Monday, August 17, 2009

Part 8 -- Going It On Your Own (How To Get A Job In Intelligence)

Part 1 -- Introduction
Part 2 -- The Intelligence Job Market From 20,000 Feet
Part 3 -- The Good News!
Part 4 -- Even Better News!
Part 5 -- Beyond The Big Three
Part 6 -- Beyond Borders
Part 7 -- Beyond Borders: India, Europe And South Africa

Before I move on to all of the tips, tricks and advice I have collected (and others have given me), I felt I would be remiss if I did not at least mention the possibility of going it on your own -- starting your own business in intelligence.

For many people this probably sounds about as dumb as a barrel of hair but for others, with an entrepreneurial personality, it can be the best possible choice. There are lots of resources available to help you get started. For example, if you want to see if you have to have the personality for entrepreneurship, this is a pretty good test. If you want to see what aspect of the business you might be interested in, this article should be helpful.

Two sources that I think might be particularly useful would be Entrepreneur magazine. While there is a tendency in that magazine to focus on franchises (not really an option for intel entrepreneurs (though, who knows? Estimates R'Us anyone?)), there are also a number of good articles on the entrepreneurial life in general.

The second and often overlooked source is the Small Business Administration. This could conceivably be a gold mine for some entrepreneurs. My own impression is that the degree of helpfulness very much depends on the actual office you are dealing with but it, along with any state/local equivalents, can be very helpful.

Beyond my very superficial thoughts, I wanted to get some insider input, so I went out to a number of people who have gone the entrepreneurial pathway themselves. I was going to just use snippets but both of the people who were kind enough to respond, put some time and effort into what they wanted to say. Here, then, with just a little light editing, are their thoughts on the intelligence entrepreneur:

Mike Himley, President and CEO of Eagle Intelligence

My intelligence perspective comes primarily from a business background but I have worked around law enforcement intelligence and intelligence fusion centers and I have found the differences in definition and understanding striking, oftentimes even within the same organization. Could it be they’re all wrong? Or maybe they’re all partly correct. I think it’s more of the latter.

If you asked for the definition of intelligence from someone in national security intelligence, law enforcement intelligence, business intelligence, or the field of competitive intelligence, you would end up with widely different answers. I’ve noticed that, even now, the Society of Competitive Intelligence Professionals seems to be struggling to redefine what they do because few outside the organization understand it. Some are even questioning if Librarians are in the business of intelligence.

If you’re a student of Intelligence analysis and you’re sure you want to work in one of the three-letter Government Intel agencies, then I’m not the best person to offer advice on how to get in. But I can suggest a few ways to make yourself more valuable so jobs find you. To start with, think of intelligence analysis as a skill set instead of a job title, and think about the number of organizations that could benefit from making better decisions. (Reread that last sentence) Every one of those organizations could benefit from sound intelligence analysis but they might not call it intelligence.

I had a business graduate school class in Financial Statement Analysis years ago. Besides teaching, the professor was frequently hired by companies to advise how to make themselves more attractive to investors. Clients were willing to pay (a lot) for specific recommendations that would lead to a gain in investment activity in their companies.

I didn’t know it at the time, but that class could well have been a class in intelligence training. Of course it wasn’t called that and still wouldn’t be today, but it was. We pulled a minimum 10 years’ worth of financials and studied trends, looking for differentials, and finding reasons for changes. We used 10 years of history so that short term aberrations didn’t skew our analysis. I was struggling to keep up with the numerical analysis when we were instructed to read and analyze the footnotes in all the reports. Why? Because that’s where the most important information was located--in the place where most people wouldn’t read it.

Then he taught us to pay attention to photos published by the company. I still remember what he said regarding one unnamed company whose financials were trending downward. He said, “The CEO of this company is about 60 years old. Do you see the pictures of him in the previous annual reports? He’s all alone in them. But not this year. He’s standing next to the Vice President in every photo this year. And see how he’s smiling and putting his hand on the VP’s shoulder? He’s showing that he has confidence in him and that he’s trustworthy. He trusts him and so should you. I am predicting that this CEO is going to be announcing his retirement very soon. You are looking at the next CEO of this company and if you own stock in this company, you’ll do what I’m going to do and you’ll sell it immediately because this VP has no experience or background to run this company.”

Sure enough, 6 months later the stock crashed when the “surprise” retirement was announced. In this case, 10 years of financials, along with text and photos were used to develop historical context and project into the future. It was a story about the future with specific recommendations, and backed up with plenty of data and analysis. It was a lot more than a financial statement review. It sounds like intelligence doesn’t it?

But it doesn’t have to be finance. ADD VALUE TO INFORMATION. Think bigger. Think more broadly. Add value to anything that you’re passionate about. Tell a story about the future and offer recommendations on how it will help someone. Back it up with facts and logic. That’s intelligence.

You need only a few ingredients and you can make up your own career in intelligence:

  1. You need to provide context within a specific field or subject matter. You need to work on being a specialist in something. Anything. Pick something your passionate about and begin to study it. Some examples:
    1. Financials or flow of money. Applicable to businesses, law enforcement, intelligence agencies, mergers and acquisitions firms, money laundering, terrorism financing, etc. Money is everywhere and will be there tomorrow. Who needs intel on this? CIA, FBI, Law Enforcement, Businesses, FDIC, SEC, Law firms, etc.
    2. People. Anything regarding people. Demographics, Immigration/Emigration, social customs, communications, languages, etc. Applicable to health agencies, businesses planning on opening new locations or offering new services, communications planning, infrastructure planning (roads/bridges/housing), political analysis and polling, etc.
    3. Building Construction. Applicable for all industries in business, critical infrastructure threat analysis, environmental impact analysis, insurance underwriting, etc.
    4. Medical and Pharmaceutical knowledge. Applicable to medical related industries and drug companies, DEA, law enforcement, etc.
    5. Water. (Think about all the possibilities)
  1. You need training in analysis so you can sort through increasing amounts of data, analyze it, and prepare and present logical arguments or recommendations. This is a legitimate set of skills. Add your specialized knowledge and context to it, and you’re onto something big.
  2. You need imagination in order to add value to the first two, and to possibly change the definition of what intelligence is to suit your own interests.

In summary, first pick something you’re passionate about and add value to it. Then think about who might benefit the most from that intelligence. Post your work somewhere people will see it, keep learning, and jobs will begin to find you.

So you still want to work in a Government Intel agency? Terrific. Despite the poor job market, I suspect there are exceptions on occasion for those with specialized knowledge and sound analytical skills. Good luck in your interview.

Mark C. Blair, Founder and CEO of DAGIRCO

Is the job going to produce a good and distinguished career? Or will it find you stuck in an unexceptional position producing unremarkable analysis; waiting for the long line of analysts above you to retire?

Such analysts may find their analysis being shoved through a bureaucratically/institutionally shaped hole like a Play-Doh fun factory. By the time they have a chance to “innovate,” their dreams will be the prattle of historians.

The problem with ‘going it on your own,’ is the reputational paradox: If a well respected company spends millions of dollars to build a substandard analytic solution, it is a saint. If you create a truly exceptional and accurate analytic solution on a shoestring budget and no reputation, you are a witch! Will they believe you can do what you do?

The way out of this paradox is the advice of many veteran analysts: think tactical... produce ‘actionable’ intelligence. Forget ideas (vaporware). Find someone with a problem... ‘FIX IT’ and show them the solution. Focus on your client/decisionmaker and IGNORE ALL OTHERS, take no other advice. ...and learn as much as you can about databases!!!

Next: The Five Things You MUST Have To Get A Job In Intelligence
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