We often like to think that the world of the clandestine service mirrors Hollywood fiction – right down to the point where a suit and tie-clad CIA agent recruits you into service after following you for several months, interviewing all of your professors and leave several dead-drops hinting at the possibility of a career as a spy. Truth is much more boring than fiction, as a CIA hiring chief recently pointed out.
You’re not likely to find an opening for overseas agent on USA Jobs, but the application process on the CIA’s website is fairly straightforward. The advice is similar to what you’d find at any company – research the mission, the top needs, and build a first-class resume that’s tailored to a specific position. (Hint: just submitting a general resume online and assuming your CIA agent material isn’t going to cut it – you’re going to need to show some first-rate gifts in key areas such as analysis, language or cyber. Make sure your resume is tailored to a specific in-demand position).
When it comes to what questions to expect during a CIA interview, Ron Patrick, the CIA’s head of recruitment, says there is a lot of misinformation online. A few of the questions you might expect include:
- Why do you want to work for the CIA?
- Tell me about the expectations that will be asked of you by working at the CIA.
- Share an example from your recent professional or educational experience where you successfully navigated an ambiguous situation.
- Please describe an example of a time you were in a leadership role and failed. What were the lessons learned and your subsequent change of behavior?
- In what ways have you recently or currently serve others?
Sound familiar? That’s because the questions are typical of those you’d be asked at just about any interview. What does make the CIA hiring experience different? It’s two-fold – you’ll see a much greater emphasis on integrity and trustworthiness, not just skills, and you’ll also have to pass a pretty rigorous security clearance process and background investigation that will delve into any past indiscretions, from drug use to overseas travel. Do you have to have a squeaky clean background to get a job with the CIA, Patrick says no.
“People who come to the CIA are normal people, meaning they’ve had some difficulties in their life, perhaps a physical or mental disability, or went through a bad period. But as long as they meet our threshold, and they can perform the job while holding a security clearance, we will hire them,” said Patrick. “If it’s a medical issue, we have a lot of conversations with our doctors and the applicant’s doctor. And if everyone is in agreement that the issue won’t be a problem or is under control, we go ahead. There is a flip side to this as well. There are things that can happen to you as a person when you are working for the CIA. I could be driving home and get into a car wreck and get injured and my whole life is now different because of an incident. We try really hard to take care of our employees in that respect. If the employee can maintain the responsibility required of their security clearance and do the job, we take care of our employees. Some people say you have to be the ‘perfect’ person to work at the CIA. We are normal people. We try and accommodate things that happen to people.”