Become a CIA Agent
If you're smart, have a college degree, are ready to serve your country, and are ambitious, becoming a part of the CIA is a future career option for you. Provided you're a U.S. citizen and you meet all the required qualifications and background checks, you are eligible to apply for a job with the CIA. Keep in mind that the process is competitive (as with all government positions) and that there are many reasons for turning down applicants. In spite of that reality, it's important to give it your best shot if it's your dream career.
Familiarize Yourself With the CIA
- Understand what is involved in a CIA career before seeking to join the CIA. While the spying side of the CIA might be the seemingly glamor filled side you're hankering after, the Directorate of Operations (or "clandestine service" where the spies are located), is but one part of the CIA and a small part at that. The majority of CIA employees work in analytical positions, language positions and science, engineering, and technology positions. Matching your skills and aptitude to what you're best suited for may not see you working in the clandestine service positions at all, so be ready for this possibility. In addition, be prepared to become part of a family when joining the CIA, with expectations to uphold deep loyalty to others, and with possible ramifications on your outside-work socializing and relationships.
- Whatever your position, a role in the CIA means that you're part of the first line of defense in warning and protecting your fellow citizens. You will be working with people possessing high integrity, perception, analytical ability and intellectual curiosity.
- You'll be expected to work in teams on many occasions, so you will have to have strong team skills.
- You'll be able to pursue career goals within the CIA and it's hoped that you'll remain with the CIA for the duration of your career.
- The Agency has its own community. The reason for this stems from the academic environment, as well as the nature of the work performed and mission of the CIA. The CIA's George Bush Center has its own food court, fitness facilities, formal gardens and walking paths, company store, recreational and activity clubs, and artwork on display. In addition, there is a museum, a library, and the usual offices.
- The Agency considers its community a family, employing people from nearly all fields of study, united in their work and their service to the country.
- Before even embarking on the process of becoming a CIA officer, do some thorough background reading on what the CIA is about, what CIA officers do (not just spying.), as well as finding out about how much of the spying isn't what you'd gleaned from movies and TV shows.
Are You CIA Material?
- Before starting the process, it might be a good idea to background check yourself. If you're not clean, then don't bother applying. Most importantly, you will be able to see if your background report contains any false information, so you will be prepared when they question you on it. You must use a service that is able to access the CIS database which is the exact same database that the CIA uses, If your name appears then they have your record available and you can prepare yourself.
- Stay squeaky clean. Every single position requires a security clearance and you'll need to pass through very thorough background checks to clear this. The content and expectations of security checks are not known publicly (that would defeat their purpose) but it's fairly obvious that there are standard behaviors and activities that you should present, and others you must have avoided. For example:
- Do not have a criminal record. Naturally, this includes not having participated in any activities against the USA's interests, whether or not these were criminal in nature.
- Don't take drugs. The CIA states that you cannot have used illegal drugs within 12 months of your application or background check process. Illegal drug use at any time in your past can hurt your chances, however, so it's best to avoid any illegal drug altogether. In addition, don't abuse legal drugs, like alcohol or prescription drugs, as these can provide evidence of your character and future likelihood of re-abusing.
- Be financially sound. This means that you don't gamble, over-invest, have a poor credit repayment record, or have bankruptcy in your background. No intelligence service wants to take a risk on a person who has poor financial management skills and is potentially open to bribery.
- Have a good work track record and ethic. Whatever jobs you've had already, ensure that you've always given your best, being honest and ethical, and worked hard. Demonstrable loyalty and accountability in any work environment is an asset to your application.
- Be highly trustworthy, reliable, and faithful. Background investigators will ask questions of people in your circle of acquaintances including family and friends. If they feed back positive information about you, this is good for you, as their assessment of your character builds.
- Understand the importance of maintaining confidences and confidentiality. If you love to gossip, being in the CIA probably isn't a good choice for you; you'll need to be able to demonstrate that you can abide by regulations regarding the use, handling, and protection of sensitive information.
- Have excellent strength of character, integrity, honesty, sound judgment, and loyalty to the United States. The CIA recognizes that no one is perfect. Security officials will consider the blemishes in your background according to their nature, extent, seriousness, and recency. They weigh the risk and benefit of each individual with the utmost care. If you've got everything else needed, the Agency won't necessarily turn you away if they consider you have important contributions to make to the nation's intelligence efforts.
