opportunities,” says Denise Byrd Carter, the agency’s senior diversity expert. The agency, which has employees across the country and around the world, has also increased its recruitment efforts. Job fairs and recruitment events featuring the federal government not only put candidates in a position to learn about vacancies, they also provide a forum for networking. The odds of securing a position in intelligence increase if you “make it a point to meet people who work in these agencies,” Byrd Carter adds.
College students should look for opportunities through the Intelligence Community Centers of Academic Excellence Program, in which intelligence agencies work with partner colleges such as North Carolina A&T State University and Florida A&M University to create a curriculum that prepares students for careers in national security. The DIA’s Undergraduate Training Assistance Program also provides scholarships and internships to high-achieving students of certain foreign languages, international studies, and/or political science.
Education and Training
The level of education and professional experience needed to pursue a career at the DIA varies depending on the position, but typically an undergraduate or graduate degree is required. For those seeking intelligence-related positions, “we want those that have degrees in international studies, foreign language, research and development, or some of the hard sciences,” Byrd Carter says.
Fluency in foreign languages, especially Arabic, is preferable. Currently there’s a need for applicants who know Pashto, Urdu, and Dari, three languages spoken in middle-Eastern countries such as Afghanistan and Pakistan.
All intelligence professionals will also need to submit a writing sample as part of their application process since they must be able to communicate their findings about potential threats. “You have to be able to write reports in a coherent and cogent manner so anyone can understand them,” Byrd Carter explains. “You have to be an excellent writer.”
DIA employees are dealing with matters of national security. Byrd Carter says every job applicant must receive top-secret security clearance, a process that can take anywhere from two to nine months.
During this time, investigators will verify an applicant’s previous experiences through interviews and research. Nothing is off-limits, including social networking sites. “With Facebook and Twitter, you have to be careful about what you’re putting out there because it will be scrutinized,” Byrd Carter advises.
To expedite the clearance process, applicants should include multiple references for various periods in their lives, says William H. Henderson, author of Security Clearance Manual: How to Reduce the Time It Takes to Get Your Government Clearance (Last Post Publishing; $19.95). “Investigators want peer references like college roommates or fraternity brothers,” Henderson says. “They want peers who can truly talk about your behavior.” Some applicants may also have to submit to a polygraph test.
Once you’ve secured a position, security concerns dictate that you keep classified information secret and that your personal life be reviewed every five years to make sure nothing has compromised the security clearance. “You have to be committed,” offers Byrd Carter, “and understand that if you don’t follow through with these regulations, you compromise the national security of the United States.”
Tamara E. Holmes is a regular contributor to Black Enterprise.