Maybe you were that kid who loved solving puzzles or figuring out hidden messages. Or maybe you have a knack seeing the patterns in the world and piecing together information. The NSA is looking for cryptanalyst candidates – from entry level/GS-7 all the way up to senior level/GS-14 – to detect problems in data flows and protect our nation.

If you’ve always dreamed of putting your puzzle skills to the test, your next challenge could be at the NSA in their Cryptanalysis Development Program (CADP).

What the Cryptanalyst Job at the NSA Entails

The NSA says that their cryptanalysts will “monitor and detect problems in data flow or collection to ensure collection quality.” The skillset lists continue with, “They analyze garbled intercepts by using processing skills and techniques, conduct analysis of signals and/or cryptographic data, and use that knowledge to diagnose and exploit encrypted material. They also debug and test software programs.”

Applicants commit to a three year development program that includes five tours of duty at different cryptanalytic offices, as well as six required courses and three elective courses. But in order to get in, applicants need a computer science, math, or engineering background. Once the application is in, you are also required to take a cognitive test. This job is not only for the curious, but also for the highly motivated problem solver who also has a technical background. Entry level salary starts a little over $73,000, and a senior level cryptanalyst for the NSA can earn up to almost $160,000 annually.

Working for NSA

The NSA describes its culture as intelligence going to work. The goal is to think abstractly, challenge the unknown – all in a coordinated effort to protect the nation. It’s a strong mission. One of NSA’s recruiters weighs in on how to apply to the NSA and make what recruiters are looking for. It’s clear that this agency prizes the motivated, curious, and growth mindset candidates.

NSA Clearance Considerations

Of course, it goes without saying that work at the NSA will require a national security clearance, and maybe that’s why they don’t even bother to announce it on the job listing. Most likely, you’ll need a Top Secret clearance. What that means to you is filling out your SF-86 and having all of your finances, history, and foreign contacts checked out – the usual process. However, some respondents on the ClearanceJobs Blog have found that the investigation and adjudication have moved at a very slow pace.  Others note that they have sailed through all of the steps to required on their end to get their Top Secret/SCI with a full scope polygraph, but are still in the final waiting stages. Word on the street is that the NSA onboarding process is a bit hands-on, which is a difficult feat when we’re dealing with COVID-19.


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Jillian Hamilton has worked in a variety of Program Management roles for multiple Federal Government contractors. She has helped manage projects in training and IT. She received her Bachelors degree in Business with an emphasis in Marketing from Penn State University and her MBA from the University of Phoenix.