- Have squeaky clean parents and friends. While this may not always be possible, it's enormously helpful because any family member or friend with shady leanings could be a source of weakness for you if they fall into a spot of bother (aka "potential for coercion"). If there are issues surrounding this, talk to a CIA careers agent about your options, and always be truthful.
- Be highly competent in your field. The CIA takes the best and the brightest students: CIA officers must have at least a bachelor's degree. Having an advanced degree can be helpful for most positions, and in many instances, is required, although the CIA also offers its own relevant undergraduate programs. Moreover, the CIA gets so many hundreds of applications per position that you'll need to ensure your skills, abilities, and studies stand out from the rest.
- Have excellent grades through high school and college. Have at least a 3.0 GPA on a 4.0 scale.
- While there is no specific major to study, having studies with emphases on international relations (most internationally focused studies are likely to be of interest to a recruiter), law, political science, history, security studies, economics or finance (including international finance), mathematics, journalism, science (behavioral, physical, or computer), languages, sociology or psychology, and anything requiring analytical skills, can be to your advantage.
- Learn other languages. The more, the better, but master at least one other language really well. At the current time, languages in high demand include Mandarin, Farsi (Persian), Pashto, Dari, Russian, and Arabic, reflecting current world political and military "hot spots". Fluency is especially important if you're seeking a position in the clandestine service. Your language proficiency must be above and beyond mere college knowledge; you must demonstrate that you can speak it as well as a native. If you cannot, either keep improving it, or inquire about on-the-job training potential for language improvement.
- Be Create Absolute Confidence, flexible, and sociable. The best way to get information out of other people is to be a good talker and listener, to be someone who can connect with others with ease, as well as being able to put people at their ease. These skills are harder to learn than academic ones for some people, so if you don't feel comfortable around people, either brush up on the skills through reading or courses, or be less inclined to seek any positions that require interacting with "assets" (the clandestine service's term for spies - those people who assist CIA agents, often at great risk to their own lives or well-being), or with anyone else who might serve as a source of information.
- Learn what makes people tick; learn people skills including how to make people like you and good conversation skills. You'll need to know how to "schmooze" and build rapport with people from all walks of life, in order to be able to spot, assess, develop, and recruit assets. You'll need to know how to feign interest in other people's interests and hobbies in order to build friendships or relationships with them to obtain information.
- If you have a problem with being likable, being a CIA officer is probably not a good option for you. Equally, arrogance, egoism and inflated self-importance will soon see you dropped from training.
- See life's gray areas. If you see life in absolutes ("he is wrong, I am right"), then it's likely you're not going to be a good choice for the CIA. Inquiring minds, openness to discussion and possibilities, and the ability to see the more nuanced and complicated elements of every situation are an essential trait when you need to analyze things. Sometimes you will be asked to finesse things for the good of your national security that don't necessarily produce the best results for people in other nations. Is that something you can handle?
- Be physically fit. You will be put through rigorous physical testing and it will be expected that you can manage the physical tests. As well as the benefits of keeping fit, getting involved in both team and individual sports on a regular basis proves to your future potential CIA employers that you're willing to stay in shape, work in teams, and maintain your general health and well-being. Good stamina is also important if you work undercover, as you may be expected to work very long days without appearing tired or without losing your ability to think clearly; indeed, in a typical day you could spend the daytime creating a cover for yourself, and the night catching up with people you need to find information from.
- Be mentally fit. You will be tested to your limits in training to see how you handle emotional pressure. In addition, if you do enter the clandestine service, you'll need to be able to deal with the mental pressures of being subjected to dangers and life-threatening situations. For example, if you're caught, you may be subjected to torture, and even denial by your government of your existence. In addition, if your asset is caught by his or her own government, you will face the emotional issues related to how that person (and maybe his or her family) is then treated (sometimes they will suffer the death penalty). There will be many trying situations, and your mental health needs to be in top shape to be able to cope with the possibilities.
