surprise visit from background investigator — at current workplace

by Ask a Manager on March 4, 2013

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A reader writes:

I am writing on behalf of my husband. He has been employed with a small company since October after being unemployed since February. Over the last year, he has applied for a number of positions, including one with a large federal department. The hiring process for this position is lengthy and the steps associated with it are pretty unclear. He is not even sure if he wants this position since he hasn’t yet had any in-person contact with anyone from the department. Everything thus far has been via email, forms, and video interview.

The position he is in the running for doesn’t operate with a high amount of security; he would not be armed and the words “secret” or “private” would not be in his title. He has completed an interview test, fingerprints, and is currently undergoing a background investigation. I work in a similar position for a different federal agency. From my experience, my background investigation involved a questionnaire being sent to various members of friends and family and possibly a few phone calls being made. We are also familiar with friends undergoing similiar background checks, which have involved us being interviewed regarding our relationships with them.

Today, while he was in the field performing his work duties at his current position, his manager contacted him to let him know that a federal detective was at his current place of employment looking for him. As I mentioned, he has been there for less than 6 months and is technically still under probation. Of course, his current manager was completely caught off guard by this, as everything happened without any notice. He informed his manager that he did in fact apply for a position with a federal agency in the last year. The detective informed his manager that he signed a release form last month for the background investigation to take place. Of course he signed the release form! How else would the hiring process continue?!

The investigator wants to set up a meeting with him and his manager next week. His manager thinks this is ridiculous and does not think that he should be spending time meeting to further the employment opportunities of his staff. The investigator also mentioned that he would be coming by our home, most likely without notice.

(The relevant federal regulations do say: “It is a requirement of a background investigation, and actual employment, that your current employer be contacted. We must verify your employment data and make other inquiries concerning your background. If you are a Federal employee or contractor, for example, it may be that your current employer needs you to have a security clearance for the work you do. In other instances, you are asked to complete the investigative form for an investigation and clearance only after a conditional offer of employment has been made for a position requiring a security clearance.”)

We are both in a little shock about this situation. I think this is simply absurd. Are there any rules regarding this? What is the best way to go about handling the situation from here on out with his current manager? Could his current job be in jeopardy?

I suspect that the problem here is that your husband was operating according to private sector norms. In the private sector, background checks and reference checks generally don’t happen until the very end of the hiring process — and people normally have an idea of when they’re reaching that point (often because they’re directly told). But in federal hiring, background checks often start sooner … and moreover, federal hiring often involves far less communication with candidates, meaning that your husband could be at the very end stages of the hiring process — i.e., background check time — without realizing it.

As you note, though, your husband signed a release form agreeing to have this background investigation begin. He gave his permission for this. He might not have quite understood what that would mean, or when it would happen — but those forms are pretty literal about this stuff: they don’t hide the fact that they’re going to talk to your current employer, and they don’t hide the fact that when you authorize the investigation to begin, it’s going to begin.

Now, is there a conflict between these practices and many candidates’ need to keep their job search secret from their current employer? Absolutely there is. It indicates a total lack of recognition that some employers fire people if they hear they’re job searching, or penalize them in smaller ways. It’s hugely problematic. But at least for now, it’s still the way the government hiring works.

In any case, your husband is going to need to decide how to handle this with his manager. Does he want to come clean? Does he want to say he applied back before accepting his current job? That’s for him to figure out, which he should do based on his knowledge about how his manager operates and the likely consequences of each option.

But he should also pay more attention to forms he’s signing. Because they did tell him quite explicitly that this was coming, and he had a chance at that point to ask for more information about the process or to decide how to handle it with his boss.

{ 70 comments… read them below or add one }

Mike C. March 4, 2013 at 4:36 pm

I think it’s a bit much to say “He should pay more attention to the forms he signed” given that a background check of this intensity was not expected based on personal and second-hand experience. His wife and friends had filled out similar forms and had similar experiences to each other, so why would the husband in question think something different was going to happen in his case?

