In 2011, Popular Science named one of Harrison’s projects, the M1400 airship, as a top innovation of the year, and in 2012 Ernst & Young recognized Harrison as the Entrepreneur of the Year in the Gulf Coast Region.

In 2010, working as an advisor in the office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering, Harrison co-developed a process called “technology domain awareness”, which matches new technologies with national security and public safety needs.

In December 2011, Harrison co-founded the Center for Battlefield Innovation, part of the High Performance Computing Collaboratory at Mississippi State University, to provide a focal point for applying university-based research to problems in defense and public safety. In March 2014, Harrison was named the first director of the Center for Smart Defense at the West Virginia University. In 2015 he was appointed Distinguished Visiting Research Fellow at the National Defense University and the John Boyd National Security Research Fellow at New York University.

In 2016, Harrison founded the MD5 National Security Technology Accelerator,a partnership between the United States Department of Defense and several American universities. He has served as the inaugural director since the program’s inception. As part of his work there, he promotes the development of dual-use technology startups that address critical national security issues and has pioneered the use of hackathon and crowdsourcing activities to prototype new military capabilities.


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