- Be honest and candid. Expect to be tested as much as it is possible to ensure the veracity of what you're telling the CIA. If accepted for the interview process, as well as periodically during employment, you'll be subjected to a polygraph. While polygraphy isn’t an exact science, CIA polygraph equipment is among the most thorough and the technicians working with are highly trained security professionals. These security professionals will generally err on the side of caution if they have any reason to believe you’re lying. It is during this testing that they'll be able to find out if you've lied about taking any illegal drugs, being disloyal, poor financial management, and so on. All test results are guarded and kept in the strictest of confidence. And don't expect the testing process to be breezy or comfortable; for starters, it's hardly a pleasant feeling to have others trying to "catch you out," let alone being hooked up to a machine that could determine the fate of your future career.
- Expect continued checks throughout your career with the CIA. You will be expected to undergo regular re-investigations (updates on your lifestyle, connections, etc.), and to continue taking polygraph tests.
- Be ready to maintain high standards of professional conduct at all times, both at work and outside of work, for the duration of your CIA career.
- Be prepared to relocate or travel. A CIA job will often require that you move from your initial residence. In addition, many CIA positions will require frequent travel, which can be disturbing to home life if you're not already focused on how you'll cope with this (the CIA does offer childcare centers at some locations).
- Do not underestimate the stress on your personal life. If you're the type of person who wants to come home at 5 every day and be regularly available to raise your family, work as an agent is not likely to provide that ease of child-raising and family togetherness for you. If you can't abide this thought, consider looking for a different career. Many other CIA careers, however, do offer this type of stability.
- Be a US citizen. Only US citizens may apply to join the CIA. If you don't have citizenship, Apply for Citizenship (USA).
The Application Process
- Apply for a position with the CIA. If you're confident that you can pass the above initial requirements, it's time to apply. You can do this online, but be prepared for a lengthy process and the need to fill in a lot of information about yourself. The application process starts at: https://www.cia.gov/careers/opportunities/cia-jobs/index.html. Look for a specific position of interest, read through its requirements and ensure that you meet them. If you don't meet the minimum requirements, don't apply unless you have a very good reason, because you'll be wasting your time.
- Make sure to follow the application deadlines and instructions to the letter. If you miss one thing, your application will be rejected.
- Spruce up your resume, as this will need to be submitted along with the online application.
- Job listings are updated regularly. This means that if you don't see something of interest, check back again frequently.
- Be patient and wait. The vetting process can be lengthy, especially if you have numerous foreign contacts who need to be followed up as well. If you've been completely honest and open, this will speed up the checking process.
- Don't write or call to check. You won't get a response.
- As a general rule, if the CIA is interested in your application, they will contact you within 45 days.
- Don't give up. Keep trying – it may be that you selected a position that you weren't cut out for, or that had too many other highly qualified people competing with you and one small flaw in your application had yours rejected. Just keep trying for a reasonable time and your persistence may pay off. In some cases, it may mean they'll take you when your experience improves, so get that PhD, go for that military position, or do something else extraordinary that will catapult you into their notice.
- Get ready for the next stage if you are successful in obtaining clearance and a conditional job offer. All initial offers are conditional; if you get one, there is still a long way to go before you can be hired. You will now need to undergo a series of physical, psychological, security, and intelligence tests to verify your suitability to join the Agency.
- Undergo a medical exam and psychological exam. The medical is designed to ensure you're in adequate physical condition for the needs of the job, and also to test for drug use. The psychological exam assesses your intelligence, judgment, and mental stability.
- Wait for your background check to be completed. The background check is extremely thorough and often lengthy (it can take two years). The CIA website states: “The investigation addresses comprehensively one's loyalty to the United States, strength of character, trustworthiness, honesty, reliability, discretion, and soundness of judgment. In addition, it examines one's freedom from conflicting allegiances, potential for coercion, and willingness and ability to abide by regulations governing the use, handling and protection of sensitive information.”
- Pass the polygraph test (discussed above).
- Accept or decline your job offer. If you make it through the selection process, you’re lucky: only about 17 percent of candidates presented with conditional offers pass the background check and exams. Now you can accept your job and get ready for training, after which you still might find yourself not ideal for the job!
- Participate in job training. For some positions, particularly those in the clandestine service, you may have a probationary training period during which you must successfully complete training for your specific position. You may have to relocate during your training period (about six months), and the Agency will usually not pay for relocation of your family during this time.
- You will not be an official case officer until you pass the rigorous training, which, depending on the position, can be very difficult.
- The CIA frequently recruits at top colleges and universities in an effort to lure qualified candidates before they accept a position in the private sector. Be sure to attend career and job fairs at school.
