Thursday, October 11, 2012

Notes from the CIA Info Session

By Angela Sun

Sean Connery as 007
I had the opportunity to attend the CIA Info Session last week, and also to meet personally with a CIA Recruiter in break-out sessions afterwards. In case you missed it, here are my notes.

Before the information session, I thought of 'James Bond 007 special agents' when I heard 'CIA'.

Now that I've been thoroughly educated by two CIA Managers of Analysts/ Recruiters, I think of 'collection analysts', 'language officers', 'IT specialists' addition to 'James Bond 007 special agents'.


Though covert action is an integral component of the CIA's operations, the make-up of the CIA is much more comprehensive. There is the National Clandestine Service (NCS), Office of the Director, Directorate of Intelligence, of Sci/Tech, and of Support. Support, for example, includes HR, logistics, finance, IT, and more. So there is definitely more than one way to partake in the larger mission of supplying intelligence (or information) to the US government.


There are field-based officers (overseas), in addition to headquarters-based (Washington, DC) officers in the CIA. One example of a field-based officers is an Operations Officer, who is on the frontline of recruiting spies. This is a job of great responsibility as the lives of the recruited foreign nationals could be at stake. There are also Collection Management Officers, who serve as the liaisons and communicators between the Operations Officers and the US foreign policy and intelligence community. Some examples of headquarters-based officers include: Language Officers, who conduct quick translation and training of other officers; Special Skills Officers, who conduct covert operations and mostly have a military background; and Analysts, whose specializations range from politics to economy to leadership.

These are just some examples that we went over in the information session. For more extensive listings of positions and descriptions (including starting salary ranges), visit


Here are some defining characteristics of the CIA as a workplace to consider:

1) Perks of Thorough Training
You will be trained. And then trained again. For example, a beginning analyst will probably receive about four months of training to start off. Officers are constantly training to learn new languages and disciplines in order to rise through the ranks. This is a fantastic opportunity to continue to grow in knowledge within one organization!

2) Hours and Travel
Working for the CIA is hard work. If a diplomatic/ security crisis arises, you can expect it to be crunch time for the officers/ analysts. The recruiter I spoke with said that some of his most demanding experiences arose when war in the middle east broke out. But even day-to-day, you will be working under the pressure of constant deadlines-- because once information is old, it's old.

There can also be a lot of travel working for the CIA. Overseas travel for the CIA is usually voluntary, but living abroad experience is indispensable for someone working for and looking to grow in the CIA. And remember, even if everyone wants to go to Paris, someone has to go to Mogadishu (though I personally think Mogadishu would be fascinating).

3) Importance of Secrecy
Your business cards have only your first name. Your family might not know, or ever know, what you're working on or why you're moving again. National intelligence and security means a tight lip is mandatory.

4) Teamwork 
Because there is a greater mission, working for the CIA means everyone has to work together. Analysts help Collection Management Officers, help Operations Officers, and help each other. As the recruiter said, if you get in, you will find yourself in a pool of really really...really bright people, and at the end of the day, the team, not a superstar, pulls projects together.

5) Not a Place to Get Rich

Finally, the recruiters made it very clear that the CIA is not the organization to work for if you are looking to get rich. But that doesn't mean there aren't substantial rewards. One, working for the CIA comes with HUGE benefits packages, from 401ks to help with student debt, that you would be paying for with your salary in the private sector anyway. Two, the knowledge that what you do is significant, and ultimately shaping US policy probably sends a shiver down the spine of any IR majors reading this post. One example is that the CIA is responsible for the President's Daily Brief, imagine that!


So now you're all psyched up about this amazing opportunity. Where do you go from here?

Well, to start off, finding the actual application on the CIA website is not easy. I don't know if they did this to force you to read all the job descriptions and application instructions, but it takes me a while to get to the application portal every time. So I've conveniently linked the webpage with the 'apply now' button at the very, very bottom...because I know to make a convincing application, you are going to read all descriptions and information on the their website anyway.

Depending on the position you choose, you may be asked to include additional documents such as writing samples, so keep this in mind as each application package you start has an expiration of three days--meaning you have three days to get all your documents and forms in order before you have to start all over again!

Once you've applied, you will probably hear in around 60 days if you got an interview. If not, you were most likely not accepted, but the recruiters encourage students not to discouraged, and to consider applying again in the future as the positions are highly competitive.

You've probably heard the saying 'don't put your eggs in one basket', but rarely does it ring as true as it does here. Even after interviews, and even after getting an offer, the lengthy background check process begins. This can take upwards of, or even over, a year! So take other jobs meanwhile, but if you got an offer and still want to work for the CIA, don't sign any binding contracts. 

**And finally, the deadline looks to be around the end of October, so ideally you would want to have applied within the next couple of weeks if you are looking at entry-level positions. If you are looking for an internship, you're deadline is October 15th! Best of luck!

Didn't know about the CIA Info Session beforehand? Make sure you're in the loop about all of our future events with the Tufts Career Center calendar!