How to get security clearance for IT jobs

Many jobs within UK Government organisations such as the Ministry of Defence or the Foreign and Commonwealth Office require that applicants attain security clearance up to a certain level. If you haven’t previously worked in security cleared environments or haven’t gone through the security clearance process before, it can be hard to know what to expect. And even if you have obtained security clearance before, the processes may have evolved since you last had it in line with national security policies.

To give you a clear idea about what security clearance is and how you go about getting it, please read on.

What is security clearance?

Security clearance is a series of checks that determine your level of risk when working with sensitive and potentially secret government information. Damian Hayes, Division Manager – Public Sector, , explains more:


“Essentially, security clearance is all about making sure that people working with sensitive and potentially secret information are trustworthy individuals who will keep that information private and safe. For example, Project Managers working on IT systems at the Foreign & Commonwealth Office will have access to sensitive information such as global threats to security, so the Government needs to ensure that the person in that role is responsible and doesn’t pose a threat to security.”

The 4 types of security clearance

Depending on what the role entails, you could be asked to obtain varying levels of security clearance from Baseline Personnel Security Standard (BPSS) to Security Check (SC), Counter-Terrorism Check (CTC) and Developed Vetting (DV).

BPSS is the most basic type of security clearance and is the least involved in terms of checks. It tends to be used at the pre-employment stage. If you go through BPSS security clearance, there will be checks on your identity, employment history and criminal record. The basic aim of these checks is to ascertain how trustworthy a prospective candidate is.

Security Check (SC) is the most common level of clearance and is for jobs which would give you access to secret government assets or occasional controlled access to top secret assets. This involves the checking of MI5 records, credit checks, staff reports from employers and, sometimes, a face-to-face interview. This kind of clearance tends to be renewed and reviewed on a ten-yearly basis.

CTC, or Counter-Terrorism Check, is the next highest-level check and is for anyone who will be working with sensitive data, anyone who might be vulnerable to terrorist attacks and for those who work in areas that have unrestricted access to certain government or commercial establishments. For example, a Business Analyst conducting business process reviews on sensitive IT systems at the Ministry of Defence..

At the highest level sits Developed Vetting. This is for people who’ll have substantial unsupervised access to top secret assets or will be working with intelligence and security agencies, like MI5 (Security Service), GCHQ or the NCA (National Crime Agency).

The security clearance process

If a role requires you to be security cleared, the relevant security checks will be arranged by the person hiring you but will be carried out by a Government agency. As a minimum, you’ll be asked to prove your identity (including your nationality and immigration status) and complete a Criminal Record Declaration Form. Higher levels of clearance tend to require more intense background checks on your criminal record, a credit reference check and a security service check.

Due to the varying level of vetting required, security clearance can take anywhere between 1-2 days (BPSS) right up to six months (DV). CTC takes approximately 6-8 weeks and SC takes between 4-12 weeks.

Damian offers advice on the process:

“The forms can be complicated, especially if you’re filling them out for the first time. My advice is to read the guidelines carefully and answer all questions thoroughly and completely. Be honest with your answers. Complete the documentation as soon as possible; if you delay, it will only make the process longer. Lastly, be sure check the forms carefully before processing them; mistakes or missing information will extend the time it takes for clearance to be processed.”

You can find more advice on our career advice pages.

If you already have security clearance and are looking for a new opportunity you can see our latest security cleared vacancies here.

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