- You will be required to keep things confidential. People skills are a plus for operations officers (spies), but if you have trouble keeping secrets, this is not for you.
- The CIA has a number of programs available for college students, including internships for both undergraduate and graduate students. The selection criteria are quite rigorous for these, and completion of a program doesn’t guarantee a job, but if you perform well during the internship you’ll have a good chance at a job offer.
- You will be placed in a position you are qualified for, which may not be the one you initially applied for. The salary depends on your grade. There are regular increases over time. The starting salary is around 40k. However, the perks are really great. Some benefits are: paid time off, federal health and life insurance, retirement, education and training, health services, child care centers, and credit union.
- Consider joining the military first. Although the CIA offers no hiring preference for veterans, candidates with relevant prior military service, especially in military intelligence, have a leg-up. You still need a college degree.
- Some other languages currently in high demand include: Greek, Indonesian, Japanese, Korean, Serbian, Croatian, and Turkish.
- The CIA usually won't hire anyone who is over 35 for the National Clandestine Service.
- The Agency does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, disability, age, or sexual orientation in granting, denying, or revoking security clearances.
- Becoming a scientist is helpful. Spy organizations sometimes recruit scientists because of their special skills.
- Train every day, study and try your hardest. Don't give up!
- Be punctual. Being fit is important too!
- CIA training can result in making you a colder and more calculating person.
- Be prepared to handle emotional stress. Training, as mentioned, is very intense (and at times, overwhelming). Once you're in for training, especially for the clandestine service, you'll be tested to your limits because they want to know your breaking point (if at all) before you're out on a job where others' lives are at risk. And if that comes sooner, rather than later, then you're less likely to succeed.
- Be aware that salaries in the CIA are usually lower (sometime a lot lower) than those offered in the private sector for positions requiring similar education and experience. On the other hand, your job security is often better, provided you maintain high standards of personal conduct.
- Do not lie on your application or at any time during the hiring process. The background checks are extraordinarily rigorous, and should they discover a lie, in most cases you'll be disqualified unless it's a clear misunderstanding. Be aware that the different departments in the intelligence community communicate with each other. Being disqualified/fired from one will make it harder to get a job with any other agency. Indeed, this can also travel to less security intense agencies within the government, so be on your best behavior at all times.
- The adage that "Big Brother is watching you" can't be any truer than it is in the CIA or any government organization. You will be scrutinized and monitored on by your own peers without your knowledge, many of whom are working for other government organizations such as the FBI, NSA, or Homeland Security. Even if you are 100% trustworthy, chances are that they may pry into your personal life just for cheap thrills. If you're cheating on your spouse, having an online affair, visiting chatrooms, keeping a mistress on the side, visiting sex workers or hiring escorts, or have a freaky fetish, only to name a few examples, this kind of info may make it into someone's personal file on you, even if it's useless and trivial. It's still worth something to someone as a few good laughs at your expense. In a worst-case scenario, embarrassing little facts about your private life could be used as leverage against you. You may be shadowed by one of your own, even when you have no reason to believe they would be interested in what you do when you are not working. Expect your avenues of communication (phone, internet) to be monitored at any time. The overarching reason is that they want to make sure you're not involved in illegal enterprises, planning to sell secrets, or otherwise exploiting your position. They also want to ensure that you represent the epitome of traditional "Wholesome American values" and are not an exponent of anything they might perceive as deviant views or behavior. It is simply in your best interest to forgo any vices and live as spartan and staid a life as possible. You are not exactly joining an organization that values or promotes individualism, let alone individual privacy.
- As a candidate, you should also expect the strong likelihood for recruiters to delve deeply into your past online activities as well. This includes social networking, web surfing habits, and anything else that can be traced back to your IP address. As you know, nothing ever disappears on the internet, and there is no true anonymity on the internet.
Things You'll Need
- Internet access
- College Degree
- Become a Travel Consultant
- Become an FBI Agent
- Become a Navy SEAL
- Become a Police Officer
- Join the Military and Survive Bootcamp
- Become an FBI Profiler
Sources and Citations
- Earn a PHD in Accounting
- Get Help with a GSA Contract
- Official CIA careers site, https://www.cia.gov/careers/ – research source, public domain information.
- CIA.gov, https://www.cia.gov/careers/index.html
- http:// www.videojug.com/interview/the-life-of-a-cia-spy-2