Not Just for Spies

As an officer in the United States Air Force, Cedric (his last name is being withheld for security reasons) was the chief of the National Reconnaissance Office’s security branch, facilitating the building of satellites used to monitor terror hotspots around the globe. He left his post in 1992 and used his background in information technology to pursue a career in private industry, managing computer networks for a variety of organizations, including financial services companies and the Detroit Public School system. But after 9/11, Cedric felt a renewed sense of patriotism. In his chief security position at the NRO, he often interfaced with agents from the Central Intelligence Agency, so when a friend told him that a position managing the CIA’s computer networks had opened up in 2003, he decided to apply. A few promotions after starting out as the information systems security engineer, Cedric earned the position as chief of information assurance engineering. “We’re responsible for protecting Agency information systems,” he says.

While most people associate the CIA with espionage activity, there are 94 designated work areas the Agency is hiring for, ranging from intelligence analysis to paralegal work to finance. “A lot of people don’t realize that a lot of careers in the outside world also have their counterparts inside these walls,” says Paula Weiss, a spokeswoman for the CIA. For many of the positions, the only barrier to qualified individuals filling them is the knowledge that they exist. But an understanding of the Agency’s mission and an expertise in a valued area, such as engineering or foreign languages, can give you an advantage in securing a position.

A Breadth of Opportunities
The CIA is divided into four units. The National Clandestine Service gathers information about threats to the U.S. in foreign countries through human intelligence. The directorate of intelligence is responsible for analyzing the information that the Agency collects. Methods used to gather, process, protect, and analyze information about security threats are managed under the directorate of science and technology. The directorate of support provides all the logistical support, medical services, and the financial resources that the CIA needs to accomplish its mission.
It’s difficult to find a career track not represented in the CIA. For example, librarians conduct research for the Agency. Health and fitness specialists help Agency employees and contractors reach and maintain fitness goals. Graphic designers create multimedia products for presenting data. Adds Weiss: “Nurses work in our office of medical services, which serves as a resource for work-related employee healthcare, including emergency care, immunizations, and health counseling.” Since the CIA conducts covert activities around the world, it needs people of all races and ethnicities who have an understanding of different cultures and can function inconspicuously in various countries. African Americans in particular can benefit from the CIA’s lofty diversity goals. CIA Director Leon E. Panetta says he aims to increase minority representation in the Agency from 22% to 30% by 2012.

Education and Requirements
Any person who works for the CIA must be a U.S. citizen. An advanced degree and prior foreign travel experience are preferable for overseas officer and intelligence analyst positions, but since available jobs are so varied at the Agency, a broad range of academic backgrounds and even life experiences are accepted for many other positions. “My group is looking for people with degrees in areas such as electrical engineering, computer science, mathematics, information assurance, and information security,” says Cedric of information technology positions.

Though foreign language proficiency isn’t required for many positions, new employees with foreign language skills can qualify for a hiring bonus of up to $35,000. Among the languages most in demand are those spoken in the Middle East such as Arabic, Dari, Pashto, and Farsi, as well as Russian and Mandarin Chinese. Overall communication skills are particularly important in all positions, adds Cedric. “There are always times when even the most junior people will be called upon to brief the more senior level people in the Agency.”

A World Veiled in Secrecy

From the beginning of the application process, concealment is stressed by the Agency. The online job descriptions for all positions–even those unrelated to intelligence–warn applicants against even mentioning their intentions. “Friends, family, individuals, or organizations may be interested to learn that you are an applicant for or an employee of the CIA,” the application reads. “Their interest, however, may not be benign or in your best interest.”

Once an applicant takes the first step of filling out the online application at, they must submit to a procedure for top-secret clearance, a process that could take several months and during which investigators thoroughly examine the applicant’s life history.

Three conditions would require all federal agencies to deny clearance by law, 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):

–being deemed mentally incompetent by a court or social agency
–being dishonorably discharged from the military, or
–being convicted and having served  more than a year in prison.

Though most CIA employees must maintain professional anonymity to the outside world throughout their careers, the pride that comes with the Agency’s greater mission is worth the personal sacrifice, offers Cedric. “Working for the Agency is more than going to work every day and earning a wage. It’s a lifestyle. You feel that you’re really doing something meaningful as far as protecting the country and its interests.”