With the right combination of education and experience, you could soon be included on the FBI’s Most Wanted List—of FBI employees.
Although the U.S. economy has taken a downturn and unemployment is on the rise, career opportunities with the FBI have flourished. The FBI recently embarked on an ambitious campaign to hire 850 special agents and more than 2,000 professional support personnel in 2009, and the hiring blitz is expected to continue for several years. There has never been a better time to land a career with the FBI and get a front row seat to events that make headlines worldwide virtually every day.
The FBI is one of the most sophisticated and well-respected organizations in the word. Since its formation in 1908, “the Bureau” has placed a top priority on fighting threats to America’s national security posed by terrorists and spies, while also combating organized crime, drug trafficking, white-collar crime, violent crime, and crimes against children. Although the FBI is known worldwide for being on the cutting edge of law enforcement technology and for using state-of-the-art tools to fight crime, nothing is more important to the success of the Bureau than its most important resource—its employees.
The Work of FBI Special Agents
The Bureau’s 12,000 special agents investigate more than 260 federal statutes, with emphasis on terrorism, counterintelligence operations, computer crime, public corruption, civil rights violations, organized crime, white collar crime, major thefts, and violent crimes. FBI special agents also investigate high-profile cases, such as air piracy, kidnapping, and bank robbery. Every investigation demands skill, tact, and perseverance, and frequently requires sensitive and technical methods, such as undercover operations, court-ordered electronic surveillance, and interaction with informants. Many investigations are conducted through task force or joint operations with other law enforcement agencies, including agencies in foreign countries.
Applicants for special agent positions must be a citizen of the United States or the Northern Mariana Islands. Applicants must be at least 23 years of age and under the age of 37. A four-year college degree, at least three years of professional work experience, and a driver’s license also are required for all special agent applicants.
The FBI fulfills its mission by employing a diverse workforce with a variety of talents. To this end, the Bureau requires special agent candidates to qualify under at least one of five entry programs, including Accounting, Computer Science/Information Technology, Language, Law, and Diversified.
Both the Accounting and Computer Science/Information Technology entry programs require applicants to have college majors and professional work experience or certifications related to these disciplines. A college degree in any field is acceptable for Language Program applicants, although they must also pass two language proficiency tests to qualify. Language Program applicants with proficiency in Arabic, Chinese, Farsi, Hebrew, Hindi, Japanese, Korean, Pashtu, Punjabi, Russian, Spanish, Urdu, and Vietnamese presently are in particular demand, although candidates with other language skills also may be considered. Law school graduates qualify for entry under the Law Program. To qualify under the Diversified Program, applicants must have either three years of full-time work experience or an advanced college degree and two years of full-time experience.
Critical Skills Presently in Demand
The needs of the FBI are constantly changing, depending on the investigative priorities of the agency and the collective skill-sets on hand at any given time. In addition to the five entry program categories discussed above, the critical skill areas presently in demand include finance, engineering, intelligence, law enforcement, investigations, military, and the physical sciences (e.g., biology, chemistry, physics, etc.). College graduates with education and experience in areas such as business, education, healthcare, and other fields also are encouraged to apply.
The Five-Step Application Process
To complete the first step in the application process, candidates must fill out an online application that focuses primarily on biographical details, professional experience, and educational background. The next step is known as Phase I testing, which includes a battery of written examinations. Phase I tests include a three-part Cognitive Ability Test, a Biographical Data Inventory, and a Situational Judgment Test. The most qualified applicants are invited to advance to the third step in the process, which involves submitting the detailed SF-86 Questionnaire for National Security Positions. The FBI again reviews applicants’ competitiveness and selects the best qualified candidates to continue in the process. The fourth step is known as Phase II testing, which includes a written exercise and structured panel interview. Final screening includes a background investigation, personnel security interview, drug screening, polygraph examination, physical fitness test, and medical examination.
The application process for special agent positions is rigorous, time-consuming, and very different from hiring processes followed in private industry, by police departments, or even by other federal law enforcement agencies. It is critical for special agent applicants to fully understand the intricacies of the hiring process and factors that could exclude them from employment consideration.
FBI Academy Training
Newly hired special agents complete a 21-week course at the FBI Academy in Quantico, Virginia, which provides instruction in a multitude of disciplines. The New Agent Training Program consists of classroom and practical instruction that is spread over four major concentrations, including academics, firearms, physical fitness and defensive tactics, and practical applications. Within these areas, the trainees receive instruction in law, interviewing and interrogation, report writing, communications, tactical procedures, forensic sciences, terrorism, intelligence, computer skills, surveillance, undercover operations, informants, ethics, and first-aid, among other subjects.
Practical applications focus primarily on surveillance techniques, arrest procedures, and tactical skills. This training includes realistic scenarios that revolve around bank robberies, assaults, hostage situations, illegal drug transactions, kidnapping incidents, daytime and nighttime surveillance, felony traffic stops, the execution of search and arrest warrants, and a variety of other situations. Physical fitness training is concerned with health and nutrition topics, and the development of muscular strength, flexibility, endurance, agility, and aerobic capacity.
Are You Ready for the FBI’s Most Wanted List?
The FBI’s special agents and other employees are recruited from a broad range of educational disciplines and professions, and they receive outstanding basic and in-service training to prepare them for unique challenges. Simply stated, the 30,000 men and women of the FBI who serve as special agents and in professional support positions make the nation a better place for all of us—and there is no higher calling. To land a career with the FBI, applicants must understand the hiring process and carefully chart a course to success. With the right background, a good attitude, and the ability to showcase your skills, you could soon be one of the Bureau’s most wanted—an FBI special agent.
Thomas Ackerman is a 29-year veteran of law enforcement and the author of FBI Careers and Federal Law Enforcement Careers. He has lectured at the FBI National Academy, the Swedish National Police College, and many colleges and universities. He presently serves at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in Georgia.