Most of us have incidents in our past that we wouldn’t repeat if we had an opportunity for a do-over. Some of those incidents are embarrassing enough that we certainly wouldn’t share them in a job interview.

If you’re applying for a job as a government employee or contractor and the position requires security clearance, you may find yourself having to share some of life’s most embarrassing moments.

“Some incidents actually have a connection to security clearance, and it’s important to know that lying about them or omitting them from your SF-86 could land you in hot water,” security clearance lawyer Catie Young says.

There is a reason some lawyers specialize in security clearance law: the process is lengthy, and it can be confusing to the person who doesn’t deal with it every day. So it’s often advisable to consult an attorney who specializes in this area of law to help you navigate the process, increase your chances of doing it right the first time, and avoid perjuring yourself.

Here in our practice, we have heard horror stories from clients who were told by a facility security officer or a recruiter that certain issues in their past didn’t need to be reported on the SF-86 – the Questionnaire for National Security Positions used by military personnel, government contractors and government employees to apply for a security clearance. Sometimes people are told to lie or omit information from the SF-86 in an effort to speed the approval process.

Please understand this questionnaire is not to be taken lightly. Lying on or omitting information from it can lead to big trouble.

Jeffrey F. Bohn, a U.S. immigration officer who lives in Riverview, Florida, sought a security clearance in June 2010 and failed to disclose an alleged sexual relationship with a foreign national on the SF-86. Bohn whet on to avoid disclosing the alleged relationship three more times while being questioned by federal background investigators. Now he faces four charges of lying to the government. He could face up to five years in prison for each charge. More than five years later, his case still is pending.

Applicants are required to sign the SF-86 and agree that they are under penalty of perjury for lying on the questionnaire. Often, the government simply denies clearance to those who lie on the form, but Bohn is an example that this isn’t always the case.

“It’s a good idea to consult an attorney if you aren’t sure whether something in your past should be reported,” Young says. “Doing so can protect you in the event the issue comes to light during the interview process. Your attorney can help explain why the information was omitted.”

Keep in mind the SF-86 and subsequent interviews are designed to gauge an applicant’s trustworthiness with sensitive information. You’re starting out on the wrong foot when you aren’t truthful and forthright on your questionnaire. When in doubt, consult an attorney before you turn in your questionnaire. Doing so just might keep you out of jail.