Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Part 2 -- The Intelligence Job Market From 20,000 Feet (How To Get A Job In Intelligence)

Part 1 -- Introduction

A high altitude survey of the intelligence job market yields some pretty interesting observations. The first is that the intelligence job market is finite. There are some pretty distinct boundaries and limits to the size of it and knowing these limits and boundaries helps you understand the potential for jobs in this market.

Let's start with the basics. How many intelligence jobs are there in the US and the world? How many people are actually employed in intelligence? We will start with the most famous of the job markets -- the US Intelligence Community.

Jobs In The US Intelligence Community (IC)

According to a late 2006 US News and World Report article, there are about 100,000 people working in the US intelligence community of which about 17,000 are analysts. This number was more or less confirmed in mid-2008. While it is unclear what exactly has been counted and what has not, these numbers provide a good starting place for some back of the envelope analysis useful to job seekers.

For example, how many analysts does the US IC need each year? Well, if you imagine a 25 year career for an analyst and all of them stay until retirement, then you are looking at about 700 a year (17,000/25 = 680).

It is virtually certain that only a few of these analysts stay all the way until retirement, however. More importantly, the number of analysts in each year group is not equal. In fact, one of the common comments about the intel community is that there are a number of "old" analysts soon to reach retirement and an even larger number of young analysts who have been hired since 9/11. This creates what has been called a "bathtub curve" (where the surge of new analysts is at one end of the time line and the large number of soon-to-be retirees is at the other end. In the middle is a smaller number of people who were hired between the end of the Cold War and 9/11).

All this makes it even more difficult to estimate how many entry-level jobs (including analyst jobs) there are in a given year. I would guess (and it is only a guess) that the "normal" number of analyst positions that need to be filled each year in the US government falls somewhere between half this idealized replacement rate to twice that rate or from about 350 to 1400.

These replacement rate numbers are particularly important as the halcyon days of the hiring boom in intelligence over the last 8 years are likely over. Budget strains are virtually certain to put a damper on significant levels of hiring beyond the replacement rate although the importance of the intelligence mission and the continued emergence of new threats (we are hearing that there will continue to be a growth market in cyber threat analysts into the next year and beyond, for example) will likely ensure that replacements get hired for those analysts and others who retire or quit.

The situation gets even worse, though, when you look at some of the agencies. The CIA is reporting a record number of applications this year -- 180,000 -- for the jobs they have open. The CIA has about 20,000 people in it and, if the overall percentage of analysts in the IC holds true for the CIA, then that means that there are about 3400 (17% of 20,000) analysts housed at Langley. Without any growth and if 5% of them are leaving or retiring this year then there are roughly (very roughly) 170 analyst positions available.

Furthermore, if 17% of the 180,000 applicants are trying to fill analyst positions then getting an analyst job at the CIA is about 18 times harder than getting accepted to Harvard as an undergrad (Harvard's acceptance rate in 2007 was 9.2%. 17% X 180,000 = 30,600. 170/30,600 = .6%).

All of these are just logical guesses but even if I am wrong by half (in other words, the number of jobs is twice what I estimate it to be) the total number of jobs and jobs available each year in the US Intelligence Community (and the number of analyst jobs in particular) is by no means enormous.

Including the number of analyst and other jobs available through contractors does not actually improve the picture that much. If recent numbers are accurate, then there are only about 37,000 contract employees in the US IC. Again, how many of these are analyst positions is unknown but if the 17% rule holds true here as well, it means an increase of a little more than 6000 analysts positions available through various contractors.

While not insubstantial, the number of entry-level positions through contractors is probably even more limited as we go into 2010 than through the government directly. In the first place, a significant number of intelligence professionals take jobs through contractors when they retire. In the second place, the days of large contracts for intelligence services seems to be coming to an end. I suspect that many of these contract jobs may get "converted" to government positions rather than go away (the government is going to still need the analysts regardless of who the analysts work for) over the next several years but the absolute number of positions that will need to be filled each year is probably in lower half of the 75-450 range.

In short, if you add up everything and round it all off to make it easy to wrap your head around it, there are likely about 1000 analyst jobs a year in the combined government and contractor worlds supporting the US IC. The number could be as low as around 400 or as high as about 2000 but given limited prospects for growth and some guess-timates for replacement rates, 1000 seems about right.

A couple of other things come out of this analysis. First, the competition for these jobs is fierce. I strongly suspect that the CIA gets the lion's share of attention when it comes to job applications but I would also guess that, in this economy, all 16 members of the intel community and the contractors that support them have seen an increase in the number of applications.

Likewise, not all of these 1000 or so positions are truly "entry-level". It is inevitable that some, perhaps many, of these positions are limited to people with significant levels of experience or who speak Farsi fluently or whatever.

Finally, I may well be off by a significant amount here. In addition to being terrible at math, the numbers I am basing this analysis on may be gross under- or over-estimates (it IS the intelligence community after all...). I am hoping that some of the readers of this blog will post a comment or two pointing us all to some major hiring binge that I have missed.