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Ask a Manager March 4, 2013 at 4:40 pm

I understand why he didn’t. But the fact remains that the forms were very clear, and the government is known for being pretty literal about this stuff. I understand why he didn’t quite realize, but you can’t really be outraged when you explicitly signed off on something.

This does suck for him. But when you see warnings like the ones you get before okaying these forms, it really should be a trigger to dig for more information if you’re concerned about what they’re telling you.

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Mike C. March 4, 2013 at 4:49 pm

I’m not seeing where the OP said that a background check would include a sit down meeting with managers or surprise home visits, only that a background check was going to occur. I mean sure, I gave my current job permission for a background check, but no details of the check outside of a drug screen were specified. Had they demanded a home visit or a sit down meeting with my manager (who would have fired me before the meeting could take place), I would be angry as well.

There’s a reasonable expectation that background check means “Education, work experience, drug screen (maybe) police record and residency (maybe)”. Anything outside of that, especially things that are invasive (home visit) or have a good chance of getting the employee fired should have been spelled out and they weren’t.

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Ask a Manager March 4, 2013 at 4:55 pm

It varies by job. But federal regulations say, “It is a requirement of a background investigation that your current employer be contacted.”

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Mike C. March 4, 2013 at 5:32 pm

Right, but demanding a face to face meeting? And the home visit isn’t covered by that.

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AP March 4, 2013 at 5:18 pm

I had a friend in college who applied for an internship with the federal government – in a field that would allow her access to peoples’ personal information, but not really anything she could do damage with. Again, she would only be a temporary intern, so it’s not like she would need FBI-level clearance.

Well, the hiring manager’s local contact quite literally called me from outside my building on a random Sunday morning! I was definitely not ready to see anyone so we made an appointment to meet at a local cafe an hour later, where he grilled me on her personal habits and family background for a good 40 minutes. Luckily she had told me this might be coming (when she asked me to be a reference) so I was sort of prepared, but who really expects that level of security for anything?

So – it varies by agency and job description, but this absolutely does happen and, if you read the forms clearly and ask questions about them, you can absolutely warn your references that this might occur.

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Lynn March 4, 2013 at 5:18 pm

He’s applying for a security clearance. That’s very different from a normal background check.

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Mike C. March 4, 2013 at 5:29 pm

Second paragraph says no security clearance.

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Ask a Manager March 4, 2013 at 5:33 pm

Hmmm, it actually doesn’t say either way. Could be either.

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Anonymous March 4, 2013 at 9:01 pm

This is a background investigation for a security clearance. He would’ve been conditionally offered a job in order for this to begin.

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A(n) OP March 5, 2013 at 12:48 am

He received a “tentative selection” via email 6 months ago which was the first contact made after his online application was submitted 6 months before.

KellyK March 5, 2013 at 9:18 am

Yeah, that’s it. The tentative selection was probably conditional on the security clearance.

They really *should* find a way to do security clearance interviews in a way that doesn’t screw over your current job, but they’re much more concerned with their own process than its ramifications for potential employees. Which is appropriate and understandable…better to screw over a potential employee than accidentally hire a terrorist, after all. But I would think there’d be a way to avoid both.

Anonymous March 4, 2013 at 7:04 pm

This is one of those situations where you should know the company you’re applying to and the job you’re applying for. This isn’t uncommon for a federal job, and if this is the sort of thing that makes you angry, you probably shouldn’t apply for that sort of job.

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ARS March 6, 2013 at 11:22 pm

That’s a little simplistic. There are plenty of policies that are official with government jobs that are interpreted differently by different managers. Sometimes you’re asked for Piece of Paper A and another applicant didn’t submit it. My dad applied for a job with the State Department. We were warned there would be FBI agents at our door for a background check. Guess what. No FBI ever appeared. I get the feeling the sit down with the current manager is less about the actual protocol and more about the interpretation of that protocol.

