Become an FBI Profiler

Despite common use of the term in media, the FBI does not have a job called “profiler.” Instead, agents at the National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime (NCAVC) at Quantico, Virginia, have job duties that are similar to the common depictions of “profiling.”[1][2] There are very few of these agents, and it is very difficult to actually become one. Interests related to profiling, however, can be useful in other fields.


Preparing for a Career in Profiling and Law Enforcement

  1. Research what FBI “profiling” actually is. Despite the portrayals of profiling on television and in other media, the job does not use psychic impressions to solve crimes. Instead, it is based on using advanced methods of analysis drawing upon psychology, sociology, and other disciplines in order to identify offender characteristics. It requires a thorough knowledge of how crimes are committed, and of criminal personalities.[3]
    • FBI agents engaged in profiling tasks draw on expertise based on a combination of experience (in law enforcement, for example) and scientific analysis.[4]
  2. Learn about the profiling process. Profiling requires mental flexibility and a multidisciplinary approach. Would-be profilers will need excellent critical thinking skills and a good understanding of other people. The profiling process typically has a number of steps that will require expertise in a number of areas:[5]
    • Evaluation of the criminal act
    • Evaluation of the crime scene
    • Analysis of the victim
    • Evaluation of police reports
    • Evaluation of medical examiners’ reports, autopsies, etc.
    • Development of a profile of the type of person likely to have committed the crime
    • Making suggestions based on the profile
  3. Get an undergraduate degree. There is no specific major in profiling. Concentrations in sociology, psychology, or criminology, however, can make good preparation.
    • Seek a major in a subject that provides background in these areas, that you enjoy, and that you do well in.
    • Take forensic science courses whenever they are available, since this specialized content is highly applicable to a career as a profiler.
  4. Seek out internships. To develop your skills and to gain hands on experience, you can intern with an organization relevant to criminal profiling; for instance, with legal aid or a public defender’s office.
    • The FBI also offers internships with its Behavior Research and Instruction Unit (BRIU). This unit provides specialized education regarding the use of behavioral science in law enforcement. Information about these full-time internships is available at the FBI’s Student Center website beginning in September or October of each application year.[6]

Gathering Experience in the Field

  1. Develop skills in a position. Gaining hands-on experience in a field that will enable you to become familiar with many personality and criminal types is necessary preparation for a profiler. Good choices include law enforcement, working at a prison, or social work.[7]
    • Since the NCAVC investigates violent crimes, experience with these types of offenses and associated crime scenes is very beneficial if you are looking for a career with the agency.[8][4]
    • The FBI may also employ profiling techniques in other settings; for instance, to solve “white-collar” crimes, or to handle hostage situations, so a position which provides experience in these areas can also be beneficial.[8][5]
  2. Gain a fellowship. The International Criminal Investigation Analysis Fellowship (ICIAF) is a selective training program for current law enforcement agents.[9] The experiences offered by the ICIAF are excellent training for those hoping to become FBI profilers. The ICIAF is highly selective, however, and applicants must:
    • Be sponsored by a Full Fellow of the ICIAF (who completed the fellowship program in the past, along with other specialized training)
    • Be a sworn officer of a national or state police agency
    • Have at least ten years experience in police work
    • Have at least two years experience investigating violent crimes, such as sex crimes and/or homicide
    • Be a highly recognized investigator
    • Have excellent interpersonal skills
  3. Conduct academic research in a field related to criminal investigation. Whether or not you gain experience in law enforcement, certain kinds of academic research can be beneficial to a career as a profiler. Completing research in areas like criminal behavior, the sociology of crime, or forensics would deepen your knowledge of criminal investigation and be relevant to profiling tasks.
    • You can complete research even at the undergraduate level (for example, by writing a term paper or senior project on criminal investigation). However, an advanced degree in an area like forensic science or behavioral science provides more extensive research experience and is more impressive[7]

Gaining Experience in the FBI

  1. Find work as an FBI agent or in law enforcement. Agents who work in the Behavioral Analysis Unit (BAU) of the NCAVC, which engages in profiling, may have as many as seven to ten years experience as an FBI agent before entering service in the unit.[8] Others may have extensive experience in state or local law enforcement.
    • Previous background in law enforcement can be very helpful when trying to gain a position in the FBI.
    • You can find information about current job possibilities with the FBI, and how to apply for them, at the FBI Jobs website.[10]
  2. Meet basic eligibility requirements. There are very few special agent positions in the FBI, and not every current FBI employee is eligible to serve as a special agent. To apply to become a FBI special agent (including with the NCAVC), you must:[11]
    • Be a U.S. citizen
    • Be between 23 and 36 1/2 years old, in most cases
    • Have a bachelor's degree from an accredited institution
    • Have at least 3 years of full time work experience (in some cases, you can have a combination of education and work experience, or waive the work experience requirement)
    • Have lived in the U.S. or one of its territories for 3 of the last 5 years
    • Not have been convicted of a felony, a domestic violence misdemeanor or more serious offense
    • Not have knowingly or willfully engaged in acts or activities designed to overthrow the U.S. government by force
    • Not have failed to pay court ordered child support
    • Not have defaulted on a federally funded student loan
    • Not have failed to file federal, state, or local income tax returns
    • Meet the FBI's drug use guidelines
  3. Complete the Special Agent Selection System (SASS). Completion of the SASS can take anywhere from six months to a year or more. In order to increase your chances of being chosen as an FBI profiler, you must also exceed the minimum requirements of the SASS. Through your resume and other documents, interviews, and various tests, you will be able to prove how competitive your application is. To meet the minimum qualifications of the SASS, you must pass every stage:[12]
    • An online application to ensure eligibility and submit necessary documents
    • A three-hour exam consisting of Cognitive, Behavioral, and Logical Reasoning tests
    • An in-person resume review and job preview
    • Written and oral language tests (when applicable to the position)
    • A 90-minute written exam
    • A one-hour panel interview
    • At least to physical fitness tests (PFTs)[13]
    • A polygraph test
    • A thorough background check
  4. Be chosen as an agent with the NCAVC. If you have the proper combination of skills and experience, you may be considered for employment as a profiler with the FBI’s NCAVC, if a potential position becomes available.
    • The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) also has criminal profilers assigned to the NCAVC’s BAU, so you may also find employment through this agency.
    • The number of actual criminal profilers working with the FBI (not to mention the number of jobs available for new hires at any given time) is very small. For instance, the ATF currently employs only two profilers with the BAU.
  5. Receive special training. Even once they are selected, BAU agents and ATF agents employed as profilers with the NCAVC undergo additional training, sometimes as much as two years of it.[8] This provides agents with even more specialized instruction and experience, as well as updates on methodology and professional practices.
  6. Seek employment in other fields, if necessary. Very few people are actually employed as profilers with the FBI, so do not be discouraged if you are not able to gain a position as one. You can use your interests in profiling and criminology in many other valuable careers in law enforcement, including local, state, or national criminal investigation. For instance, you could become:
    • An FBI agent in a different department
    • A detective or other investigator in state or local law enforcement
    • An academic researcher with a focus on criminology or forensics`

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