Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Part 4 -- Even Better News!! (How To Get A Job In Intelligence)

(Note: First, I apologize to all about the frequency of these posts. Life is getting in the way, unfortunately, and the best I can do right now is move forward in fits and starts. Second, if you are new to the series or have not yet had a chance, I strongly recommend you take a look at the previous posts and, in particular, the comments. Many people have taken the time to add their own insights to mine or to ask good questions which I have tried to answer. The series is more useful to everyone due to their efforts.)

Part 1 -- Introduction
Part 2 -- The Intelligence Job Market From 20,000 Feet
Part 3 -- The Good News!

The skills that the intelligence professional possesses are in high demand throughout the business world. In fact, the President's Council Of Economic Advisers recently issued a report that stated, "Employers value workers who can think critically and solve problems. Many highly-paid occupations require workers with good analytic and interactive skills." Sounds like an intel analyst to me (except for maybe the "highly paid" part...).

In fact, the largest and the fastest growing job market for intelligence and, in particular, intelligence analysts, is likely to be companies who need the skills that the typical intelligence analyst possesses in order to understand the broad range of largely unstructured data that confronts the corporate decisionmaker.

Our own conservative estimate is that there are close to half a million jobs currently in this market and more than 50,000 (yes, 50,000) jobs will be added over the next 5-10 years. These numbers are based on a variety of statistics but before I get into those, I need to outline some of the challenges in this area.

The Challenges

The first problem is definitional. The same Council Of Economic Advisers report I cited above also says, "In 2003, for example, a quarter of American workers were in jobs that were not even listed among the Census Bureau’s Occupation codes in 1967, and technological change has only accelerated since then." Needless to say, "intelligence analyst" wasn't (and still isn't) one of them.

What do we call intelligence professionals working in the business world? When you want to do a job search, what key terms do you use?

Well, one you shouldn't use is "business intelligence". This term has been appropriated by a wide variety of software companies who produce applications that allow companies to examine in greater detail the structured information that they already have. This information is mostly about the internal workings of the organization and the output of these programs is designed to support recommendations for improving the efficiency or profitability of a company's operations.

These software packages typically do not focus on analyzing the unstructured data that swirls around the outside of the organization. In short, it is not the kind of "intelligence" we are talking about here. Our kind of intelligence focuses on events and organizations that are outside the control of but still relevant to the business we are tasked to support. This data -- which can include blog posts and tweets and random emails -- is largely unstructured and requires a vastly different skill set and methods to understand.

So, if not business intelligence, then what? I have done dozens of studies for businesses of all sizes. In almost all cases, the CEOs and managers I have worked with are interested in two things: Where is my market and what are my competitors doing? It is no surprise then that the terms "competitive intelligence" and "market intelligence" are worth using to find jobs.

Check out the growth rates in the two charts below for jobs bearing these terms (found by my colleague, Prof. Shelly Freyn on one of the better job search engines out there,

The problem is that these terms are not industry standards. You could just as easily search for jobs as a "market analyst" or a "research analyst" or a "marketing specialist in competitive research" or many others. The Bureau of Labor Statistics uses the term "market research analysts" but it is unclear precisely which kinds of jobs this definition includes. The wide variety of terms (coupled with the red herring of "business intelligence") makes hunting for the right kind of intelligence job in the business world a bit of a pain.

The second challenge is getting employers to recognize the need for intelligence. We know, for example, of a number of companies who refuse to call the positions "intelligence" positions because they think it implies that they practice industrial espionage. You can usually get past this objection with some discussion (the Society of Competitive Intelligence Professional's and the American Marketing Association's positions on the ethics of their professions go a long way towards alleviating some of these concerns).

Even if you can get past the spook factor, though, there is still a perception by many businesses that they do not need intelligence. My technique in these cases is to ask the managers and executives I deal with, "Who in your company has it as a fundamental part of their job -- as part of their job description -- to systematically examine all the factors relevant to your company's success but outside your company's control, integrate those factors as necessary and provide estimates of how those factors will change over time in order to support your planning processes?"

The answers vary, of course. Some companies have market analysts but they are not tasked to look at the competition. Others have competitive intelligence and market analysts but clearly have other intelligence needs that aren't being met (like the company with a global presence that needs to understand if its employees are likely to get kidnapped or the company who transports critical raw materials in ships that travel off the coast of Somalia...).

Even if all the various needs are covered, no one is integrating the reports, coordinating the activities or providing meaningful estimates about how conditions are likely to change. Some places have even told me that performing this function is "everyone's job" but I just laugh (I can do that because I am a professor and not a consultant).

No matter what the answer, the discussion leads to the follow-on question: "Don't you think it would be useful to have someone who does all this for you?" The answer is always, "Yes" but it still translates only slowly, if at all, into intelligence jobs.

Even if the company or organization accepts the need for intelligence and even if there is job position available, the final challenge is to get the business to understand the kind of intelligence qualifications necessary for the job. All too often companies look to particular degree fields which are inappropriate for their needs. The most common example is looking for a specialist when a generalist would do a better job.

Imagine you are an engineering company and you have lots of engineers who do engineering stuff really well. You need to understand the environment -- political, social, economic, competitive -- in which the company will be operating. Who do you hire? Too often, I see this kind of company go after an engineer to fill this kind of analytic position.

This is an expensive mistake. The engineer that gets hired to do this is likely just waiting to move to a "real" engineering position and costing the company an arm and a leg in the process. In addition, this new hire will speak the language of engineering but is less well prepared than an intel analyst (who wants the job and is likely to stay in it) to look at the broader range of issues in which the company is interested.

Back To The Numbers

Despite these challenges, the market potential here for intelligence analysts is enormous, dwarfing the numbers of analysts needed in the Law Enforcement or National Security realms.

According to data Shelly found on the Bureau of Labor Statistics site, the number of "market research analysts" alone is set to rise from 234,000 in 2006 to 281,000 (+47,000) by 2016. Other analyst positions within the business community are almost certainly at least partially intelligence analyst positions by another name. How many of the 236,000 "financial analysts", for example, are actually looking that the risk posed by political factors in foreign countries in much the same way as a CIA Desk Officer? If it is anything close to 10%, then the number of jobs in this sector alone exceeds the total number of analysts (17,000) in the US national security intelligence community. Under these circumstances, I feel more than comfortable with a 50,000 increase estimate.

Resolving the challenges inherent in getting a job in the corporate world as an intel analyst are going to take some time. Intelligence has to grow up as a discipline and realize that is more than James Bond or George Smiley. Until this happens, it is unlikely that the world of corporate intelligence will become easier to move around in. In the meantime, see the job hunt as a test of your analytic skills with the full knowledge that these woods are full of game.

Next: Beyond The Big Three

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