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B March 4, 2013 at 4:54 pm

The other thing to keep in mind is that she is reflecting her history of background checks being done a certain way when she and her friends applied. Unless they got their jobs within the last months, and it was for the exact same position, things can change.

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Ann O'Nemity March 4, 2013 at 5:05 pm

Federal background checks are a PITA. In my experience, the investigation went above and beyond what was explicitly spelled out in the forms. Honestly, after my last experience I don’t know if I would even consider consenting to one if my current employer didn’t know I was job searching.

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B March 4, 2013 at 5:15 pm

I am curious…how did they go above and beyond what was spelled out in the forms? The specific form he signed said we will be contacting your current employer and by her/his admission he did not read it.

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Ann O'Nemity March 4, 2013 at 5:20 pm

Well, here’s an example: the form said they would “contact” my current employer. In reality, the investigator came in person to my work, commandeered the conference room, and held interviews with multiple co-workers and managers during the work day. My then-current employer, who knew I was job searching and had agreed to be “contacted,” was livid about the disruption.

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Ask a Manager March 4, 2013 at 5:21 pm

I’d be curious to know how they handle it when a manager refuses them permission to do that.

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Mike C. March 4, 2013 at 5:31 pm

I’m curious too. My last manager would have cussed them out as I was packing my desk.

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Ann O'Nemity March 4, 2013 at 5:43 pm

It was handled in such a way that refusing didn’t seem like much of an option at the time. Though I would assume that the only real consequence would be a delay in the investigation.

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-X- March 4, 2013 at 7:11 pm

I don’t see why the manager has to accept any of that, unless they are just trying to be helpful. Just because some government officials calls you up doesn’t mean you have to treat them differently than any other business contact. “No, I’m not available today. How about tomorrow afternoon” etc. etc. “Sorry, you’ll have to schedule appointments with more lead-time.” Etc. That is normal.

“It was handled in such a way that refusing didn’t seem like much of an option at the time. ”

All the more reason to refuse. I guess putting up with that is helpful to you, but my rule in life is that when people obnoxiously impose on my time, they get minimal or no help. If they ask nicely, they get all the help I can afford. I wish more people followed this rule.

I once was a reference for a security check. The investigator called me ahead of time to see if I would be available, and then came by at a time we agreed and took 15 minutes of my time. Easy.

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Ask a Manager March 4, 2013 at 7:20 pm

I tend to agree. The more someone acts entitled to my time when they’re not, the more I tend to act in a way that will illustrate that for them.

KellyK March 4, 2013 at 7:23 pm

my rule in life is that when people obnoxiously impose on my time, they get minimal or no help. If they ask nicely, they get all the help I can afford. I wish more people followed this rule.

I love your rule! I suppose it would be bad form to stitch it on a sampler and frame it in my office.

Angela September 20, 2013 at 6:16 pm

The interviews are voluntary so if your manager chooses not to participate they will just find another coworker.

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Angela September 20, 2013 at 6:28 pm

Investigators usually call and leave messages. If you don’t return their calls they will try to find you at work or may even call listed references or family members. Sometimes they are unable to leave messages because phone numbers have changed. Phone has been disconnected or the voicemail has not been activated. If they are in the area and haven’t been able to contact you they just stop by.

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De Minimis March 4, 2013 at 5:01 pm

A lot depends on the type of job he is going for and what level of investigation it requires. It sounds like this may be a higher level one than some….for my position letters were sent to people I’d listed on my background check form, but none of that began until I’d already started working for the government, and I did not complete any paperwork consenting to the check until then. So my experience was more like the OP’s.

It seems like a strange way to proceed for her husband’s background check, but I guess it depends on the agency and the type of background check. I know where I work the background checks do not really start until the person is already working here, and if things don’t check out, the person is shown the door. When we make a tentative offer, the applicant is fingerprinted at that point and if everything is good we make a firm offer. Otherwise it seems like a lot of cost to incur for someone that hasn’t officially been selected yet.

