So, You Want to Work for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)

On Tuesday, August 29, 2017, UMUC Career Services welcomed several officers from the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to the UMUC Academic Center in Largo, MD. These officers represented departments from across the Agency and were recruiting for a wide variety of positions. The day began with a presentation delivered by CIA representatives sharing a variety of tips about the application process and what it is like to work at the Agency. Following the presentation, attendees had the opportunity to engage in one-on-one networking with the recruiters.

If you think working for the CIA is like what you see in James Bond movies or on the television show Homeland, then the following facts may surprise you:

  • Top applicant attributes that the CIA is looking for include communication skills, teamwork, and leadership. Just like many organizations, the CIA recognizes that having these characteristics are what tend to make its  employees  most successful.  
  • Many CIA officers join the Agency in the middle of their careers. The CIA needs a diverse skill set in order to perform its mission, and many of its employees come to the Agency with previous work experience from other organizations. In fact, of the CIA representatives who attended last month’s event, only one said she joined the Agency immediately after receiving her Bachelor’s degree.
  • CIA opportunities are not posted on USAJobs. To apply, visit https://www.cia.gov/careers.  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. For students who have just begun their academic career, be sure to check out the CIA’s paid internship opportunities.
  • Although the CIA is a federal agency, you should not submit a federal-style resume. All resumes submitted to the CIA go directly to recruiters for the Directorate to which you applied.  Due to the volume of resumes the CIA receives, there is no time for hiring managers to review lengthy federal-style resumes.

The application process for the CIA could last a year or more, so planning ahead is critical. Here is the process you can expect to complete:

  1. Apply online at https://www.cia.gov/careers/. Keep in mind 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 4590 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 91120 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, you will have your medical and security processing, and your 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.   

If you applied to the Agency previously and have not received a response, wait at least one year before updating your resume and applying again. In your new application, be sure to provide information of any new academic credentials received, professional experiences, or certifications that may increase your competitiveness for your target position. Resumes should also include community service, clubs, and/or anything outside of your academic and professional careers to showcase additional skills and experiences that may be valuable to the Agency.

Working at the CIA is like working for many organizations, but for security reasons, there are certain differences. For example, your personal cell phone must be left in your vehicle during the work day.  Each year, employees must complete a financial disclosure form, and every five years, they must complete an extensive background investigation to renew their security clearance, which includes a polygraph.  Additionally, all documents written by CIA employees for a public audience (including your personal resume, blog, or academic papers for a class assignment) must be reviewed by a staff member of the CIA. To travel overseas for personal reasons, CIA employees must receive prior approval well in advance of the trip.

CIA employees 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 group. The CIA career website includes additional information including top reasons to work for the CIA, employee profiles, and a resource for transitioning service members and veterans.

If you are passionate about protecting the interests of the United States, interested in international affairs, and mission focused, the CIA might be a fit for your long-term career goals. If you decide to apply, write the code 0002649 when asked how you heard about career opportunities at the CIA to show that you are a UMUC student or alumnus(a). If you have questions, be sure to reach out to UMUC Career Services.  Good luck!

Kristin Schrader is the Assistant Director of InternPLUS and Military Career Programs 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.