Even if I am wrong, however, I think the first thing that job seekers need to fully understand is that the US national security market is both limited and competitive.

Tomorrow: The Good News!
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Anonymous said...

Thanks for the post, great series.
How do you think veteran advantages factor in? I feel it's much harder to break into the IC without service experience...would that be a fair assessment?

Kristan J. Wheaton said...

Thanks for the kind words about the series.

I hope to explore the relative advantages of various sets of previous experiences later in the series but the short answer to your questions is I think you are generally correct.

There are absolute hiring preferences for prior service job candidates built into the government service system. In addition, someone with prior service likely has at least a secret clearance and may well have a top secret. Both are helpful, even if lapsed, as they indicate an ability to be cleared.

I said I think it is generally correct, however, because I disagree with the word "much". I think it is easier to get into the community with some prior service on your resume but not much easier. The IC seems to be looking for an awful lot of different types of people these days. I think that there are many avenues into the IC (our experience here at Mercyhurst strongly suggests that prior military service is not a pre-requisite, for example) but prior military service is definitely a benefit.

Anonymous said...

Often people come upon or gravitate to intelligence jobs from other fields that prepared them in one way or another to do intelligence work. Having worked in the intelligence field first as an analyst and then as a manager for more than 15 years now in three different agencies I can say that it IS true that intelligence is not a recognized labour category and jobs are rarely posted and hard to find. I would agree that networking is key, otherwise your chances of being in the right place at the right time are minimal. On a personal note, I did not get an MBA to work in intelligence but an opportunity came up and I gravitated to the field as I found the work to be very mentally stimulating. I presently work in criminal intelligence and my business background has been invaluable to me in my work. I don't think any other field would afford me the satisfaction this career choice has given me. Finally as a person who has hired intelligence analysts, I would say that for me, one of the key aspects I look for in an analyst are imagination and courage. Without imagination, an analyst can never hope to seize the big picture view required in intelligence analysis. Without courage the analyst will never take the risk of presenting novel or controversial intelligence assessments. Intelligence is not an easy field to get into nor to work in. It requires much courage, stamina and unflinching conviction in your assessments. Best of luck to those who choose this field and remember...persistence pays off!

Kristan J. Wheaton said...

Good words.

Thanks for the feedback!


Anonymous said...

The benefit from being a veteran in applying for intel jobs is twofold in my view.

#1 you get a +5 or +10 point increase on the initial application. In this case you still have to get past the computerized USAJobs and CPOL hatchet and hopefully interviews. At that point, it's all classic interview preparation, appearance, verbal skills, etc (unless #2 applies).

#2 You have contacts and networks that someone coming out of school or elsewhere will not have. This is especially true if you're based in Arizona or D.C areas. Most of these jobs are filled by military that simply trade in the uniform but keep the job as a civilian or contractor.

Networking and personal contacts gets the jobs.

Kristan J. Wheaton said...

Thanks for the very specific insights. I was hoping that readers would post what they knew for the benefit of others!


jcb said...

I enjoy reading your blog with each new post. I'd like to chime in and see what you think about these numbers:

The US Army (one of the pieces of the 16 IC divisions you mentioned) trains between 1200-1800 entry-level intel analysts every year (Mil. Occupational Specialty 35F). I don't know what the rest of the services provide, but I believe the Army trains the bulk of DoD analysts.

From what I gather, your numbers were aimed at the subset of intel analysts OUTSIDE the military (coming straight from academia, for example). It does appear to be very competitive for that category of job. While I am NOT recruiting for the Army, it appears that if a student is looking for an entry-level analyst job and are daunted by the .6% acceptance rate at CIA, it would make much more sense for them to enlist in one of the services, where they have a very good chance at getting that analyst position. This would still include them in your overall IC numbers.

If you re-work your numbers in regard to all entry level analyst positions within the IC, I think you need to include the military's numbers as well.

Thanks for the post. It always surprises me what I find on your site, and I look forward to each post!


Kristan J. Wheaton said...


Thanks for the kind words!

As an old soldier myself, I am in no position to disagree with you on the opportunities the Army (and other services) offer.

I did not include them in the estimates, however, because those positions you are describing are mostly enlisted positions.

Nothing against enlisted analysts -- had a bunch of great ones working for me for many years -- but students who have just finished four years in college are unlikely to want to do something that they could have done out of high school.

On the officer side, there is no guarantee that they will be branched MI. I suspect similar rules apply in other branches of the service.

Your point, however, is well-taken. There are hundreds if not thousands of analyst jobs open each year through all the branches of the service.

Anonymous said...

Additionally, as an enlisted soldier, you can still be called upon for jobs that aren't necessarily analyst related. Military fiddlework, for lack of a better phrase, is something you're still subjected to as an enlisted.

A good cross in between might be the National Guard or Reserves which still have analyst positions, send you to the appropriate schools, and give you the necessary security clearances.

Keith said...

