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FBI Agent Career Guide

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is the principal investigative arm of the Department of Justice, that is charged with defending the United States from terrorism and enforcing federal laws. It employs over 32,000 individuals with diverse backgrounds and skills who may investigate crimes related to over 200 categories of federal law. This overview covers how a candidate may qualify to become an FBI Agent, in addition to requirements, career description, job outlook, and salary information.

FBI Agent Career Description, Duties, and Common Tasks

The main job activities of an FBI Special Agent involve investigating crimes and enforcing federal laws. This can include interviewing sources and conducting surveillance activities, such as monitoring court authorized wire-tapping or working undercover. FBI Special Agents must be willing to participate in arrests, raids, search warrants, and other dangerous activities. They may be involved in the investigation of large-scale criminal activities such as organized crime, drug trafficking, terrorism, and cybercrime. Additionally, the FBI is involved in investigating incidents such as airplane hijackings and terrorist threats.

The job of an FBI agent can be stressful and cause hardships. Although the scheduled workweek might be 50 hours, many work more than that. A Special Agent is considered on duty 24 hours a day and seven days a week and may work holidays. Further, agents may be often placed in atypical situations, including dealing with people in traumatic situations and crime scenes that are grisly and involve death. Agents may be transferred to any of the 56 field offices in the US or overseas for a temporary or extended period.

FBI Agent Requirements and Qualifications

A candidate must possess the right education, background, mental and physical traits to even have a chance at becoming an FBI agent. The minimum education requirement is a bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university with an overall GPA of 3.0 or higher. Many agents have studied criminal justice, political science, engineering, computer science, or accounting, and some of them have completed a law degree. Prospective FBI agents must have a bachelor’s degree and three years of related work experience, or an advanced degree (master’s degree or higher) and two years of related work experience. The FBI considers applicants’ fluency in a foreign language as a particular strength and often seek applicants who speak certain 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 protecting people. FBI Special Agent recruits must be a US citizen and be at least 23 years old and under 37 years old (unless you receive 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.

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.

Other Helpful Skills and Experience

Veterans who are disabled or have served on active duty are given preference over non-veterans. Knowing a foreign language or having expertise in specific areas such as accounting, piloting a helicopter, law enforcement, engineering, physical science, or IT networking, may put you ahead of other applicants. The FBI looks for college graduates who have developed research and analytical skills.

Examples of Possible Job Titles for this Career

  • Cyber Special Agent
  • FBI Investigator
  • FBI Special Agent

Career Opportunities and Employers

The Federal Bureau of Investigation employed over 13,000 Special Agents as of 2012 and are frequently recruiting for new Special Agents throughout the country. Individuals with FBI experience may also find opportunities in the private sector including employment by government contractors and corporations.

FBI Agent Salary and Outlook

The pay range for FBI agents is based on the federal government’s General Schedule (GS) pay scale. According to OPM.gov, FBI Special Agent trainees are paid as GS-10, step 1 and can advance to the GS-13 level in non-supervisory positions and higher in supervisory positions. You can view the current GS pay scale at the US Office of Personnel Management website. FBI agents may also receive a locality adjustment depending on the location of employment and availability pay of 25% of their base salary for unscheduled duty. In addition to their salary, FBI agents receive several benefits including health insurance, retirement benefits after 20 years of service, and paid vacations and holidays.

The outlook for FBI agent employment may be influenced by factors such as congressional funding, the growth in cyber crimes, and the rate of retirement of current FBI agents. The Bureau of Labor statistics projects employment growth of 2% for all detectives and criminal investigators in the decade from 2012-2022.1

Did you know? The largest division in the FBI is the Criminal Justice Information Services Division (CJIS) which manages the largest fingerprint database in the world with data on over 47 million people.

Source: HowStuffWorks

Expert Advice for Prospective FBI Agents

Jason R. Collins Discusses the Role of the FBI Intelligence Analysts Association and Provides Intelligence Analyst Career Insights
Jason R. Collins, the National Spokesperson for the FBI Intelligence Analysts Association, shares what the FBI is looking for in employees.

Frequently Asked Questions About This Career

What is a typical day for an FBI agent?

According to FBI.gov, days are varied and can include a wide range of activities such as testifying in court, executing a search warrant, gathering evidence, completing paperwork, and meeting with sources. FBI agents may work irregular hours and can spend a lot of time outside the office.

What is the training for an FBI Special Agent?

Once you are accepted as a new agent, you attend a 21-week training course at the FBI Academy in Virginia. The intensive course provides training in firearms, defensive tactics, investigative techniques, driving techniques, and survival. There is also a mock town known as Hogan’s Alley that was built with the help of Hollywood set designers to provide a realistic training environment.

How much do FBI Special Agents make?

FBI Special Agent trainees start at the GS-10, step 1 level of the federal government’s General Schedule pay scale and can receive additional pay based on location and working extra hours. You can view the current General Schedule pay table at the US Office of Personnel Management website.

How many hours do FBI Special Agents work per week?

FBI Special Agents work a minimum of 50 hours per week and often 70-90 hours per week.

Additional Resources

  • FBI Jobs – The FBI’s career site for learning about opportunities in the FBI including their internship program and employee benefits.

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1. FBI Jobs: https://apply.fbijobs.gov/
2. Bureau of Labor Statistics: http://www.bls.gov/ooh/protective-service/police-and-detectives.htm#tab-6
3. Holden, Henry M. To Be an FBI Special Agent. St. Paul: Zenith Press, 2005. Print.