How to Work for the CIA

Do You Want to Be a Spy?

Surveillance Briefcase
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Would you like to be a spy? Shhhh! Don't answer that. The agency usually thought to be synonymous with spying on behalf of the United States government, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), has two very specific rules for applicants. Rule number 1: don't tell anyone you're applying for a job. Rule number 2: Don't tell anyone you are even thinking of applying!

In other words, if you want to find out how to work for the CIA, don't ask anyone. Doing that would give away your aspirations, and therefore break both those rules. You can, however, read this article, which spells it all out for you. 


If you find the idea of being a spy appealing, you will want to work for a specific arm of the CIA—the Directorate of Operations (DO), formerly named the National Clandestine Service (NCS). The DO is the component of the CIA that is responsible for covertly collecting human intelligence (aka spying). These are the entry-level positions that are available for job candidates after they have completed an extensive training program. 

  • Core Collectors and Operations Officers usually work overseas recruiting and handling foreign sources of human intelligence.
  • Core Collectors and Collection Management Officers also spend the majority of their careers working abroad. They manage the collection of human intelligence and evaluate and disseminate it to the U.S. foreign policy community and intelligence community analysts.
  • Staff Operations Officers are the liaisons between DO stateside headquarters and overseas field officers. They spend most of their time in Washington but may have temporary overseas assignments. They are experts in either a particular region or a transnational target, for example, terrorism or crime.
  • Specialized Skills Officers work either at Washington headquarters or overseas. They utilize their experience in the , or their language, technical, or media skills to conduct or support CIA operations. Job titles that fall under this category include targeting officer, language officer, paramilitary officer, program and plans officer, and information resource officer.

Entry-Level CIA and Job Qualifications

Entry-level job candidates can join the Directorate of Operations as trainees in the Professional Trainee Program, the Clandestine Service Trainee Program, or the Headquarters Based Trainee Program. The program they participate in is determined by the job for which they apply and their level of experience.

Those who want to be core collectors enter either through the Professional Trainee Program or the Clandestine Service Trainee Program, depending on their prior experience. Individuals with several years of work or military experience will go directly into the Clandestine Service Trainee Program. Those who have only a college degree have to enter the Professional Trainee Program before eventually moving into the Clandestine Service Trainee Program. Applicants who want to become headquarters employees, such as staff operations officers and specialized skills officers, take part in the Headquarters Based Trainee Program.

At the end of a candidate's training period, the DO will place him or her on a career track that agency officials deem appropriate for his or her demonstrated skills and the agency's needs.

All job applicants need a bachelor's degree with a grade point average of at least 3.0. Proficiency in a foreign language is required for those who are training to become core collectors. Applicants for headquarters-based jobs must have a demonstrated interest in international affairs. While candidates come from a variety of disciplines, those with a background in international business, finance, , , physical science, or nuclear, biological or chemical are considered the most desirable.

U.S. citizenship is a requirement for all positions, and all candidates must qualify for security clearance.

Spying is a career rife with . If you want to work for the CIA, you must be able to cope with this. Other necessary qualities include good judgment, the ability to multitask and well, and excellent , , and  skills. Strong  and abilities are also essential. A willingness to continuously learn is also important. Since assignments often require one to be part of a team, ​the capacity to work with others is imperative.

The Application Process

If you are interested in working for the Directorate of Operations, you can apply for a job online at the CIA's website. There you will also find complete details about the . Before you apply, you must create an account. Don't do this unless you are sure you have enough time to complete the application. You will need to do so within three days of creating your account. When that time is up, your account will be disabled. It will also be disabled once you complete your application.

When you are finished applying, you will receive an on-screen confirmation. The CIA will not send one via email. You can apply for up to four positions on one application, but the agency requests that applicants do not submit multiple applications.

If your application is accepted, pre-employment processing may take up to one year. During that time you will have personal interviews and be subject to medical and psychological testing, , a , and an extensive . Through this background check, the DO will ensure that you have no allegiances to other countries, are trustworthy, can't be coerced, and are willing to protect sensitive information.

Pros and Cons of Working for the CIA Directorate of Operations

If you want intrigue, the DO has it. Even the pages containing information about career opportunities read like a spy novel. The word "spy" is never used, and applicants are warned never to reveal their intentions. A life undercover isn't for everyone, though. One must keep his or her identity hidden from others. And because the work is covert, there is little public recognition for a job well done. The agency, however, rewards and recognizes its employees internally.

DO officers serving overseas receive competitive pay. Their benefits include housing for themselves and their families. Their children get educational benefits. They also have the opportunity to travel around the world.