The level where the background checks get more stringent starts pretty early…anything dealing with money/finance, property, etc.
The person with the highest level clearance in my office is probably the HR person, because of the access to so much confidential information.

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Ann O'Nemity March 4, 2013 at 5:07 pm

Yep, some of the IT positions too, because of the access to confidential information.

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Elizabeth West March 5, 2013 at 8:35 pm

You should see all the crap for a federal agent position. They check everything under the sun, and the physical/psych stuff is insane. Then you get six months of boot camp at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC) where they pound your ass and then cram a ton of studying into your head until your brain explodes. (Source: ex is an agent.)

On the bright side, FLETC in GA has a beautiful campus very close to the Georgia coast. :)

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Anonymous March 4, 2013 at 5:38 pm

Considering the current sequester situation and the fact that the feds are the biggest employer in the country, I wonder what the cost of such detailed “background checks” are and if this is the best way to do it?

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doreen March 4, 2013 at 6:16 pm

It’s not just Federal background checks that can be this involved. My background check for a state agency included contact with my then-current employer’s HR department , a visit to the local police station to see if they had any information that wouldn’t appear on my criminal record ,a visit to my worksite for interviews with my supervisors and coworkers, a semi-surprise visit to my home to interview my husband (there was a phone call 30 minutes or so before) , and interviews with a few of my neighbors. If my job involved contracts or was one pay grade higher, I would additionally be required to complete a yearly detailed financial disclosures of everyone in my household.

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Anonymous March 4, 2013 at 6:53 pm

This is pretty normal for a federal job. If they need to call your family and friends, they often do send out an investigator, too. I know several people who have gone through this. It may seem weird to people who haven’t worked for the federal government, but this is totally standard, especially if you’re working for the defense department, and the husband absolutely should have paid more attention to the forms he was signing. If it says “it is a requirement of employment,” then it is, in fact, a requirement, not optional, and it will happen before an offer is made, for the obvious reasons.

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A(n) OP March 5, 2013 at 12:54 am

Of course; the background investigation itself was not a surprise, it was more how it was carried out.

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Hannah March 4, 2013 at 6:56 pm

I once had a Fed knock on my door asking about my neighbor. She was applying for a position as a District D.A. It scared the crud out of me, I thought they were there to arrest me. Not that I had done anything wrong, but when you open the door and a Federal Agent is standing there holding up his badge, it makes your heart skip a beat.

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Lynn March 4, 2013 at 7:14 pm

She could have warned you!

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Erin March 4, 2013 at 7:31 pm

Maybe she was cautioned against it. When I was in college, the CIA and FBI both came to recruit at my school, and their job site said something to the effect of “we would appreciate it if you did not tell anyone you were applying for a job with us.”

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KellyK March 5, 2013 at 9:23 am

She might also not have known they would contact neighbors. I’ve had background checks where I’ve specifically asked people “Can I put your name down?” because I wanted to make sure they had time to talk and it wouldn’t be a problem. Neighbors weren’t asked for, and mine were contacted anyway.

Likewise, when I’ve been listed on someone else’s form (a former coworker), the investigator has asked me who else has worked with them in my office and has gone to speak with people who weren’t on the original list.

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OldSoul March 5, 2013 at 12:41 pm

When I was in the military (long long time ago), I had to have a high level security clearance. It took them a whole year to complete the process. They interviewed my HS teachers and found out who I had hung out with and then interviewed them (Lol, they even tracked down several of my friends at college to interview them), interviewed neighbors and some family members.
My understanding was the Gov/military was ensuring they knew everything about you, so that you couldn’t be compromised if you had access to classified info.

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A Bug! March 4, 2013 at 7:19 pm

My first thought, because I always immediately assume the worst, would be “someone hijacked my internet to do terrorism and now I’m going to Guantanamo.”

And I’m Canadian!

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Esra March 4, 2013 at 10:08 pm

Ha! Well after our disastrous G20, I would also be scared.

