Monday, July 13, 2009

How To Get A Job In Intelligence (Introduction)

UPDATE:  I have updated all of the information in this series and published it in a 2015 Kindle e-book called "How To Get A Job In Intelligence".  The book contains not only updated information but also updated links to lots of jobs sites in national security, law enforcement, business and international positions.  Best of all, you do not need a Kindle to read it!  Amazon provides a free e-book reader for virtually any device.  

Getting a job in intelligence is not easy. Some of the reasons why have to do with predictable things like security clearances. Some of the reasons are much less obvious.

The purpose of this series of posts is to explore the job market for intelligence analysts and to offer some advice based on years of talking to recruiters and watching students try to get jobs.

I will try to be as complete as possible. I intend to write about not only the national security but also the law enforcement, business and international intelligence job markets. I know, however, that I don't know everything so I invite anyone reading this to please post your comments to these posts if you have something useful or insightful to say.

I intend to focus on the entry-level, intel analyst positions as that is what I know best. Some of what I say will obviously apply to other jobs in the intel communities but I can't guarantee that it will. As they say, "Some local restrictions may apply."

OK, that is probably enough caveats; let's get started!

The First Problem

Take a second and go to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Search for "chemical engineers." Pretty soon you will wind up with a page with some very detailed statistics on it. With almost no effort you can learn that chemical engineers make an average of about $88,000 a year, that more of these engineers are employed in Texas (specifically Beaumont-Port Arthur, Texas) than anywhere else but that the chemical engineers making top dollar have jobs in San Jose, CA.

Now do a search for "intelligence". You will get a page that looks like this:

Sure, there are tons of good jokes we can make here (e.g. "Finally! We have proof! There is no intelligence at the Bureau of Labor Statistics..."), but that would be cruel and what I am really trying to do is demonstrate one of the fundamental problems of trying to get a job -- any job -- in intelligence: It is not a recognized labor category.

Because there is not a consistent set of terms describing intelligence jobs, finding where these jobs are listed is a matter of hunting and pecking around until you bump into them. Some places are better than others for finding intel jobs (and I will list as many of these places as I can find later in this series of posts), but no one place has all or even a majority of the jobs available in the various intelligence communities.

In addition, because no one organization is charged with tracking intelligence jobs (writ large) no one knows how many jobs there are out there, whether the field is growing or shrinking, what skill set is in demand now, what skill set will be in demand four years from now, etc. Sure, individual recruiters may have a good feel for their part of the market and everyone has an opinion but because there is no consistent labeling of jobs there are no consistent numbers for jobs offerings. Because there are no numbers, it is very difficult to get a feel for the market overall.

Next: The Intelligence Job Market From 20,000 Feet

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Anonymous said...

I'm really looking forward to the rest of this series as I have been trying to break into the Intelligence field for the last 11 months with no success.

Leah Roberts said...

I am also interested. I am looking forward to graduating with my Master's degree in the Fall and I have applied to every intel position that has come up on USA Jobs and also many on with no luck at all. In my area there are several military-based agencies and several contractors who do work for DoD. Many of the contracting companies like Northrup Gruman want 3-5 years of experience to start. I have applied to DIA twice for entry level positions and separately for various Intel analyst positions as well as a hiring event and I have gotten the denial letter everytime. I have been told that the narratives they ask you to write are scanned by a computer looking for specific key words before a human ever gets to see the resume or information. This may help others who just nee to tweak their narratives a little. I look forward to the rest of this blog. I hope I can help also with my few experiences, possibly so others avoid my mistakes :)

Kristan J. Wheaton said...

Thanks to you both for your comments. I am not sure that this series of posts will help but it is my intent to try to help.


Anonymous said...

A less-known tool:

Kristan J. Wheaton said...

Hadn't heard of that one but it does look good.



Anonymous said...

As a member of a family that has been involved with intelligence and grew up with that sort of atmosphere around the house, one of the biggest problems not mentioned in the blog entry is that the intelligence community is very, very close knit and untrusting of outsiders by nature. Networking is key, key, key, key, key.

With my family's background it still has been hard for me to break into the field, even with help. One interview I received was the result of attending a "Careers in National Security Law" networking event and speaking directly with the head of recruiting for the field I was interested in.

Sorry for being circumspect but you know how it is.

Errol said...

E. Adams:

I have not read these articles entirely as of yet but I will definitely read it entirely and would be interested in similar articles as I am a graduate MLIS student at St John's with an avid interest in this area. Thank you for posting.

Dries Velthuizen said...

What an exciting site. I recently retired after a career of 34 years and 23 years as intelligence officer. I plan to enter the competitive intelligence market in Africa soon. (I am staying in South Africa.) If you need an associate in Africa, please let me know.
Regards, Dr Dries Velthuizen

Anonymous said...

As the other anonymous guy said... most of my family has also been in the intelligence community. With over 70 years of experience, it has been incredibly difficult for myself as well. It's very upsetting to get the anonymous white envelope letters when all you want to do is serve your country. It's an extremely competitive field right now, and our returning soldiers of course get first dig (and rightly so).

To get anything in intelligence, you pretty much have to have a masters degree, speak at least one foreign language fluently (not Spanish), be 35 or under, physically fit, and extremely intelligent. An impeccable record and no prior drug use are pretty much a given.

Good luck... it's been very difficult for me, and very dissapointing.

Anonymous said...

Dr. Dries,

How did you first enter the field of intelligence? Did you have to go to graduate school or anything? I simply have a bachelor's in psychology and it seems like that is never enough.

Jenny said...

Interesting thought on how to get a job in Intelligence. It seems a lot harder to get this type of job. Also, am sure there are a lot of difficult requirements to have. Anyway, thanks a lot...

Jenny - Publisher of "Other Mistakes Made By Applicants For Principal Jobs"

Kristina F. said...

Obviously, this is years after the original post. But I am an Intelligence Analyst, currently inactive (by choice) in the field.

When I left Active Duty Army, I thought it would be very difficult to obtain a civilian job. It was - and it wasn't. I found the same job through hard research and also through connections. I mean that I applied for the job through two different venues (unknowingly at the time) with two different contract companies (both wanted me). Only one company won the contract and I won the job. After time off, I searched for more opportunities, without fail. I received several offers throughout the U.S.

I am a mid-level analyst, at the time without degree. A few things I've learned:
It is not the connections.
It is not the lack of intelligence jobs.
It is not a missing degree.

None of those make it difficult. It is the location of jobs, and the pinpoint skills that companies want.

Example: First job was in El Paso, which lacked a market for analysts. Companies and government agencies were begging for new hires in intelligence! Other offers were expensive states such as California, Virginia, D.C., or deployments.

Also, the analyst must have practical experience or knowledge in the exact field of expertise the employer is looking, (i.e. targeting, counterintelligence, fusion, geospatial). This knowledge needs to be pinpoint and include background, key words, databases and systems.

Finding an intel job is hard, very hard. Itself is a full time job. But a lot of research, tailored resumes for each position, preparation for telephonic interviews, and constant engagement with potential employers are essential.

With budget cuts hitting the IC, now is the time to move into the field. Once Afghanistan ends, a sea of intelligence careerists (with practical adaptive experience) will move back and flood the job market.

Anonymous said...

spy game... awesome movie for intelligence field