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  • Maureen Pham

Careers in the Intelligence Field Panel

On Feb. 22, students of several private, liberal arts colleges of the Md./Pa. College Career Center Alliance attended the webinar “Intelligence Careers: Analyst Roles in Federal Agencies.” Panelists included the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the National Security Agency, the National Intelligence University, the Department of Defense and the Maryland State Department. The five panelists gave information about their careers through a series of questions. Some important topics discussed during the event were importance of a diverse skillset, the application process, internship benefits and the advantages of working for intelligence agencies.

Importance of a Diverse Skillset

One misconception about the intelligence community at large is that only analysts are hired. These agencies are composed of employees with diverse skills and various employment and educational backgrounds. For example, experts in geography map humanitarian issues and communicate opinion polling results, and every agency needs adaptive individuals to tackle cyber and technology issues. You can be an expert in any field, as demonstrated by some of the roles above. If you’re not sure how your talents apply, we recommend doing background research on different U.S. agencies to see which best aligns with your skillset.

Furthermore, these agencies actively recruit people from diverse backgrounds to avoid the “old boy network” commonly associated with intelligence careers. With increasing focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion, even this webinar itself is part of a concerted effort to change for the better. These agencies prioritize objectivity in their hiring process and, just as importantly, career development. Your background will not impede your qualifications.

Application Process

Before applying, you should be aware there are some barriers to getting a security clearance. Background investigations are a hiring prerequisite for any intelligence agency, regardless of position a person applied for. Lying or withholding information is a fast track to disqualification through the polygraphs and background investigations conducted. Some other barriers might include having a criminal record, too many foreign contacts or even excessive unstructured debt.

Internship Benefits

Most of the panel attributed their career choice to former internships. The Department of Defense representative asserted that internships would get your “foot in the door, even as an undergrad.” Internships allow you to obtain a security clearance, begin making connections, and form a reputation. Internships open early to conduct background checks and require applications about a year in advance. Regardless of agency applied to, the clearance process takes months. The panelists agreed that the best advice for tackling this challenge is to begin early.

Career Advantages

The intelligence community is rewarding for many reasons. Your career can influence policy making or have an immediate impact on national security. As you are unable to bring your work home, there is a separation between the two that is rare to find in many jobs. Additionally, there are numerous opportunities for academic engagement outside of your daily job. For example, the State Department representative explained how he is paid to continue learning another language.

Entering the intelligence community is an extensive process that may require you to consider it as a longer-term goal. If you follow the panelists’ advice to research and apply to internships, as well as find jobs in the meantime that will build your skillset and help your career development, you too can would in this industry. If this is a career that interests you, be proactive! The Career Center can help guide you through this career process so don’t be afraid to stop by.


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