Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The Top 6 Skills For Entry-level Intelligence Analysts

Top 6 Skills For Entry Level Intelligence Analysts
My colleague, Dave Grabelski, has spear-headed what turned out to be a multi-year research project to identify appropriate skills for entry level analysts across all three intel communities -- national security, law enforcement and business -- and match them against what we were teaching.

As an intelligence studies program that focuses on application as well as theory, a robust understanding of the needs of the communities we support made sense.  In the end, it was a lot more work than Dave thought it would be, but, with the help of a number of dedicated students, we have one of the most comprehensive and useful strategic planning documents I have seen.

One of the really interesting tidbits to come out of this effort was the chart embedded at the top of the page.  Dave asked some students to scour the job offerings at a variety of institutions across the three communities.  He then tasked them to categorize the skills identified in the job postings.  Finally, he asked them to rank the skills based on frequency.

His researchers looked at multiple entry-level job offerings in 22 different agencies, companies and organizations.  In all, they identified nearly 30 key KSAs - Knowledge, Skills or Abilities -- for entry level analysts.  Many of them were only represented in a few postings, however.  The six on the list above were broadly represented:
  • Analytic Methodologies:  These included those methods and processes specific to the intelligence community examined.  Whether it was SWOT in the business community or ACH in the national security community or crime mapping in the law enforcement community, it is clear that knowledge of specific intelligence methodologies is important.
  • Written Communication:  Obvious and essential.  Includes both formal communications (such as finished intelligence reports) and informal communications (such as email).
  • Research Methods:  This is the general name given to a variety of skills that revolved around finding, retrieving, collating, processing and conducting first-level analysis of information. 
  • Teamwork: Again, obvious and essential.  The focus was on both small teams of analysts working on a problem and on lone analysts providing close support to operational teams.
  • Oral Communication:  Briefing skill is a must here but so is the ability to communicate effectively and professionally in less formal settings. 
  • Databases:  This represented the ability to work with structured databases.  While these are often different in content, the underlying structure is often similar.  Students clearly need to have a working familiarity with databases and how to get the most out of them.
One of the questions I always ask myself on studies like these goes something like, "83%?  Don't the other 17% need people who can write, too?"  I think it goes without saying that virtually every organization needs people who can communicate effectively; some just choose to mention it.

In fact, if you look at it through a slightly different lens, it is kind of disappointing that 83% of the organizations looking for entry level intel analysts felt compelled to say that they were looking for people with good written communications skills...

The lesson learned for students hoping to enter the field of intelligence analysis is that these are the skills your potential future employers are looking for.  Ignore them at your peril.

Related Post:  How To Get A Job In Intelligence


Christopher Hickey said...

Thanks for this article. It reinforces my research to date as we create an intel studies concentration here at Daniel Webster College.

Nick said...


This is an extremely interesting post and links in with some work we are doing in the UK to try to identify training requirements. Is there any publicly available material which further examines the outcome of the data collection/extends the table to include those other popularly identified skills/behaviours.

b3njaman said...

I love reading these articles - actually, my friend is undertaking his Post Grad research in determining 'what attributes make up a good intelligence analyst'. Personally, I think there's something missing from the post - a key aspect of every good analyst, and that's a strong sense of curiosity - a determination to know WHY! Without this, Analysts lack enthusiasm...I've written about this on my Intelligence Analyst Blog at www.intelligence101.com - I'd love to know your thoughts. Keep up the great information. Ben.