The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) is a civilian service that is tasked with gathering, processing and analyzing national security information in global foreign intelligence.
Created in 1947 when Harry S. Truman signed the National Security Act, mostly due to growing tensions with the USSR following the end of World War II.
Unlike the FBI, the CIA does not have any law enforcement function, but it reports directly to the Director of National Intelligence and the President.
Careers in the CIA
Working for the CIA means joining a diverse and dynamic workforce, all working towards the same goal of keeping the country safe.
Working for the CIA comes with a range of benefits, including:
- Excellent salary, plus overtime, holiday and premium payments
- Focus on health and wellbeing with on-site facilities and up to three hours a week of excused absence to focus on physical fitness, as well as health, dental, and vision insurance
- Flexible scheduling, onsite daycare and subsidised childcare
- Help with retirement savings, student loan repayments and sponsorships for further education and training
- Annual leave is separate from sick leave, plus at least ten federal holidays per year.
Types of CIA jobs
Early career opportunities include Internships, Scholarships and Fellowships as well as graduate programs.
For experienced professionals and veterans, there are five broad sectors of the organization, known as Directorates, and each has specific job roles.
Directorate of Analysis
The analysis and presentation of intelligence is the role of this directorate, with several different types of analysts working together to solve puzzles and put together information to deliver written reports and create actionable information.
Each different career path has specific, specialized on the job training.
Roles in the Directorate of Analysis include:
- Targeting Analyst
- Military Analyst
- Economic Analyst
- Analytic Methodologist
Directorate of Operations
This is where the 'spies' of the CIA are based; this is the hub of HUMINT (Human Intelligence), and employees in the Directorate of Operations are the ones who will complete covert action as directed by the President.
In this Directorate, employees often live and work overseas or in Washington DC, completely undercover to collect foreign intelligence.
Roles in the Directorate of Operations have the most intensive foundational training, and include:
- Operations Officer
- Paramilitary Officer
- Specialized Skills Offers
- Targeting Officer
- Collection Management Officer
Directorate of Science and Technology
Here is where the innovative scientists, engineers and technical employees use emerging knowledge to support operations.
From scientists to costume designers, this Directorate is about being on the leading edge of technology.
Roles in this section include:
- Technical Developer
- Technical Researcher
- Technical Targeting Analyst
Directorate of Digital Innovation
Looking at intelligence gathering as well as protection from cyber threats, this is the IT and programming Directorate.
Roles here include:
- Data Engineer
- IT Engineer
- Applications Developer
Directorate of Support
This is the business support Directorate, where key functions like HR, supply chain, facilities and logistics are found.
More than 30 career paths can be found in this Directorate, including:
- Automotive Mechanic
How To Get A Job In The CIA
There are several basic requirements to get into the CIA. You must be a US citizen and in the US when you apply, and aged 18 or over. You must be willing to relocate to Washington DC, as well as be willing to undergo a background check, polygraph test as well as a physical and psychological examination.
The guiding principles of the CIA should be kept at the forefront of your mind when you are applying - as these are the values that the Agency wants to see in employees. These are:
- Integrity - Accountability and oversight, with the highest standard of conduct and no personal bias.
- Service - The nation comes first, the Agency comes before the unit, and the mission comes before the self.
- Excellence - Tools, experience and leadership that makes the best of diverse backgrounds.
- Courage - Tasks are difficult, dangerous and often have high stakes.
- Teamwork - Collaboration, equity, diversity and inclusion.
- Stewardship - Always protect sources and methods.
CIA Application Process Stages
Each stage in the CIA application process needs patience to complete - it is not a fast-moving system and thorough checks need to be completed before you will be moved further. It is usual for applications to take more than a year to complete.
Online Application And CV
Applications can only be accepted through the online CIA Job Portal, and you can apply for up to four jobs at any one time.
In the application form, you will be asked questions about your contact details, education and experience.
The initial application will also include information about your preferences, foreign language proficiency, and you will be asked to supply transcripts, writing samples and a resume.
There is a lengthy questionnaire in the initial application that is used to find out about your history - it is a basic background check that includes details about security clearances, military history, and other issues that could impact your application.
Screening, Testing, And Interviews
Depending on the role you have applied for, you can expect to face a number of online assessments to ensure that you have the aptitudes, competencies, skills and personality traits that would make you a successful CIA agent or officer.
A personality test is used to assess your work behavior and personality traits to ensure that you are suitable for the role you have applied for.
In personality tests, you are usually presented with a number of statements about the way you think and the way you work. You will need to decide how much (or how little) you think that the statement describes you.
The statements might be linked to the role, or they might be seemingly unrelated.
Personality tests are usually untimed, but it is always best to answer them with your first thought. There are no 'wrong' answers - instead, your answers are compared to a control group to demonstrate that you have the right traits and behavioral preferences to be successful.
You cannot really 'practice' for a personality test, but you can familiarize yourself with the normal structure and layout using online practice tests.
Spatial knowledge and understanding is an essential skill for problem-solving, and is a good predictor for competency in critical thinking and analysis. Another version of a non-verbal reasoning assessment, spatial reasoning uses imagery to test your ability to process unfamiliar information under pressure.
In spatial reasoning assessments, you are usually presented with a series of 2D shapes that you need to be able to visualise in 3D space. You might also be asked to find the mirror image of a shape, or manipulate a shape to match it to a silhouette.
For CIA officers, the ability to use critical thinking skills, especially thinking outside the box, is an essential part of the core business.
You can practice these skills using online practice tests so you can get familiar with the type of questions, and feel more comfortable answering this type of question.