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The IT Manager March 4, 2013 at 10:19 pm

The investigator was probably just knocking on the doors in the neighborhood and you weren’t actually listed as a reference. They do that sometimes. Once I answered questions about someone who listed me as a reference and then was asked if I knew another classmate. I did and said he was kind of jerk but no threat to national security

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Kate March 6, 2013 at 12:25 pm

I live in Metro DC. The first time a Fed showed up at my door to ask if I knew a certain neighbor, it freaked me out. After 5 years here though it’s happened 3 or 4 times and I realize it’s just part of the process. But it’s definitely a surprise when it starts.

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KellyK March 4, 2013 at 7:41 pm

I think it depends a lot on the job. There are some jobs where only a portion of what you’ll be doing requires the clearance, so you can actually start without it. (That was my experience when I started work for a defense contracting company. They do an “interim clearance,” which doesn’t take too long, and the offer letter notes that your job is contingent on successfully obtaining a clearance.)

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-X- March 4, 2013 at 7:46 pm

One other thing. The surprise aspect of these visits is BS. I am extremely doubtful it’s helping the investigators get better info. Rather, it reflects a laziness against working out a proper schedule just because the person can get away with it. It’s like the delivery people who won’t give you a time window – they don’t because they don’t care and don’t have to.

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doreen March 4, 2013 at 8:32 pm

Although I’ve never done a background investigation, I’ve spent most of my career in jobs where unannounced visits are the norm. It has little to do with laziness, and much to do with getting better information. Although I’m sure no reader of this blog has any information to hide, some people do and some information is easier to hide when you know the investigator is coming . You would think people with something to hide would pretend not to be home when there is an unexpected knock on the door – but they often don’t.

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AB March 4, 2013 at 8:11 pm

The OP wrote: “He is not even sure if he wants this position since he hasn’t yet had any in-person contact with anyone from the department. Everything thus far has been via email, forms, and video interview.”

It’s really disappointing to know that government is spending time doing this type of expensive background check BEFORE making sure the candidate is even interested in the job.

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The IT Manager March 4, 2013 at 10:26 pm

This is not the norm. The whole story strikes me as very strange. 1) He hasn’t accepted or even interviewed for the job yet. 2) He has filled out rather detailed paperwork.

I work for a gov’t agency. The agent came to interview my coworker for security check (no clearance just possible access to PPI) and then asked to interview a coworker i.e. me. It was unexpected but it was for the job she was doing.

Again there’s some very unusual things about this story. Not that it didn’t happen, but I’ve never heard of it happening before.

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Ask a Manager March 4, 2013 at 10:40 pm

He did interview for the job, just over Skype or something like that, it sounds like. Govt hiring is weird, in that they might only do that instead of an in-person interview.

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The IT Manager March 5, 2013 at 9:14 am

I did only a phone interview for my govt job so that may be all he gets. I think I was confused by the LW’s statement “He is not even sure if he wants this position since he hasn’t yet had any in-person contact with anyone from the department. ” I took it to mean he hadn’t interviewed yet. They’re not likely to pay for anyone fly to a location for a interview/meeting.

It actually sounds he’s very far along in the hiring process to me as in pretty much completely hired except for the background check.

And, yes, this is done for postions that do not require access to calssified information or a security clearance.

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De Minimis March 4, 2013 at 8:28 pm

I don’t think this situation is the norm. I think most of the time it is more like my situation, where they don’t start the background check until the person starts working–I had to start the process during my first week.

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mirror March 4, 2013 at 9:20 pm

My husband had a similar experience and was fired over it. He wanted to be an air traffic controller, and he filled out the forms, waited months and months, and then finally the background checks began. When he filled out the paperwork, he chose which family and friends to put down, and he got to select which of his current manager’s at his workplace would be interviewed. He warned his manager of this.

Well, one day the manager gets a letter marked from the federal government…but a different co-manager sees the letter, gets curious, and opens it. Then blows a fuse! My husband tried to explain that the hiring process for an air traffic controller takes years, and he didnt expect to get the job for another year or two (if at all), but the guy didnt care and fired him.

