Insights into careers with the CIA

Recently a Career & Internship Center staff member had the pleasure of meeting with a high ranking leader (Executive Director) within the CIA and gained deep insight into career paths and opportunities within the CIA.

We know that federal government employment (and intelligence work in particular!) is often an area of uncertainty or curiosity for students, so hopefully this post helps with some of the basic questions you may have.

But, besides reading this post … what better way to find out what you need than having a chance to talk with federal employers/recruiters in person!

Be sure to check out the career fair webpages of events happening at UW plus other activities on-campus the CIA may be scheduled for.

Take note!  The CIA has a continued focus on the recruitment of diverse individuals, and is looking to expand their diversity recruitment efforts at the UW in particular.  Also, in case you were curious, 30 UW candidates (students & alumni) are currently in the CIA’s hiring pipeline.

More information is available online about careers at the CIA.

Job roles, application process and more:

There’s been some restructuring in the past year, and CIA now has five ‘directorates’ instead of four. All five directorates are regularly and routinely hiring and the CIA is looking for good candidates in all areas (there are more than 60 career paths within the CIA) – from clandestine services to analysts to finance directors to cybersecurity experts.  There are potential fits within the agency for just about any major or background.

  • Directorate of Operations (includes clandestine services)
  • Director of Analysis (formerly Directorate of Intelligence – this is the group that has recruited at UW most heavily in the past, for analyst roles)
  • Directorate of Science & Technology
  • Directorate of Support
  • Directorate of Digital Innovation (this is new and focused on open source work and cybersecurity)

Assume that a safe bet for the amount of time between application and start-date is one year. Sometimes people are moved through the process as quickly as 6 months.

  • If you apply and haven’t heard anything by 6 months post-application, the odds are you aren’t moving forward in the process (but you can always apply again at a later date)
  • Students should know at the front-end of the application process that it is a lengthy one; while the CIA is trying to find ways to streamline the process, the stringent security measures are (as I think most folks understand) fairly necessary to ensure safety and security of the info at the Agency.

Applying to the CIA? Don’t put it on Facebook.

  • Some positions within the CIA require that folks don’t know you work for the CIA; announcing via public forums your application intentions or status eliminate you from consideration from those roles, and could also put your candidacy more broadly in jeopardy.
  • With most things CIA (from application to confirmed employment), discretion is the name of the game.

After submitting an initial application and completing the first steps in the process, candidates who are moving forward will be extended a conditional offer of employment.  The offer will be conditional based on:

  • Successful completion of a medical (both mental and physical) screen
  • Successful completion of a polygraph test (these are done routinely to employees as well)
  • Successful completion of an extensive background check which allows for a security clearance

NOTE: The most common application challenges for students and new graduates are:

  • Drug use. The CIA requests no drug use in the past year.
  • Illegal downloading of content.  Excessive and/or consistent downloading is a red flag for the agency.
  • Failing to meet the CIA’s preferred 3.0 minimum – they do have the ability to make exceptions to this, but are academic excellence is one of their desired hallmarks for competitive candidates.

Opportunities are available both domestically (in Washington DC/Virginia area) and internationally.  Relocation is required for all positions, generally to DC/Virginia (e.g. there is no ‘Seattle CIA office’ where a new recruit can land).

  • There is relocation assistance ($$) available
  • They also have a generous student loan repayment program for new employees (based on years of service).

For student opportunities (e.g. internships), the CIA prefers that a candidate intern for two consecutive summers – and given the length of application process and the fact that there’d ideally be the potential for conversion following the senior year….this means that to take advantage of internships, students really need to be applying during their freshman year (!)

  • Scholarships are available to support student interns, to help cover relocation and living expenses as well as tuition; competitive to receive, but quite comprehensive (and outlined at the link above).
By Patrick Chidsey
Patrick Chidsey Associate Director & Career Coach Patrick Chidsey