CIA Officer: Career Guide

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The main job of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and its agents is to collect intelligence information in an effort to maintain the security of the United States and its citizens. The CIA conducts research and develops and implements high-level technology in an effort to collect accurate intelligence, which in turn informs the decisions of policymakers and military leaders. There are five career paths within the CIA, including science, technical, and engineering; national clandestine service; language opportunities; analytical opportunities; and support services.

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Career Descriptions, Duties, and Common Tasks

Agents, also referred to as CIA officers, collect information through human and other sources, evaluate intelligence in regard to national security, and coordinate with other agencies or departments to collect national intelligence outside the US. CIA agents may use undercover surveillance or so-called “spy” equipment in their jobs. While the majority of CIA agents reside in Washington DC, others live and work abroad.

Steps for Becoming a CIA Officer

The educational requirements for prospective CIA officers begin with a bachelor’s degree. The CIA requires a bachelor’s degree for nearly every entry-level position and an advanced degree for non-clerical jobs. The most common degree options that prospective CIA officers pursue are in criminal justice and homeland security. Prospective CIA officers must possess intelligence, a willingness to work hard, and a strong GPA (above a 3.0).

Applicants must also be US citizens and no older than 35. If an applicant is married, his or her spouse must also be a US citizen. Additionally, the CIA holds officers’ ability to speak another language – particularly Middle Eastern languages – as a highly desirable trait. In fact, applicants who speak a Middle Eastern language fluently may have strong career advantages.

CIA applicants should be ready to undergo a complete background investigation. This thorough search examines all aspects of the candidate’s life and character. Applicants must also undergo polygraph exams and a rigorous mental and physical exam. Successful candidates must not have used illegal drugs in the past year to be considered. Marijuana use, even if it is in a state in which the drug is legal or if it is used for medical reasons, is prohibited both 12 months prior to and during employment. Upon meeting these standards and accepting a conditional offer of employment, CIA officers are issued a security clearance. Officers are expected to maintain high standards of personal and professional behavior. Therefore, the CIA conducts periodic reinvestigations, including polygraph examinations, throughout an individual’s tenure with the organization. To become a CIA officer, you should expect steps similar to the following:

  1. Acquire the necessary education and/or experience to be qualified for a CIA position.
  2. Create an account on the Career Application Center.
  3. Find an open CIA officer job and complete an application online.
  4. Complete the Personal Evaluation Form (PEF).
  5. Upload your resume and any supporting documents.
  6. Undergo a thorough background investigation.
  7. Take and pass a polygraph test.
  8. Take and pass a drug test.
  9. Submit to a credit check.
  10. Undergo a thorough mental and physical medical examination.
  11. Receive word from a CIA recruiter that your application has been accepted (usually within 45 days).
  12. Be interviewed.
  13. Be hired as a CIA officer.
  14. Receive on-the-job training once hired.

CIA Officer Job Training

Officers should expect intense job training that includes learning the policies and procedures for working within the CIA. The CIA offers initial and ongoing training at the Sherman School for Intelligence.

Other Helpful Skills and Experience

The CIA is particularly interested in prospective agents who can fluently speak another language. The organization recommends that officers have a “forceful personality” and be willing to put themselves in dangerous situations when necessary. Candidates with previous military experience may have an edge over other candidates. Successful candidates must be discreet and must hold themselves to the highest ethical standards.

Possible Job Titles for This Career

  • CIA Agent
  • CIA Officer
  • Intelligence Officer

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Career Opportunities and Employers

The Central Intelligence Agency employs qualified individuals in several departments, including clandestine positions and technology, science, engineering, and foreign language instruction. Certain job postings may include opportunities for foreign travel as well as travel within the US.

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CIA Officer Salary and Job Outlook

The salary for CIA officers depends on experience and education level. The CIA provides salary ranges for some positions on their website.1 As with many federal jobs positions in the CIA are very competitive and the application process is lengthy. Further, although the careers of CIA officers are romanticized on television and in movies, applicants should remember that this job is dangerous and agents have lost their lives in the line of duty.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How old do I have to be to be considered for a position with the CIA?

    Answer: Applicants must be at least 18 and no older than 35 in order to be considered for employment with the CIA.

  • How long is the application process?

    Answer: Candidates should expect the application process, which is intensive, to last between two months and a year, sometimes longer.

  • What kind of benefits does the CIA offer?

    Answer: CIA officers enjoy such benefits as paid time off, federal health insurance, federal life insurance, and access to child care centers. They may also join the organization’s credit union.

  • What type of hours does a CIA officer generally work?

    Answer: CIA agents typically work full time and are often required to work overtime, including evenings and weekends.

Additional Resources

1. US Central Intelligence Agency: Inspector General – Special Agent/Investigator:

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