Want to Work at the CIA? Why Your Lifestyle and Mindset Matter

Career Advice

Thinking of working at the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)?  Just about any type of job you can imagine is available. In the CIA’s own words, “The CIA offers exciting career opportunities and a dynamic environment. We’re on the forefront of world-altering events — as they happen. So working here isn’t just a job, it’s a mindset and a lifestyle.”

Let’s talk a bit about the mindset and lifestyle.

CIA Mindset

The organization one of the most mission focused organizations within the federal government. It is an executive branch agency, supporting the policymakers of the United States. The mission is to be the eyes and ears of the United States and provide policy makers the necessary information on global activities. The purpose is to keep the country safe, and provide decision makers the opportunity to make good decisions.

I spent more than 30 years within the CIA. Some would say I grew up in the CIA , having been hired prior to my 21st birthday. Given that experience, I believe a career within the organization is among the most rewarding an individual can have. Knowing that every day one is making a difference, a difference which matters, is powerful.  I would add that what you might be doing when you arrive may not be what you will be doing when you conclude your career.

I know, I moved through the four directorates during my career. There is something truly special about knowing you or your colleagues are at that “pointy end of the spear” and have the full support of the organization.

But, if you have a need for the spotlight, you might want to look elsewhere. Success is rarely relished in a public manner. Sadly, failures, and there will be some from time to time, sometimes make the front page of the global media.

CIA Lifestyle

Where candidates flounder is the mismatch of their lifestyle and the organization’s expectations. I live in Washington State, where marijuana is legal. The federal statutes specifically prohibit government agencies from granting security clearances to users of control substances, which includes marijuana. Many applicants think this criteria has flexibility. There is no flexibility. Similarly, petty theft and intellectual property theft (illegal downloading or sale of songs, games software, etc.) may be a disqualifying event for employment.

How will they know?  The background check may turn up the activity of the applicant, but if it doesn’t, then the polygraph most likely will, as you are asked about theft, drug use, and other lifestyle choices which may be disqualifications for employment consideration.

CIA Professional Prerequisites

  • Work experience?  Having work experience is a huge plus, including that which was acquired as part of one’s educational progression.
  • Degree? No you don’t need a degree to apply to work, but it is recommended. They make no bones about it, a college degree, preferably an advanced degree is desired.
  • Citizenship?  Only US citizens need apply
  • How to apply?  Online … apply for the position you want directly online
  • Age? 18 or older.

CIA Myths

As I noted in the post, Are CIA Officers Bad Ass, there are a few myths about CIA employees floating about. The CIA has a page to discuss some of these myths, and help correct misconceptions about being an employee. These range from the “daily car chase in a foreign city” to “use of social media” by employees, and many more.

Christopher Burgess (@burgessct) is an author and speaker on the topic of security strategy. Christopher, served 30+ years within the Central Intelligence Agency. He lived and worked in South Asia, Southeast Asia, the Middle East, Central Europe, and Latin America. Upon his retirement, the CIA awarded him the Career Distinguished Intelligence Medal, the highest level of career recognition. Christopher co-authored the book, “Secrets Stolen, Fortunes Lost, Preventing Intellectual Property Theft and Economic Espionage in the 21st Century” (Syngress, March 2008).