Spy Jobs at the CIA

People standing of CIA logo in CIA building
President Bush Tours CIA Headquarters. Getty Images Pool Photo

So, you want to be a spy. The first place most people hoping to land a spy job usually look is the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). Though the CIA never has and never will use the job title “Spy,” the agency does hire a few select people whose job is to gather military and political intelligence from around the world—in essence, spies.

Life as a CIA Spy

While the CIA offers a wide range of more traditional job opportunities, its Directorate of Operations (DO), formerly called the National Clandestine Service (NCS), hires “Covert Investigators” who—by any means necessary—gather information needed to protect U.S. interests in foreign countries. This information is used to keep the President of the United States and Congress apprised of threats of terrorism, civil unrest, government corruption, and other crimes. 

Once again, a CIA spy job is not for everyone. Looking only for “the extraordinary individual who wants more than a job,” the Directorate of Operations calls spying “a way of life that will challenge the deepest resources of your intelligence, self-reliance, and responsibility,” demanding “an adventurous spirit, a forceful personality, superior intellectual ability, toughness of mind, and the highest degree of integrity.”

And, yes, a spy job can be dangerous, because, “You will need to deal with fast-moving, ambiguous, and unstructured situations that will test your resourcefulness to the utmost,” according to the CIA.

Examples of CIA jobs
ThoughtCo / Vin Ganapathy

Careers at the CIA

For people who consider themselves up to the many challenges of working as a spy, the CIA’s Directorate of Operations currently has four entry-level positions for qualified job seekers who have completed extensive agency training programs.

  • Core Collectors and Operations Officers spend most of their time abroad recruiting, handling, and protecting persons who provide foreign HUMINT— human intelligence.
  • Core Collectors and Collection Management Officers manage the work of the Core Collectors and Operations Officer, and evaluate and distribute the HUMINT they gather to the U.S. foreign policy community and intelligence community analysts.
  • Staff Operations Officers act as liaisons between the CIA’s U.S. headquarters and field officers and agents overseas. They travel extensively and must be experts in either specific world regions or threats like terrorism.
  •  Specialized Skills Officers might work anywhere using their military experience, or specialized technical, media, or language skills to conduct or support all CIA operations.

Job titles in these areas include Collection Management Officer, Language Officer, Operations Officer, Paramilitary Operations Officer, Staff Operations Officer, and Targeting Officer.

Depending on the position for which they applied, successful entry-level job candidates will go through the CIA’s Professional Trainee Program, the Clandestine Service Trainee Program, or the Headquarters Based Trainee Program.

After successfully completing the training program, entry-level employees are assigned to a career track based matching his or hers demonstrated experience, strengths, and skills to the current needs of the agency.

CIA Spy Job Qualifications

All applicants for all CIA jobs must be able to provide proof of U.S. citizenship. All applicants for jobs in the Directorate of Operations must have a bachelor's degree with a grade point average of at least 3.0 and qualify for government security clearance.

Applicants for jobs involving gathering human information must be proficient in a foreign language—the more the better. Hiring preference is generally given to applicants with demonstrated experience in the military, international relations, business, finance, economics, physical science, or nuclear, biological or chemical engineering.

As the CIS is quick to point out, spying is a career dominated by stress. People lacking strong stress management skills should look elsewhere. Other helpful skills include multitasking, time management, problem-solving, and excellent written and verbal communication skills. Since intelligence officers are often assigned to teams, the ability to work with and lead others is essential.

Applying for CIA Jobs

Especially for spying jobs, the CIA’s application and vetting process can be trying and time-consuming. 

Much like in the movie “Fight Club,” the CIA’s first rule of applying for spy jobs is never tell anybody you are applying for a spy job. While the agency’s online information never uses the word “spy,” the CIA clearly warns applicants never to reveal their intention to be one. If nothing else, this proves the future spy’s much-needed ability to hide his or her true identity and intentions from others.

Jobs in the Directorate of Operations can be applied for online on the CIA’s website. However, all prospective applicants should carefully read about the application process before doing so.

As an added level of security, applicants are required to create a password-protected account before proceeding with the application. If the application process is not completed within three days, the account and all information entered will be deleted. As a result, applicants should make sure they have all of the information needed to complete the application and plenty of time to do so. In addition, the account will be disabled as soon as the application process is completed.

Once the application is completed, applicants get an on-screen confirmation. No mail or email confirmation will be sent. Up to four different positions can be applied for on the same application, but applicants are asked not to submit multiple applications.

Even after the CIA accepts the application, pre-employment evaluation and screening may take as long as a year. Applicants who make the first cut will be required to undergo medical and psychological testing, drug testing, a lie-detector test, and an extensive background check. The background check will be structured to assure the applicant can be trusted, cannot be bribed or coerced, is willing and able to protect sensitive information, and has not or ever has pledged allegiances to other countries.

Because much of a CIA spy’s work is done covertly, even heroic performance rarely gets public recognition. However, the agency is quick to recognize and reward outstanding workers internally.

Directorate of Operations employees serving abroad get competitive pay and benefits including lifetime health care, free international travel, housing for themselves and their families, and educational benefits for their family members.  

Military Intelligence Officers

While the CIA may be the first place people think of when considering a career in intelligence gathering and analysis, the U.S. Army, Navy, Marines Corps, and Coast Guard all feature officer-grade military intelligence divisions. 

Rigorously trained and carefully selected, military intelligence officers apply information collection and analysis techniques to the guidance needed to assist commanders in their strategic decision-making. Personnel performing intelligence duties may be selected for their analytical abilities and personal intelligence before receiving formal training.

As a key part of the overall U.S. national security effort, military intelligence officers may observe and prioritize foreign threat levels, gather information by observing war zones—sometimes behind enemy lines. They may also direct clandestine security operations in response to threats to the military or the nation. Intelligence officers often participate in the interrogation of suspected terrorists or foreign invaders. They also design and use computer and surveillance equipment designed to monitor areas determined to be at risk of terror attacks or foreign invasion. Ultimately, military intelligence officers develop new procedures necessary to enhance the safety of the nation.

Intelligence officers must be United States citizens and already be enlisted in a military branch. After completing basic military training, they may advance to complete Military Intelligence Officer training. They may complete the Military Intelligence Officer Advanced Course at the U.S. Army Intelligence Center, and the Post Graduate Intelligence Program at the Joint Defense Intelligence College in Bethesda, Maryland. Personnel performing intelligence duties may be selected for their analytical abilities and personal intelligence before receiving formal training.

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Longley, Robert. "Spy Jobs at the CIA." ThoughtCo, Feb. 2, 2022, thoughtco.com/cia-jobs-want-to-be-a-spy-3321484. Longley, Robert. (2022, February 2). Spy Jobs at the CIA. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/cia-jobs-want-to-be-a-spy-3321484 Longley, Robert. "Spy Jobs at the CIA." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/cia-jobs-want-to-be-a-spy-3321484 (accessed June 9, 2023).