Luckily, a few months later my husband was hired (a miracle to happen so soon) and he got a nice month of time off to visit family during his ‘break.’ :)

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Cassie March 4, 2013 at 9:41 pm

I was once a reference for a graduating student who was going to work in the defense industry (I doubt he would be working with classified information; probably would be getting access to export-controlled data and stuff like that). The investigator actually set up a meeting w/ my boss first (the student’s advisor) and then after that mtg was done, he asked if I had 15 minutes to spare. If I remember correctly, most of the questions had to do with character (i.e., does he do a lot of drinking? does he go to parties? what does he do on the weekends? etc). I only knew him in the context of work so I really couldn’t tell the investigator anything about the student.

After we were done, the investigator asked if there was anyone else who could/should be contacted. So while the investigator did set up an appointment with my boss, I guess he figured he’d ask around since he was already on-site.

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The IT Manager March 4, 2013 at 10:29 pm

Yes. That happens. And while you didn’t know the guy outside of work if he showed up talking about how he spent the weekend drinking or worse still hung over you could have let the investigator know.

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Lindsay March 5, 2013 at 12:38 am

My fiance applied for many federal law enforcement positions (nothing secret or private, more along the lines of Border Patrol, Park Police, Bureau of Prisons, police positions at various federal buildings or monuments, etc) and found when researching the hiring process online that in-person visits were to be expected as part of the background check process.

They would visit workplaces and home in person, along with calling references. They would also go off the listed information – after any reference was checked they would ask that person if they could give them more names to speak to and go check them.

It was invasive, but we had researched and knew what we were getting into when he applied.

I believe (though I’m not certain, because he was in several different hiring processes and it has all sort of run together) that they did not actually initiate the background check until after a conditional job offer was signed. He wound up not getting the job after all because the offer was conditional and he did not pass the panel interview (which was the final stage).

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A(n) OP March 5, 2013 at 12:41 am

OP here. Thanks for the share, AAM.
The madness has kind of continued a bit and we’re thinking its got to be the investigator. Yes, Ryan did not fully grasp the type of way the information would be obtained and yes, we were both silly to assume that the investigator would approach the situation kindly. The ‘authorization’ signed says that they can “obtain information” but it really isn’t clear in how this information can be obtained. A week after interviewing Ryan for two hours, he asked him to backdate a form that he forgot. The guy requested additional contacts that would be convenient for him to reach and a friend was asked by another investigator about his political affiliation.

Really though, thank you all so much for your insight and input. It’s comforting (in a weird sort of way) to know that this actually has happened to other people. It’s the comments, even if inquisitive, that are the icing on the cake. I am going to go through and try to respond to things specifically.

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Ask a Manager March 5, 2013 at 12:44 am

Hmmm. I think you guys might be off-base here though. It’s not about an investigator being “kind” or not. This is just the stuff they do in order to do their jobs. I doubt a “kinder” investigator would have given him a heads-up that he was about to visit his boss; that’s not how this stuff works. They purposely don’t give you a heads-up about when they’re going to talk to people; once you authorize the investigation to start, they’re off and running.

It sounds like you’re reading something into fairly common behavior that isn’t there.

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Jamie March 5, 2013 at 9:32 am

I don’t know much about this, so I’m not passing judgement on whether or not the methods are effective – but as someone too boring to have anything to hide this would freak me out.

Just the thought of someone talking to my neighbors about me (which one is she? Oh yeah, the one who scowls when walking from car to house, married to the awesome chatty guy we all love. What does he see in her?) or coming to my house to judge me – probably ruling me out because I have too many figurines and most of my winter dishtowels feature penguins.

Seriously, though, even though I have nothing to hide this would be way too invasive for me. So it’s good they alert people at the beginning of the process.

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De Minimis March 5, 2013 at 12:06 pm

If I remember right, the forms don’t really go into what exactly they will be doing, they basically just want the equivalent to references for every address and job you’ve held for a certain period of time. I gather that sometimes they will go beyond the people you’ve listed, depending on the level of investigation required.

