What Does a Career as an FBI Agent Look Like?
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The core mission of FBI agents is to protect the political and security interests of the United States. FBI agents collect intelligence about threats to national security and actively investigate crimes.
What Do FBI Agents Do?
Depending on the day, FBI agents may conduct surveillance, gather and analyze data, monitor online activities, collect evidence, and carry out arrests. The FBI also operates branchesaround the world, keeping tabs on foreign governments.
Daily tasks also depend on an agent's specialty. One agent might focus on financial fraud, while another investigates cybercrimes. They often work with state and local law enforcement agencies to carry out their duties.
Where Do FBI Agents Work?
Many FBI agents work at the official FBI headquarters in Washington, D.C., while others work in regional offices around the country in cities like Albuquerque, Indianapolis, Seattle, Kansas City, and Miami. The FBI can call on agents to change locations at any time, so agents often move around.
Depending on their case load, FBI agents may work late nights, holidays, and weekends. For one case, they might visit several locations -- or even several cities and states -- to gather information, interview witnesses, and make arrests.
FBI agents need critical thinking skills and the ability to keep calm and make decisions under intense pressure. They also need good communication skills and physical stamina, especially when it comes to speaking to witnesses and tracking down alleged criminals.
Depending on their role, FBI agents also need specialized skills. For example, intelligence and counterintelligence officers need foreign language and information technology skills. These skills can all be taught through FBI school, which is usually called the training academy.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that police and detectives earned a median salary of about $65,170 in 2019. FBI agents fit under this broad categorization. PayScale offers similar data, estimating that FBI agents earn an median annual salary of $66,000.
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In some ways, the duties of intelligence analysts overlap with FBI agents. Intelligence analysts work for the government through organizations like the FBI, CIA, or branches of the military. They gather and analyze intelligence, which requires advanced computer science skills. This intelligence may relate to internal or external threats.
Unlike law enforcement officers, private investigators do not work for the government. Private individuals hire them to find out information. These professionals carry out many of the same tasks as law enforcement officers, though; they often perform surveillance and carry out background checks. They may also review documents and interview people to discover relevant information.
A forensic specialist analyzes evidence related to crimes. They often work in laboratories, using chemical and microscopic methods to examine physical evidence. They may also tend to crime scenes, looking for fingerprints, biological fluids, or anything else that could lead to solving the case. Forensic specialists may testify in court as well.
Why Become an FBI Agent?
Working as an FBI agent comes with great risk; some agents have even died on the job. However, the FBI still receives thousands of applications every year. Because of their broad mission, the daily duties of FBI agents vary greatly, but they are typically geared toward international intelligence and law enforcement operations.
How to Get Hired
At minimum, FBI agents need a bachelor's degree and at least two years of work experience. The FBI doesn't require a specific educational background or degree. However, employers look for job candidates with a degree and skills that can help them on the job. For instance, aspiring counterintelligence FBI agents benefit from a degree in computer technology or coding.
The FBI also looks for individuals who can fluently speak foreign languages. Applicants with law enforcement experience or knowledge about the law in general may also have an advantage.
Founded in 1981, this group serves 14,000 FBI agents. Members have access to networking and professional development opportunities.
FBI Intelligence Analysts Association
This organization connects the 3,000 intelligence analysts who work for the FBI with one another, using various initiatives and educational resources.
Association for Library Collections and Technical Services
The FBI offers many useful resources for aspiring FBI agents. Individuals can learn how to apply for the job, read frequently asked questions, and gain more information about the organization in general on the FBI's website.
Frequently Asked Questions About an FBI Career
FBI agents need a bachelor's degree and at least two years of work experience in law enforcement. They must also be between 23-36 years old.
The FBI disqualifies applicants who are not U.S. citizens or who possess a felony conviction, violated the FBI drug policy, defaulted on a student loan, failed to pay court-ordered child support, failed to file tax returns, or worked to overthrow the U.S. government.
Working as an FBI agent comes with many stressful duties, as does any career in law enforcement. Prospective FBI agents should ensure they have strong stress-management skills and good mental health support.
FBI agents must meet strict education, experience, and background requirements, making it a difficult job to obtain.
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