Career Opportunities at the Central Intelligence Agency: Cracking the Code for Getting Hired

Are you passionate about protecting the interests of the United States?  Are you interested in international affairs?  Are you mission focused?  Answering yes to questions like these might indicate that working for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) may interest you.  The mission of the CIA is to preempt threats and further US national security objectives by collecting intelligence that matters, producing objective all-source analysis, conducting effective covert action as directed by the President, and safeguarding the secrets that help keep our Nation safe. The agency hires individuals from a wide variety of academic and professional backgrounds to serve in roles both in the US and overseas.  And yes, they are hiring!

On Wednesday, January 25, 2017, UMUC hosted several CIA Officers at the Academic Center in Largo who were recruiting for different divisions across the Agency.  In their presentation, they shared a variety of tips about the characteristics they seek in a candidate, the application process, and what it is like to work for the Agency.  Due to security reasons, the CIA did not permit this session to be recorded or broadcast. However, we are able to share these insights that the CIA Officers shared at this event.

There are many types of professionals needed to work at the CIA, but all applicants must meet these requirements:

  • S. citizen – dual citizens are eligible
  • Willing to relocate to the Washington, DC area
  • Must be able to complete security and medical evaluations including:
    • Position suitability assessment
    • Physical and psychological examination
    • Polygraph interview
    • Background investigation

Additionally, CIA recruiters look for characteristics like integrity, curiosity, initiative, motivation, teamwork, communication skills, critical thinking, and common sense.  All CIA officers are guided by the Agency’s professional ethos, and while these characteristics may seem comparable to many other employers, a guiding principle that is unique to the CIA is the need for its employees to keep secrets.  In many roles within the CIA, officers are unable to talk about the work they are doing even to close family members or spouses.

There are several factors which would immediately prevent an applicant from being hired at the CIA.  These include:

  • Drug use 12 months prior to application
  • Pending criminal charges
  • Felony convictions
  • Dishonorable discharge from the military
  • Illegal downloading of web content

The recruiter also advised that applicants be candid with background investigators realizing that many candidates may have past infractions, so “we look at the whole person.”  Do not cancel yourself because of a certain situation as they might be able to “work with that.”

The application process for the CIA is a lengthy one that could last a year or more, so planning ahead is critical.  Fortunately, each application is reviewed by a real person; the agency does not use a resume parser or keyword search system. Here is the process you can expect to complete:

  1. Apply online at https://www.cia.gov/careers/. Keep in mind that you only have 72 hours to complete your application on the CIA’s system once it is started, so consider drafting your resume and cover letter (if required) before starting your online application.  Check out the job posting on the CIA website to see what documents are required.  You can apply for up to four positions per application.
  2. In the first 45-90 days, the CIA will screen your resume, you may be asked to complete an online test, and you may be invited for an in-person interview.
  3. After 91-120 days, you may receive a conditional offer of employment by mail which would include paperwork to complete for your background investigation (including the SF 86). Be sure to fill out the documentation completely, and write “N/A” in the space if something does not apply to you instead of leaving it blank.
  4. Lastly, over the next 12 months:
    • Medical and security processing
    • Background investigation to receive the Top Secret clearance with lifestyle polygraph

If you lived overseas, that typically adds time to the process.  If you already have a security clearance (including a Top Secret clearance), the process will likely not be any shorter.

For the medical evaluation, you will receive an EKG and urinalysis, and the rest of the appointment will likely be very similar to a typical annual physical with your primary care physician.  A psychological assessment is also part of the process, so if you are taking any sort of medication, you should disclose that as part of your medical processing, if given a Conditional Offer of Employment. Taking medication for a psychological reason or another physical impairment are not necessarily disqualifiers for working at the CIA.

There are a wide variety of jobs available at the CIA, so the agency developed a Job Fit Tool to help applicants determine which positions might be the best fit.  The recruiters noted that you should only apply for those positions that interest you; just because the Job Fit Tool indicated that you are a fit for a position does not mean that you should apply if you do not want the job.  View all of the careers on the CIA career website, identify your top four jobs (you can only apply to up to four positions), and apply.  All opportunities available at the CIA can be found here.  For students who have just begun their academic career, be sure to check out the CIA’s paid internship opportunities.

Applicants who are successfully chosen for the CIA can enjoy a variety of benefits.  This includes a competitive salary, generous time off, health insurance, and retirement.  They also have affiliation and interest groups such as a choir, veteran, and minority groups.  Their career website includes lots of additional information including top reasons to work for the CIA, employee profiles, and a resource for transitioning service members and veterans.

For UMUC students and alumni interested in working for the CIA, know that the Agency offers a vast array of careers and values diversity of thought and experiences.  If you are new to your target field, consider listing ALL of your previous work experiences even those that are irrelevant to your target career.  You never know what skills from these positions may be valuable to the CIA.

Although certainly not for everyone, the CIA offers job seekers a unique professional opportunity with a potential to have a major impact on our national security interests.  If this sounds like a fit for you, be sure to write the code 0001815 in the objective section of your application to show that you are a UMUC student or alum. Good luck!

For more information on career opportunities and resources available to UMUC students and alumni from the Office of Career Services, click here.

Kristin Schrader is the Assistant Director of InternPLUS at University of Maryland University College.  She has a background in human resources and has worked in career services at four universities.  Most recently, she was the Lead Trainer in Europe for the U.S. Department of Labor Employment Workshop teaching transitioning service members about the civilian job search.  Kristin is a proud military spouse and is passionate about helping others obtain their professional goals.