Even though the form may not tell you exactly what you’re in for, the information is out there on the web and there are boards like Federal Soup where they have a whole area dedicated to background investigations.

I do have some anxiety about having to undergo a more rigorous background check if I end up going for other positions that may require a higher level of clearance. I am not really the type to really involve myself with my neighbors, so I worry that I might have trouble passing an investigation due to not being social enough.

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Ask a Manager March 5, 2013 at 12:07 pm

I don’t think you have to worry about flunking it due to not being social enough. They’re looking for red flags, and introversion isn’t one :)

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The IT Manager March 5, 2013 at 12:33 pm

Fear not. I struggle with the same thing. I struggled really, really hard to provide (the name and contact info for) a current neighbor a couple of years back. I had no problem with getting the clearence probably because along with being introverted and I am extremely boring, don’t throw wild parties, don’t have a lot of guests or police showing up at my house.

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Bryce March 5, 2013 at 9:22 am

I’ve had a security clearance in one of my past jobs working for a defense contractor, and the security personnel were quite helpful and informative when it came to explaining the process to us when we had to apply, as well as what to do and not to do.

NOTE: This post is on the long side, but I think it might help anyone who’s interested, such as people applying for jobs with either the federal government or contractors.

In a nutshell, and without going into too many details, there are basically three (sometimes four) parts to a clearance:

1. A detailed questionnaire that asks about areas of concern. A lot of this focuses around “foreign activities” such as questions about other countries you’ve visited, property you own in other countries, and if you ever had dual citizenship. It also asks if you’ve seen any mental health professionals, been fired from a job, committed any crimes, used drugs, or been involved with extremist groups. You have to complete this for any clearance you get.

2. A records check of records you might have with Federal agencies such as the FBI, military, IRS, etc.; state and local agencies such as state, county and city police departments and courts, and a credit check.

3. The background investigation, which involves interviews with you and any current and former bosses, coworkers, teachers, neighbors, etc. This can be very cursory or very detailed, depending on the situation.

4. (sometimes but not always): A polygraph test.

There are different levels of clearance depending on the type of work you would do and the type of information you would have access to.

For some clearances, all that’s needed is the records check. If you pass that, you’re golden. In others, you need the full background investigation and even a polygraph. In still other cases, if adverse information comes out of the records check or you say that you have dual citizenship or used drugs on the questionnaire, a more detailed background investigation may take place.

Keep in mind that having adverse information in your background, such as smoking pot in college, or having credit issues, does not always mean you aren’t eligible. If you have any of these issues, an investigator will ask you for more details to determine if it was a one-time thing or part of a larger pattern (smoking a few joints in college vs. getting stoned all the time), how it came about (credit problems from losing your job or getting sick vs. gambling) and any mitigating circumstances or actions you’ve taken to fix things (going to credit counseling or rehab).

IMPORTANT: If you lie about anything and it comes out, you will be barred, so tell the truth!

It can take a while, depending on your situation, and also because the government is backlogged with requests.

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Lisa March 5, 2013 at 9:43 am

This sucks, he was a new employee and could have chalked it up to I applied before I came here, but the jerk investigator took it upon himself to tell the current manager that the candidate gave permission only last month to do the investigation. So now this guy is screwed, and since the current manager could refuse to cooperate, he is never getting this federal job AND is current job is prob going to fire him.

AAM, I am curious if a federal investigator wants to talk to the manager, does the manager have a right to say ‘ef off, I’m not talking to you?’

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Ask a Manager March 5, 2013 at 10:42 am

I can’t think of any reason they wouldn’t. Maybe there’s some arcane law related to federal investigations I don’t know of, but in general, the government cannot compel you to speak with them.

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Lynn March 5, 2013 at 12:21 pm

The manager does have that right. It makes it harder for the employee to “pass” their investigation, but in this case, the manager could probably care less.

