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Secret Service Agent: Career Guide

Secret Service agents protect current and former US presidents, vice-presidents, their families, leading candidates for those offices, visiting heads of state, and other high-profile government officials. Agents with the Secret Service also investigate crimes that affect the federal government such as financial and technological fraud, money laundering, and technical attacks that hack (or attempt to hack) into government systems. The Secret Service has gained recognition worldwide for being one of the United States’ most elite law enforcement organizations. Secret Service agents typically start their careers with a US-based field office assignment. The field assignment may last between six and eight years, which is followed by another three to five years in a protective assignment. Agents may then work in one of a variety of positions, including in the field, in the agency’s headquarters in Washington DC, or in training. Secret Service agents who have proficiency in another language may be assigned to an overseas post.

Career Description, Duties, and Common Tasks

Agents may work in either the protective or the investigative division. Protective Secret Service agents may protect:

  • The president, vice-president, and their families
  • The president-elect and the vice-president elect
  • Former presidents and their wives
  • Former presidents’ children until their sixteenth birthday.
  • Presidential and vice-presidential candidates for up to four months prior to election day

Agents may also be assigned to protect events that require national security, according to the Department of Homeland Security.

Secret Service agents in the Investigative Support Division may investigate:

  • Counterfeiting crimes
  • Fraud, including financial and telecommunications fraud
  • Identity theft

How to Become a Secret Service Agent: Requirements and Qualifications

Prospective Secret Service agents should have no visible body markings (tattoos, piercings etc.), possess a bachelor’s degree or an acceptable combination of education and experience to qualify the candidate for the GL-07 or GL-09 level. The hiring requirements for GL-07 can be met by a bachelor’s degree with superior academic achievement, a graduate-level education, or a bachelor’s degree plus at least one year of experience at the GL-05 level. Other combinations of education and experience may also be considered for competitive candidates. See USAJobs.gov for open positions and further details on GS hiring requirements. To become a Secret Service special agent, you should expect to:

  1. Obtain the education and/or experience levels needed for a position.
  2. Apply for an open position on the USAJOBS website.
  3. Take and pass a written examination called the SAEE.
  4. Take and pass the Applicant Physical Abilities Test (APAT).
  5. Undergo an interview.
  6. Receive a conditional job offer.
  7. Have a security interview and pass credit checks.
  8. Pass a polygraph exam.
  9. Take and pass a medical exam.
  10. Take and pass a psychological examination.
  11. Undergo a background investigation.
  12. Be interviewed by a hiring panel.
  13. Be hired as a Secret Service agent.
  14. Receive training on-the-job.

Secret Service Job Training

Successful candidates must complete a 10-week training program followed by a 17-week special agent basic training course. The initial 10-week program, which is designed to provide prospective agents with a foundation in investigation techniques and criminal law, takes place at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in Glynco, Georgia. Upon successful completion of the program, candidates begin a more specialized, 17-week Special Agent Training program at the Secret Service Training Academy in Washington DC. Trainees will develop extensive knowledge of the organization, including its policies and procedures. Other topics include financial criminal activity, emergency medicine, device fraud, and marksmanship. Candidates must pass both training programs on their first attempt.

Other Helpful Skills and Experience

Prospective Secret Service agents should be open to moving anywhere in the US or in the world and to traveling on extremely short notice. Agents must also be willing to be away from home on business trips for weeks, and even months, at a time. Candidates who can provide evidence of fluency in a foreign language may have a hiring advantage; in fact, candidates who are fluent in another language may earn a hiring bonus. Previous law enforcement or military experience may be beneficial. Secret Service agents must also understand how the government works, have a genuine concern for the well-being of government figures and their families, and possess a professional attitude.

Possible Job Titles for This Career

  • Secret Service Special Agent

Secret Service Agent Salary and Job Outlook

Secret Service special agents are generally hired at the GL-07 ($39,282) or GL-09 ($43,812) federal pay grade; the level assigned is based on the agent’s education and other qualifications, as well as credit for previous federal employment experience.1,2 New agents can receive a one-time bonus if they pass a foreign language proficiency test. Work on special, high-level federal investigations may also result in financial bonuses. Because this is a federal government job, it includes an excellent benefits package with health insurance, vacation time, and sick leave. Secret Service agent jobs are highly competitive and openings can be viewed online at USAJobs.gov.

Related Careers

If you are interested in a job as a secret service agent, you may also be interested in the following similar jobs:

Frequently Asked Questions

Question: How long does the hiring process generally take?

Answer: Because Secret Service agents must qualify for Top Secret clearance and are placed in sensitive positions relating to national security, all candidates undergo an extensive background check that can take anywhere from six to nine months.

Question: Where do secret service agents work?

Answer: New agents may be assigned to a post anywhere in the United States and, as they gain experience, may be transferred anywhere in the nation or overseas. Sworn agents who have fluent foreign language skills may be posted overseas.

Question: What kind of schedule do secret service agents work?

Answer: Due to the nature of the job, most agents do not work a standard nine-to-five, 40-hour work week. Rather, secret service agents typically work 24 hours at a time and rotate their shifts with other agents. Agents may have to travel on extremely short notice and should be prepared to be away from home for as long as a month or more.

Question: Do secret service agents participate in continuing education?

Answer: Yes. Agents will have advanced training throughout their careers. Training includes emergency medicine refresher courses and instruction to re-qualify for firearms possession. Training opportunities depend largely on the area to which the agent is assigned.

Additional Resources

  • Association of Former Agents: US Secret Service – A professional organization for current and former secret service agents that is dedicated to “facilitating the professional and social interests of its membership.”
  • United States Secret Service – The official website of the United States Secret Service, including the agency’s mission, history, frequently asked questions, and job opportunities.
  • United States Secret Service Employment Opportunities – Employment opportunities within the US Secret Service, including special agent, uniformed officer division, administrative and management, and clerical and administrative support.
  • US Secret Service – The official Twitter account of the United States Secret Service.

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References:
1. United States Secret Service: https://www.secretservice.gov/join/careers/
2. US Office of Personnel Management: https://www.opm.gov/policy-data-oversight/pay-leave/salaries-wages/salary-tables/pdf/2015/leotb.pdf