It’s not every day that we get the inside scoop on how to get a job at the CIA. One of the things that the agency prides itself on is secrecy, but recently, they pulled back the curtain a little and gave their podcast listeners a bit of the 411 on getting a CIA job. Hollywood loves to paint a mysterious picture, with a CIA officer finding the latest recruit in a bar, and this is the opener on The Langley Files, the CIA’s new podcast. But the hosts, Walter and Dee, did candidates a favor and pulled in a CIA recruitment leader to the discussion to tell us how to get the job.

Why do People Want to Work for the CIA?

So, what makes people not only apply to the CIA – but stay there? CIA recruitment leader, Mike, acknowledges that the CIA has a bit of mystique about it, but they’re also quite unique. It’s hard to see that when you don’t have an inside look, but Mike notes that the work you do at the CIA can’t be done anywhere else. He says, “…our mission is unique. Our mission is challenging. It’s fascinating. It’s tip of the spear.”

He points out that you can’t go work for a spying organization just anywhere. But he also notes that most people may not realize how many career opportunities there are in the CIA. He says that there’s “140 plus different types of occupations, job types.” People don’t imagine medical doctors or logisticians with the CIA. They usually think everyone at the CIA is practically Jason Bourne. But it takes all different types of disciplines and backgrounds to make the CIA work.

So when it comes to needing all those backgrounds, the unifying factor is the mission. Being a leader in the Intelligence Community (IC) takes a special kind of desire and direction. Mike confirms that their bar for talent is high. Not just anyone can work for the CIA, but that doesn’t mean it’s not something to aspire to achieve. It’s not always bad to be rigid in setting the bar – national security depends on it.

But he says, “We want people to compete for work here because it is going to be an experience like no other….this is certainly a career path that I think would interest a lot of America.” But the key is that you have to work for it.

Challenges with the CIA Hiring Process

One of the challenges that the CIA has faced is an incredibly long hiring process. In order to get a diverse talent pool, the agency needs to shorten the hiring and vetting timeline. People can’t remain unemployed for months or years at a time. Mike confirms that this can be a deterrent to applicants.

However, he highlights that there are challenges that are also unique to the CIA. Adversaries are a real threat, so he says, “protecting applicants, protecting our officers is certainly paramount for us.” He says that if you’ve been frustrated with the process, know that there have been reasons for the hurdles. However, the agency has been working hard to remove barriers, improve the speed of the process, and make things more efficient. But at the same time, the world didn’t become a safer place yet, so applying for a job with the CIA still requires some patience.

Mike says, “but if mission is what you’re chasing, if that’s what you desire, if that’s what you’re after, I think you know, having a high bar and…waiting a little more, it’ll all pay off in the in the long run.”

How to Get Hired

As the CIA works to streamline their hiring process while maintaining security, they also are pushing to increase diversity throughout the agency. The mission requires diversity to succeed. So, the CIA has worked on ways to gain access to different locations and universities in order to succeed in meeting diversity goals. The CIA just celebrated 75 years, and they are proving to be adaptable, adding in changes never seen before at the agency.

But no matter where the CIA looks for talent, what is it that the agency is looking for? Mike noted that the first skill that jumps out to the CIA are communication abilities. Verbal and/or written communications play an integral role in the ability to operate as an intelligence agency. Applicants need to understand the power of communication. Our adversaries are using their communications to manipulate U.S. news. And policymakers need to understand the threat landscape. Communication skills play a powerful role in the CIA’s ability to operate in the IC.

However, with so many different disciplines within the CIA, not everyone needs to be off the chart at communications. Mike said, “Expertise comes across many different competencies.” And while it would take a long time to go in depth on that, he highlights that “the ability to do something that’s probably larger than yourself and sometimes larger than your nation…that ambition,” you can apply it at the CIA. It’s about promoting the security of the U.S. So, if you’re drawn to that, highlight that in your interview process. The CIA needs people to continue to drive their mission.

CIA Directorates

The history of the CIA is important. But right now, it needs motivated people to drive it into the future and continue the legacy. You may not get to work remotely, but you can be a part of something bigger than yourself. As the IC makes changes to improve work-life balance, the job does center more around the D.C. metro area – or overseas. Mike closed out the program by identifying the different directorates in the CIA. Sometimes, it’s just about finding where you fit in their five directorates.

1. Directorate of Operations

If you want to be part of the mystique of the CIA, this is where you want to go. This work can take you overseas, being the frontline for the CIA’s human intelligence.

2. Directorate of Science and Technology

If you have a STEM background or an engineering degree, this could be your jam. This is one way to support their mission using your technical skills.

3. Directorate of Digital Innovation

Mike explained that this section of the organization is all about modernization. He said, “Obviously threats today in area of cyberspace, are in artificial intelligence, data analytics, things of that nature…[they] specialize in that area.”

4. Directorate of Analysis

While the agency as a whole performs analysis, this directorate provides analysis directly to policymakers.

5. Directorate of Support

Mike explained that this is the largest directorate in the agency. Just like every company needs competent overhead employees, the CIA needs people to provide HR support, finance, logistics, security, and a whole lot more.



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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.