Let me bounce this off you:

I am 38 and due to retire from the USCG in less than 5 years. By the way, we hate being called Coasties. Its one of those things we can say but you cant :p

I have been an HH65 (Helo's) Search and Rescue person first with all the other missions the USCG has second. I even did a 30 day TAD to an intelligence fusion center. Currently I am a recruiter.

About 4 years ago I decided I did not want to fix helicopters anymore so I embarked on a degree in Intelligence Studies (Terrorism Studies major) with AMU. I would like to get a MA in Operational Intel or Terrorism Studies with AMU.

Here is the question in 2 parts: A. How viable is a degree with AMU when competing for a job? (I would like to work at the NCTC or DHS OIA)
B. Without the intel background am I wasting my time and chasing a dream?

Kristan J. Wheaton said...

Yeah, I know. And Navy guys hate being called "squids" and Air Force guys hate being called "fly boys" but I am an old Army guy and sometimes I just can't help myself... (Just to be clear, though; I have nothing but the deepest respect for you guys and fully expect to be referred to as a "grunt" in return).

With regard to question 1, I am hesitant to comment on AMU mostly because I know that there are a million other people more qualified to answer your question (I suspect that one or two will post something here, in fact...).

I recommend you contact AMU's Career Services Department (they may not call it that but I am sure that they have some sort of a section dedicated to helping their grads get jobs). They have certainly dealt with people in your position and will be the very best ones to advise you.

I would also recommend that you start networking now. Networking in this industry is very important (second only to attitude when it comes to finding a job -- I plan to talk more about both later in the series).

I would start by walking across the hall or down the block or whatever and speaking with your closest Coast Guard intel office about the opportunities in the Coast Guard.

With regard to question 2, my instincts tell me no, you are not wasting your time but it very much depends on the rest of your story. I would advise you to be as flexible as possible, though. There is nothing wrong with having a dream job in mind but it might take a less direct route to get there.

Good Luck!


Anonymous said...

Keith, I've heard a lot of great things about AMU. Although Mercyhurst is a tremendously impressive program, AMU deserves kudos, too. The online-only format and lack of traditional "physical" campus obviously allows AMU to recruit faculty regardless of geographical limitations. Another impressive aspect of AMU in my opinion is how the B.A. program offers several different intelligence concentrations: intelligence analysis; intelligence collection; criminal intelligence (law enforcement); intelligence operations; and terrorism studies.
The concentrations available for AMU's master's program are impressive as well. One limitation I see with the Mercyhurst program is the relative absence of specialization options.

How far will a degree from AMU get someone? I have no idea. Mercyhurst, to its credit, has a huge amount of contacts in the intelligence field. And Mercyhurst is also an applied program, allowing students to work on relevant intelligence projects while still in school. Mercyhurst produces very qualified grads.

But in terms of educating currently-serving military personnel, AMU is by far the better option. In my opinion, Mercyhurst's online options, while impressive, are still too limited. Perhaps that will change in time. Both programs are outstanding in their own ways. Ideally, they should both try to learn from one another.

Ken, I commend you on working toward a degree from AMU while still serving on active duty in the Coast Guard. What you have to focus on now is understanding the job market, networking and contacts. You've already made a contact here with Kris Wheaton; that's a big plus. Kris is both an outstanding source of knowledge on the field and a great representative of his program (which is a damn good one).

Finally, try to use AMU's network of current intelligence faculty. It's also worth a shot to try to contact former AMU intelligence students who have since graduated. Maybe those folks can give you some guidance as well.

Good luck!

Knight1 said...

Just found this series and want to chime in re AMU. Anonymous is correct - and AMU is well thought of in the IC. Just finished my MA in Strategic Intelligence - Intelligence Operations (conferral 8/15/2009). The faculty is fantastic and at the Master program level - all professors are or have been IC professionals. It was a terrific program.

The student lounge had this series of posts listed which is how I gravitated here - I, too, am looking to crack into the IC. Thanks so much for putting this out there.

Anonymous said...

I was just recently referred to your site – very interesting information about becoming an intelligence analyst and look forward to reading more as more is posted. I come from the business sector and very intrigued by working as an intelligence analyst for the IC (dream job).

Coming from the business sector, I am used to networking and utilizing personal contacts as this is how folks in our industry tend to find a job and get hired (I think for IT in Atlanta it is about 75% of jobs are found through networking and personal contacts). I noticed on your blog that it is listed that networking and personal contacts are keys to getting those hard-to-get jobs in the IC.

My questions:

1 – By the very nature of these types of positions and working for the IC, would networking and using personal contacts expand the base of individuals who know your desired role in the IC and would this not hurt the mission of the IC?

2 – Coming from another industry, what is the best way to take advantage of (not abuse) the acquaintances you meet in the public sector? In other words, what is ok and what is not ok to ask help with in your hunt to find a job in the IC (ie, ask them to pass your resume along to folks they may know, ask them who they may know who has an opportunity, ask them to make a recommendation for you, etc.).

3 – If hiring is mainly done through the internet through an online application (or at least what I have seen), how does networking and personal contacts help you with these online applications? Are there other ways to get your resume to a hiring authority without going through the online application process?

Thanks so much!