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saf March 5, 2013 at 10:44 am

http://tinyurl.com/abdvjkj is a link to a Washington Post article about the insanity of the clearance process.

My husband held a clearance for almost 20 years. I hated it, but tolerated it. My family found it truly invasive. And yes, they walked our neighborhood AND his parents’ neighborhood and talked to a lot of neighbors. And yes, they called people that we hadn’t listed.

We live in DC. Other friends have clearances. We’re used to this. Our families do not and are not. They were pretty distressed by the government agents showing up and asking all sorts of questions while refusing to explain.

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The IT Manager March 5, 2013 at 11:39 am

In my experience (which I don’t claim is universal), the investigators usually explain that they are conducting a background or security clearance check. I don’t think they leave the neighbors wondering if the person is being investigated for a crime. I think the investiagators should explain what’s going on.

… but I am familiar with it and it doesn’t trouble me. It’s a PITA when you have to fill out a security clearance form and try to come up with a variety of people to put down from where you lived three or four moves ago. Answering the questions about others are not hard at all, but can take some time which may annoy some people.

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saf March 5, 2013 at 11:52 am

They may not be trying to leave that impression, but when someone who hasn’t seen you in years and has no experience with the feds is asked about you by a federal agent who says they are doing a “background investigation” or a “security investigation,” they do often think you are being investigated for a crime.

And when the investigator starts checking out your foreign born brother in law, it looks bad for him too (and annoys your sister).

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shawn March 5, 2013 at 11:46 am

I used to work for a private company that did these sorts of background investigations on the behalf of the government. We had investigators nationwide who would be assigned out very specific tasks in their geographical area (criminal records/court check, employment check, residence check, etc etc). These were not government employees (even though they had a badge, the badge is just to show they can do these sorts of investigations, it doesn’t give them federal authority or anything), and most of them really weren’t “investigators” in the most common usage of the word. Really, they were fact gatherers and report writers. They ask a standard set of questions, document your answers, then go home and type it all up in a very specific manner. The whole process is extremely rigid and defined. The staff at headquarters pieces together all the tasks that were assigned out, reviews it for completeness, and submits the final report to the government. The govt then uses that information to grant or deny a security clearance.

These things can be invasive, but most investigators are pretty nice people and do try to prearrange meetings. In fact, it’s in their best interest to. They want to maximize their time, because they get paid and/or are rated (there are level systems) based on the amount of work (tasks) they complete, and because drive time is always a concern. If they can schedule 3 meetings for tomorrow morning in the same area, score! They don’t want to just show up, have someone not be available, do the other 2, then have to drive back tomorrow. In large cities this is especially important. It is definitely not an industry best practice to show up unannounced to try to “get better information.” Honestly, most of the investigators are regular joes and have zero interest in grilling/interrogating anyone. They want to ask their list and get out of there.

It was already referenced above, but at the start of this process you disclose all your info on the SF 86. This form is about a million pages long. I can’t believe any agency or company would have someone fill this thing out prior to being made a conditional offer of employment, especially because you need to include a DOB and SSN with it. Basically, if they had you fill this out you were offered the job and should have known what was about to take place.

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SH March 5, 2013 at 11:48 am

This is definitely for a security clearance (he probably filled out an SF-86). The paperwork is pretty clear that investigators will be visiting your workplace and neighborhood. In all likelihood he applied for this job a while back and has been letting the selection process run in the background while he got on with his life.

This is definitely a sticky situation. Hopefully the manager has enough foresight to know that his company isn’t the be-all-end-all of employment, and like it or not, people job hop all the time these days.

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JLL March 5, 2013 at 12:39 pm

Yeah, my dad held a security clearance for whatever he did (i haven’t known since I was about 9) a number of years. And I eloped.

So you can imagine how happy he was about having to one, find out he had a new son-in-law, and two, do paperwork on him and his family, and three, explain to my cop in-laws (yes, both) why my father needed personal information about them, and no, i don’t know what he does for a living.

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