Abstract reasoning assessments are non-verbal tests that use shapes and images to assess your ability to make logical deductions based on limited, unfamiliar information. They can sometimes be described as inductive or diagrammatic reasoning.
In an abstract reasoning test, you will be provided with a series of images that are related to each other through a pattern or rule. These sequences have parts missing, and the question expects you to locate the missing shape from a number of possibilities.
To be successful in this assessment, you need to be able to quickly identify the pattern or rule that governs the way each shape changes in the sequence, so that you can find the missing item.
The abstract reasoning assessment is often thought to be quite difficult because it is so unfamiliar. However, it is a simple and efficient way to check that an applicant has the ability to think logically under pressure. Familiarity with the sequences, patterns and shapes that are used in this type of assessment will make you feel more comfortable.
Analytics is a really important part of the ongoing work of the CIA, and in most positions, you will be expected to have good logical thinking skills and be able to analyse confidently.
Logical reasoning tests can vary in the way they are structured and the type of questions that you can face.
Logical reasoning assessments can combine image-based questions like the abstract reasoning test, but they can also use word problems to assess deductive reasoning.
Deductive reasoning questions are structured as a series of related statements, which you need to apply to a question to find the right answer. Logic is needed to 'prove' whether the question is true, false, or you cannot say according to the statements provided.
Again, this focus on practical application of logical thinking is a hallmark of the application process for the CIA - problem-solving, critical thinking and analysis is important. Getting used to following information to a logical conclusion can make this type of assessment easier, so finding practice logical reasoning tests online is a good way to prepare.
There are some other assessments that you might need to take, depending on the role you have applied for.
The numerical reasoning assessment is not a maths test, but it is designed to see how well you can understand and apply information from numerical data in tables and graphs, using basic calculations.
Situational Judgement Test
To assess the way you work, and how you react to work-based scenarios, the situational judgement test presents a number of realistic work-based problems with several possible actions or outcomes.
The way you choose to deal with these scenarios is a great way for an employer to see both your work behavior and the way you solve problems.
Depending on the role you have applied for, you might be expected to undertake a skills test to ensure that you have the practical knowledge that is needed.
Common skills tests include programming languages, mechanical skills, and typing tests.
Applicants can expect to face at least a telephone screening interview and a face-to-face interview.
The telephone screening interview is a simple discussion, based on the details you have provided in your application form. You might also be asked questions about your motivations - why you want to join the CIA and what prompted you to apply for this specific role.
This is also a chance for any questions about your initial background check to be asked, too.
If you have passed the online assessments and you meet the criteria so far, you might be invited to Washington to complete an in-person interview.
This can be a panel interview, and you will be asked questions about your motivation, as well as behavioral questions. You should ensure that you provide thoroughly described examples of your actions that relate to each question.
You will also be asked about your knowledge of the CIA, the history of the Agency, and your knowledge of the business area that you are interested in.
Conditional Offer Of Employment And SF-86
If at this point you have reached the minimum criteria, through interviews and assessments, then you will be presented with a conditional offer of employment.
This is where the main portion of background checks and medical evaluations begins.
The first step is an in-depth questionnaire known as the SF-86, which includes questions about your own employment, criminal, medical and financial history, as well as that of your family. You will also have to provide details of any foreign interests you have, from travel to friends to businesses.
There are more than 130 pages to fill in, and you need to be thorough and truthful throughout.
Security And Medical Evaluations
All CIA employees must undergo thorough background investigations, and take a polygraph test as part of a specific interview.
You will also be subject to an in-depth medical examination, including both your physical and psychological health.
Official Job Offer And Onboarding
Once all these stages have been completed, the provisional job offer will be made official, and you will begin the role-specific onboarding procedure.
Tips To Get Hired
Don't Tell Anyone You Applied
Secrecy is important to the CIA, and those that work for the Agency do not make their work public.
One of the lesser-known reasons that might negate your job application with the CIA is being affiliated with the Agency in the online space - so don't follow the CIA on social media, or interact with their news sources or share any information.
Become Fluent In One Or Two Foreign Languages
As a foreign intelligence agency, employees who speak more than one language are in heavy demand.
If you have fluency in other languages, not only are you more likely to be accepted for a position, but you might also qualify for a financial bonus.
Gain Relevant Experience
Relevant experience is a difficult thing to come by when it comes to the CIA, but if you can demonstrate a working knowledge of the business area that you are applying for you will be more likely to be accepted.
If you want to join a Directorate, then you can show that you already have the knowledge they need.
Frequently Asked Questions [FAQs]
What Should I Wear To A CIA Interview?
The CIA interview is a formal affair, so you should make sure that you are well-groomed and presentable. A suit and a neutral-colored shirt is a great option, and be sure to avoid any ornate accessories or jewellery.
Is Working For The CIA Stressful?
Every job can be stressful, but the CIA takes care of its agents at all stages. Being undercover in the Directorate of Operations, for example, can be hard work - but it is worth it to protect the agency.
How Much Does The CIA Pay?
Entry-level roles in the CIA, such as administration, start at around $49,000, while top-level accountants and attorneys can expect a salary of around $172,000.
How Long Does It Take To Get Hired At CIA?
It is not normally a fast process to get hired at the CIA - with thorough background checks, interviews, physical examinations and online assessments, there is a lot of bureaucracy to go through.
You can expect the hiring time to be at least a year from the initial application.
What does a CIA agent do?
The broad aim of the CIA is to collect, organise and analyze foreign intelligence, with every Directorate working together to get to that goal.
The exact day to day operations of a CIA agent is a strict secret.