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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Andrew said...

Great post, thanks for giving props to Competitive Intel.

I'm working CI at MSA in Pittsburgh this summer and find it to be an excellent experience. This is my second CI job and there is no doubt in my mind CI provides significant advantages.

With all the information available in an emerging global economy, I can't imagine a firm being profitable without SOME form of CI, whether formal or informal.

No, CI and MI jobs aren't as "sexy" as national security or law enforcement intel jobs, but they are just as fulfilling. Perhaps SCIP and other organizations need to "market" CI better. On the other hand, maybe CI works best as a well kept secret.

Anonymous said...


Great series. I work in humanitarian security in the NGO community, and much of the work I do is similar to intelligence work (though we are very careful about how we phrase this). This is a small but growing field, the goal of which is to help protect humanitarian aid workers in the field. Information is critical in my line of work. The largest employer in this field is the UN, which usually requires police or military background, though this is changing. NGOs are a great starting point--I went from grad school directly to the Africa desk at my organization. One great benefit is that I get to do analysis and also field visits to holiday spots like Darfur, Chad, eastern DRC, etc. The pay is low, but job security is good (disasters don't hinge on the economy) and the experience--especially in the field--is invaluable. Keep up the good work!

Kris A. said...

Your field in the humanitarian sector sounds very interesting. Where and how would those types of positions be advertised?

Anonymous said...

Relief web is the best resource ( Use the drop down menu and select security, there are usually 4 or 5 new positions per month. It's also worth searching other sectors, as NGO desk officers tend engage in a lot of analysis (i.e., if you're running a refugee program in Peshawar, you'd better be on top of political and military affairs). As you pointed out, intelligence work goes well beyond the traditional federal agencies. There are also some good private risk consultancies, such as Control Risks, that cater to both private businesses and NGOs. As I mentioned, the field is growing, to the point where one group is starting a professional association that will include certifications, etc (not yet on line). Hope this helps.

Erik said...

I just got done reading the 4 part series you posted about finding a job in the intelligence community. You make some very interesting observations. Some of which are correct, but there are glaring oversights about the overall process.

First of all, I would like to state that if someone is interested in a job in the intelligence community, it should be fairly easy for them to find the jobs... If they are truly analytical / creative thinkers.

The one site I figured would get a mention in any one of the four part series would have been

I'd post more, but I might come across as snide, but I would love to discuss this topic if you are interested. I've been in the intel industry for over 12 years, and would enjoy helping an educator get better information for their students if i can.

e.s.cohenlevy at gmail

Kristan J. Wheaton said...

Thanks to all for the great comments!

I intend to write about jobs in commercial intelligence agencies, thinks tanks and NGOs next but I genuinely appreciate the reference to ReliefWeb as it is one of the best places to start. I don't want to steal my thunder but another place that occasionally posts job listings and covers some of the opportunities in this field is the blog, Patronus Analytical (

For Erik, I fully intend to post a link list as I get closer to the end of the series and is one of the sites I will recommend.

However, really only covers (with some exceptions) intelligence jobs in the national security career field. Other intelligence jobs, like the ones I discuss in parts 3 and 4 of this series, would be unlikely to be found if you looked at

I do agree that the job seeker has to take some personal responsibility in finding a job and that there are a number of jobs out there. I also think, however, that the field can be a bit confusing for the entry-level person trying to get a position for the first time which is why I decided to write this series.

Finally, I certainly don't assume I have a lock on knowledge in this field. Please do not hesitate to share any information that might be of use here on the blog.

Anonymous said...

This is such a great series. A recent discussion Kris and I had in another thread focused on some of these issues, too. For those interested, check out this thread.

Anonymous said...

What are everyone's views to the transferability of skill sets? Would experience in the military/national security sector easily transfer to say competitive intelligence? Obviously there would be procedural and terminology issues, but that is not much different than say moving from analyzing Iraqi tank divisions to analyzing an insurgent group in Africa.

Anonymous said...

Of the three main areas of possible employment for intelligence analysts, the business sector is by far the one that stumps me the most.

First, let's forget about job titles that are strictly "intelligence analyst" jobs. Let's look at attributes and skill sets and how they can be valuable to a company.

How many times have you guys read articles saying how businesses are looking for candidates possessing the following skills?

--Analytical Skills
--Solid writing skills
--Solid speaking skills
--Experience and ability to work in groups and on projects

The Mercyhurst program puts out graduates each year who are very strong in all of these skills. Mercyhurst grads also have great skills in researching, classifying and computerizing information. They can help a company on a lot of levels.

It's amazing to me that more businesses aren’t attracted to hiring folks with this kind of skill set.

Is it because these students don't actually have a business degree? If so, that's small-minded thinking on the part of businesses. And heck, there are many business programs where students rarely do presentations or much project work. The Mercyhurst program does a ton of this stuff. It's not a "given" by any means that business students gain experience in developiong the same kind of skill set that Mercyhurst or other intelligence students develop.

Many corporate human resource departments are only geared to look for certain key things like business degrees, certifications, etc. And when it comes to an intelligence degree, most HR folks probably don’t even understand what it means.

If they spent less time focusing on degree names and more time looking at attributes and skill sets, they'd understand just how valuable intelligence students can be to a company.

Kristan J. Wheaton said...

I, too, sometimes wonder about businesses and their approach to an "intelligence" degree.

On the one hand, I understand your point completely. Once someone hires a Mercyhurst grad, they are usually thrilled with the capabilities they have in exactly the areas you identify.

On the other hand, getting a company to the point of hiring such a graduate is generally a time-consuming process that begins with a visit to the campus, continues with an intern that knocks their socks off and winds up with a recruiting visit in October.

As more and more intelligence studies programs come online, I think that this will gradually dissipate. In fact, I can see a time when employers look first to "intelligence schools" for qualified graduates in the same way they look today to "law schools" and "medical schools" in those fields (H/T to my colleague Steve Marrin for the idea).

Anonymous said...

This is a wonderful series and I am so happy to have found it. If anyone gets this can you fix the internal links that purport to take you to Part 3? Most of the time they take you to a page that has nothing to do with this blog series. Thanks!