Becoming an intelligence analyst is an ideal career for detail-oriented people who want to help keep America safe while remaining safe themselves. Analysts usually work in high-security offices at their employer’s location interpreting and analyzing the information gathered by people in the field. However, becoming an intelligence analyst is more difficult than landing a typical office job.
Each government agency or private security firm hiring intelligence analysts has its own education requirements but generally, you will have at least have an undergraduate degree to apply but a Master’s Degree is preferred. For example, the F.B.I.’s career information website (1) states that they accept applications from people with degrees in criminal justice, Asian studies, history, telecommunications, and other related subjects.
Since analysts offer context to gathered information, a degree in a field related to the information gathered will give you the best chance at being hired as an intelligence analyst. If you pursue a degree in physics or chemistry, seek out analyst jobs at agencies likely to gather scientific intelligence. The C.I.A., which gathers intelligence regarding countries that have chemical weapons, would be a good career choice for scientists while the N.S.A., which specializes in gathering intelligence by intercepting electronic communications, would be a good career choice for you if you are completing a degree in cyber security.
Being fluent in at least one other language besides English will give you an advantage if you want to become an intelligence analyst. Focus on languages such as Chinese, Arabic, or Korean; government intelligence agencies have difficulty finding applicants that are fluent in difficult-to-learn languages. A deep understanding of the culture gives you an added advantage.
An intelligence analyst must pass a background check. This is generally a more comprehensive background check than what other employers in the criminal justice field require since most intelligence analysts need a security clearance from the government agency they will employ. Expect to undergo a drug test, a polygraph examination, and a credit check. Your friends, neighbors, and family will be interviewed and asked about your honesty, integrity, and character. The U.S. Office of Personnel Management’s questionnaire used for background investigations (2) is posted online so you can see, in advance, what information you will be asked to provide. Expect the background check to take several months as it is very comprehensive.
If you’re applying to the F.B.I., N.S.A., Homeland Security, the C.I.A or other government agencies for an intelligence analyst position, you must be a U.S. citizen. Not all private security firms have this requirement.
What Type Of Person Makes A Good Intelligence Analyst?
Above all, you must be intelligent. It’s vital that you interpret data correctly since intelligence reports are used by high-level government officials to set policies or take action against specific persons, organizations or foreign governments.
In addition to having above-average intelligence, you must be willing to work under pressure helping to protect the country while not disclosing your role to friends and family. The job is not for anyone looking for recognition or glory.
Career Advancement Opportunities
Intelligence analysts advance in their careers by applying for oversight positions, overseeing the work of other intelligence analysts. Skilled analysts with excellent communication abilities may move up to positions that involve personally briefing high-ranking government officials.
If you are intelligent, detail-oriented and you have a desire to serve your country, you will enjoy a career as an intelligence analyst. The screening is rigorous but your efforts will be rewarded both financially and personally even though, as Martin Petersen says in his study “What I Learned in 40 Years of Doing Intelligence Analysis for US Foreign Policymakers” (3), successes in intelligence are rarely trumpeted.