The job of an FBI Special Agent is exacting, demanding, and challenging, yet also highly rewarding. Because of the specialized nature of FBI Special Agent jobs, the FBI has very strict entry requirements in place. To qualify for a position as an FBI Special Agent:
- Candidates must be at least 23 years old, but younger than 37 at the time of appointment. Veterans, however, may be granted an age waiver if they are older than 37.
- Candidates must be a United States citizen or a citizen of the Northern Mariana Islands.
- Candidates must hold a four-year degree from a college or university accredited by one of the institutional associations recognized by the United States Secretary of Education.
- Candidates must possess a valid, U.S. driver’s license.
- Candidates must have completed at least three years of professional work experience.
All FBI Special Agents must qualify for at least one of the five FBI Special Agent Entry Programs to be eligible for employment:
- Computer Science/Information Technology
Upon qualifying for one of the above Entry Programs, candidates are further prioritized based upon Critical Skills they possess, which may change according to the positions for which the FBI is recruiting. Critical Skills may include (but are not limited to) the following:
- Foreign Language Proficiency
- Intelligence Experience
- Law Enforcement/Investigative Experience
- Physical Sciences Expertise
- Military Expertise
- Law Experience
- Diversified Experience
Online Application and Testing
All FBI Special Agent applicants must complete an online application. Based on the application, only a select few will be contacted to begin testing.
- Phase 1 Testing – Phase 1 testing, which takes place at an FBI facility, consists of a number of written tests. Those with specialized experience may also need to take additional tests in their field of expertise.
- Phase 2 Testing – Upon passing Phase 1 testing, candidates move onto Phase 2 testing, which includes a writing test and an in-person interview conducted by a panel of FBI Special Agents.
Steps for Becoming an FBI Agent
A candidate must possess the right education, background, and mental and physical traits to even have a chance at becoming an FBI agent. Prospective FBI agents must have a bachelor’s degree a with an overall GPA of 3.0 or higher and three years of related work experience, or an advanced degree (master’s degree or higher) and two years of related work experience. Many agents have studied criminal justice, political science, engineering, computer science, or accounting, and some have completed a law degree. The FBI considers applicants’ fluency in a foreign language as a particular strength and often seeks applicants who speak specific languages such as Arabic, Farsi, Chinese, Korean, and Russian. In addition to education and work experience, candidates should be physically fit, have a strong mental attitude, be willing to be placed in dangerous situations, and be committed to the enforcement of laws and to protecting people. FBI Special Agent recruits must be US citizens and be at least 23 years old and under 37 years old (unless granted a waiver).
The application process is very extensive and includes interviews, written tests, polygraph tests, a background check, and drug tests. Applicants must sign a release to allow the FBI to review their medical records, employment records, military records, law enforcement records, credit records and other records. FBI Special Agents must acquire and maintain a top-secret security clearance. If you are planning to become an FBI agent, you should expect a process similar to the following:
- Acquire the education and/or experience needed to become an FBI agent.
- Complete a self-Physical Fitness Test (self-PFT).
- Submit an application on the FBI website.
- Be invited to take and pass the Phase I Test, a three-hour exam focused on reasoning and cognitive abilities.
- Complete a Meet and Greet Interview.
- Be invited to take and pass the Phase II Tests and an official Physical Fitness Test.
- Receive a Conditional Appointment Offer (CAO).
- Undergo a background investigation.
- Receive orders to report to the 21-week FBI Academy in Quantico, Virginia to be trained as a New Agent Trainee (NAT).
- Graduate from the Basic Field Training Course (BFTC) to your assigned Field Office on a specified date.
- Receive on-the-job training to gain hands-on experience for 18 months during a probationary period.
Did you know? In the 2014 fiscal year, the FBI’s top priority was Special Agent applicants with cyber backgrounds, including degrees in computer science, computer forensics, cyber security, computer engineering, and information technology.
- FBI Jobs – The FBI’s career site for learning about opportunities in the FBI including their internship program and employee benefits.
References: 1. FBI Facts and Figures: https://www.fbi.gov/about/mission 2. US Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook, Police and Detectives: https://www.bls.gov/ooh/protective-service/police-and-detectives.htm#tab-6
FBI agents are the government’s principal investigators, responsible for investigating violations of federal law and conducting sensitive national security investigations.
Some of the many areas they investigate within our country’s infrastructure include the following areas:
|Organized crime||Public corruption|
|Civil rights violations||Bank robberies|
Special agents may perform these tasks:
- Conduct surveillance
- Monitor court-authorized wiretaps
- Examine business records
- Investigate white-collar crime
- Track the movement of stolen property
- Collect evidence of espionage activities
- Participate in undercover assignments
Before you can can participate in Quantico training, and undergo the rigorous physical and mental tests that are mandatory for all potential FBI employees, you’ll need to meet the basic education requirements that the FBI demands. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics current Occupational Outlook Handbook* notes that the FBI looks for candidates who have at least a bachelor’s degree.
Currently the FBI is seeking applications for candidates who have degrees in one or more of the following areas:
- Hard Sciences, such as biology, chemistry or physics
- Accounting/Finance experience (Accounting/Finance Degree/CPA/or at least two years of related work experience)
- Computer Science experience or Information Systems
- International Studies
- Military Intelligence
If your goal is to become a special agent in the bureau, you must have a four year college degree and at least three years of work experience in your major. If you’ve earned a master’s degree, your work experience is reduced to two years in your chosen field.
If your background is in law enforcement, the FBI requires seven to 10 years of experience (besides your degree) in order to be considered competitive.
Foreign language skills are also valuable skills, according to the FBI. The language skills the FBI seek include:
While Spanish is also considered a critical foreign language, you will need to speak and interpret at a high level of proficiency (generally three years or more) in order to be considered.
If you have a degree in political science, criminal justice or psychology, the FBI will consider your application if you have another critical skill (such as military intelligence) or a post-graduate degree. Make sure you check with your school prior to entering a specialty area, as program outcomes may vary according to each institution’s specific curriculum.
FBI Special Agent Salary
Special Agent trainees at the FBI Academy are paid as GS-10, step 1 ($43,441) plus the Quantico, VA locality adjustment (17.50%) during their time at the FBI Academy. This equates to $51,043 annually (or $1,963 per each two-week pay period).
Newly assigned Special Agents are remunerated as GS-10, step 1 ($43,441) plus locality pay and availability pay. Locality pay (which ranges from 12.5% to 28.7% of base salary depending upon office assignment) is additional compensation to account for variations in the labor market between distinct areas. Availability pay is a 25% increase in adjusted earnings (base salary + locality pay) for all Special Agents due to their requirement to average a 50-hour work week over the course of the twelve months. Therefore, with the locality and availability pay modifications, new Special Agents in their initial Field Offices make between $61,100 and $69,900, calculating in the region of the country to which they are designated.
A one time relocation bonus of $22,000 may be given to new FBI Special Agents designated to certain high-cost offices (New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego, Washington D.C., Boston and Newark) The approximate $22,000 is issued to help counterbalance higher real estate and living costs. In order to be eligible for the relocation bonus, new Special Agents must be appointed to one of the selected high-cost offices and they must be relocating from a lower cost area to a different geographical area with a higher cost of living.