The job of a CIA agent is often glamorized on TV and in the movies. While it can have its cushy parts, the career can also be challenging and potentially dangerous.
If you’re a bright, energetic and dedicated person, you may be a good fit for the CIA.
Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Career Fields
The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) recommends that you start by researching one of their many career paths:
- Technical and engineering
- Clandestine services
- Language opportunities
- Analytical opportunities
- Support services
Determining what interests you most will help guide you toward the appropriate college degree program.
CIA Agent Degree
The CIA requires a bachelor’s degree for most entry-level positions and an advanced degree for non-clerical careers such as overseas officer or intelligence analyst.
Once you’ve reviewed the different career paths and have chosen one that interests you, start researching four-year degrees that are most relevant to what you hope to do. A few to consider:
- Criminal justice
- Homeland security
Careers with the Central Intelligence Agency
CIA agents are not law enforcement officials, but rather investigative professionals. However, the CIA works with other federal law enforcement agencies, such as the FBI, on a number of issues, such as counterintelligence. CIA agents follow an Intelligence Cycle, which ensures that the actions and measures taken are supported by a system of checks and balances overseen by the U.S. Congress.
The Intelligence Cycle consists of the following, five components:
- Planning and Direction
- Analysis and Production
CIA jobs are found within the agency’s four teams (directorates), all of which specialize in a specific area of expertise. CIA teams include:
The NCS and the DS&T are responsible for the collection of intelligence. The DI analyzes the intelligence and produces reports that are given to policymakers, while the DS is tasked with overseeing the entire process to ensure that all operations run smoothly.
CIA agents are highly trained and skilled investigative professionals who often possess expertise in certain areas. As such, these federal agents may be scientists, engineers, computer experts, accountants, economists, and language specialists, just to name a few.
How to Become a CIA Agent: CIA Job and Training Requirements
Although CIA agents are often skilled professionals with honed talents, most CIA agents begin their careers as entry-level core collectors. Those interested in learning how to become a CIA agent by entering the agency as a core collector, may follow one of two paths:
CIA Professional Trainee (PT) Program – The CIA Professional Trainee Program is a competitive program that accepts only those individuals with bachelor or graduate degrees. Although PT candidates have little to no work experience in the field of federal investigation, they do have a history of academic excellence, and their formal college program and background often displays an interest in international affairs.
Clandestine Service (CST) Program – The Clandestine Service Program also requires a bachelor or graduate degree, although individuals within this program also have a number of years of military or business experience. CST candidates must also have a clear history of academic excellence with an interest in international affairs.
Desirable college programs for both the PT and CST programs include:
- Biological engineering
- International business
- Chemical engineering
- Nuclear engineering
- International relations
- Physical science
The application and employment process for new CIA agents is complex and highly selective, with only the most qualified candidates given consideration. The employment process includes, at a minimum, a medical examination, a number of personal interviews, a psychological assessment, and a thorough background investigation, which includes a polygraph examination.
Upon being hired, new hires must complete an 18-month CIA training program. Individuals who have successfully satisfied all of the components of the training program are then assigned as either Operations Officers or Collection Management Officers.
Advanced and specialized CIA training is conducted at one or more of the agency’s learning institutions:
- CIA Academy: The CIA Academy provides CIA-specific coursework through traditional classroom learning, online course, podcasts, professional workshops, and professional conferences.
- Kent School for Intelligence Analysis: Located within the CIA Academy, the Kent School for Intelligence Analysis provides CIA agent with specialized training in intelligence analysis.
- Career Analyst Program: Part of the Kent School the Career Analyst Program is designed for new employees. Coursework is focused on briefing, writing, and basic thinking skills, including denial and deception analysis and counterintelligence, among others.
- Center for Leadership Development: The Center for Leadership Development is focused primarily on the development of leadership and management skills. Programs within the Center for Leadership Development include leadership coaching, a senior schools program, experiential learning programs, leadership development tools, and corporate assignments.
Outside training for CIA agents is commonplace, with CIA professionals often studying at Washington D.C.-based universities and at the nation’s highly competitive military service programs, including the Naval War College, the Army War College, and the National War College.
Career Description, Duties, and Common Tasks
An analyst performs a number of tasks related to understanding and disseminating information from the field. A large part of an analyst’s job is to assimilate various sources of information into clear and concise summary reports. CIA analysts may also:
- Develop novel approaches to analysis
- Track international organized crimes and narcotics trafficking
- Analyze weapons systems
- Follow developments in countries around the world to assess the risk of war
- Analyze economic trends both in the US and abroad
Steps for Becoming a CIA Analyst
The requirements for employment as a CIA analyst may vary with the field of specialization, as some analysts research only a specific region or a political faction. Generally, a bachelor’s degree in political studies, international relations, or foreign area studies is required. A master’s degree or doctorate are generally mandatory for higher-level positions. The CIA places a strong emphasis on comprehension of political systems and their influence on foreign cultures, commerce, and military operations. As a result of the highly sensitive nature of the information an analyst may work with, potential analysts are given an extensive criminal background check which includes a polygraph test and character interviews with friends and family members. CIA analyst applicants must be US citizens.
To become a CIA analyst, you can expect a process similar to the one below.
- Earn a degree and/or accumulate the experience required for the CIA analyst position.*
- Create an account on the Career Application Center.
- Find an open CIA analyst job and complete an application online.
- Complete the Personal Evaluation Form (PEF).
- Upload your resume and any supporting documents.
- Pass a thorough background investigation.
- Take and pass a polygraph test.
- Take and pass a drug test.
- Pass a credit check.
- Pass a thorough mental and physical medical examination.
- Receive word from a CIA recruiter that your application has been accepted (usually within 45 days).
- Be interviewed.
- Be hired as a CIA analyst.
- Get trained on the job once hired.
*Check the requirements of the job for which you are applying for more details.
Possible Job Titles for This Career
The Central Intelligence Agency categorizes CIA analysts according to their specific area of expertise. A CIA analyst may therefore have a more specific title such as:
- Analytic Methodologist
- Counterintelligence Threat Analyst
- Counterterrorism Analyst
- Crime and Counternarcotics Analyst
- Economic Analyst
- Intelligence Collection Analyst
- Leadership Analyst
- Medical and Health Analyst
- Military Analyst
- Political Analyst
- Psychological Analyst
- Psychiatric Analyst
- Science and Technology Analyst
- Targeting Analyst
CIA Agent Education and Training
A college degree with a GPA of 3.0 is required while an advanced degree may be considered a factor in awarding promotions and overseas assignments. See: what college courses do you need to have a CIA career?
Fluency in a second language is extremely desirable in applicants for CIA positions and currently middle-eastern languages carry a lot of weight in the hiring process.
Training for a CIA Special Agent lasts 12 months at a facility near Washington, D.C.
Training for new CIA employees now includes video games. This is a new addition to the extensive training program. The CIA understands the toll paid in human life that could be the result of a poorly trained intelligence agent. By adding videos they can train and evaluate trainee capabilities in a virtual world where safety is not an issue.