The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is the country’s top investigative agency, responsible for safeguarding the nation against cybercrime, terrorism and a host of other criminal activities. Because of its importance to the country’s security, the FBI’s recruitment process is highly selective.
Those interested in learning how to work for the FBI should know what it entails, including getting the right education, passing a rigorous background check and meeting physical fitness standards. Aspiring FBI employees should also consider the benefits of an advanced education in preparing them for this coveted role.
What Are Some FBI Careers?
The FBI’s stated mission is “to protect the American people and uphold the Constitution of the United States,” which entails responsibilities that range from enforcing civil rights and investigating hate crimes to bringing human traffickers to justice.
With approximately 35,000 employees across the country, the FBI’s ranks include professionals in a variety of roles:
- Special Agent – These trained professionals are responsible for investigating federal crimes and enforcing federal laws in areas such as terrorism, civil rights violations, cybercrime and public corruption. They collaborate with other law enforcement agencies and bring their expertise to bear on law enforcement at the federal level.
- Intelligence Analyst – These intelligence officers specialize in gathering and analyzing information related to national security threats and criminal activity. They apply various tools and techniques to identify patterns and trends in data to provide intelligence reports that support FBI agents in their duties.
- Forensic Accountant – These professionals use their accounting and financial expertise to investigate complex financial crimes, such as embezzlement and money laundering. They use an arsenal of techniques to analyze financial data and identify evidence of criminal activity.
How to Become an FBI Agent
For individuals researching how to work for the FBI, and in particular, how to become an FBI agent, it can be helpful to learn the specific steps involved. The first step is to earn at least a bachelor’s degree from an accredited school. Earning an advanced degree in a relevant field, such as a homeland security master’s degree, can be highly beneficial in preparing for a career with the FBI.
After graduating, individuals begin the application process by completing an initial application online and passing a prescreening process. Once that is complete, applicants take the Phase I test, which gauges a candidate’s logical, behavioral and cognitive skills. Applicants who pass with a 70 percent or higher score can proceed to Phase II, which consists of a written exam and a formal interview administered by a panel of agents.
After passing Phase II, the next step is to complete the physical fitness test (PFT). To pass the PFT, candidates must earn a score of 9 or higher. Once an applicant passes the PFT, the FBI typically extends a conditional appointment offer, after which individuals must undergo an extensive background check.
The FBI’s background check includes in-person interviews and a polygraph, or lie detector, test. The FBI will also carefully review the candidate’s credit history, specifically looking for missed or late payments, defaulted loans, and criminal records. The agency will also conduct extensive interviews with individuals who know the candidate well, such as friends, neighbors, college professors, and current or former colleagues, to better understand the candidate’s character.
Passing a drug test is mandatory for employment with the FBI, and the agency maintains a strict drug policy. Although past illegal drug use or unlawful use of legal drugs does not automatically disqualify a candidate, candidates must not have used illegal drugs for 10 years prior to applying. Candidates who have used cannabis in the past are required to have a one-year gap between their usage and the drug test, even if it was used in a state where it is legal or if the cannabis was authorized by a medical professional.
After passing the background check and drug test, candidates complete basic training at the FBI Academy, which lasts 16 weeks and includes coursework, practical exercises and at least one PFT.
Finally, candidates are offered an assignment at an FBI field office in one of 56 locations nationwide, with the FBI typically covering the cost of any moving expenses.
In addition to being aware of the qualifications and practical steps necessary to join the FBI, aspiring agents should cultivate a range of soft skills, including:
- Strong communication
- Critical thinking
- Problem-solving abilities
- Attention to detail
- The ability to work well under pressure
FBI Agent Salary
An FBI agent’s salary is highly dependent on multiple factors, such as their level of experience and education. Payscale data from February 2023 indicated that the median annual salary for an FBI agent was approximately $68,000. However, more experienced agents can earn significantly more. For example, agents with 20 or more years of experience had a median salary of $101,700.
Additionally, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that the median annual salary for police and detectives employed by the federal government, which includes FBI agents, was $93,970 in May 2021.
Safeguard the Nation’s Security
The FBI plays a crucial role in maintaining national security by investigating and preventing federal crimes. As such, FBI jobs come with a large amount of responsibility. Those interested in pursuing an exciting and rewarding career with the FBI can discover how Virginia Commonwealth University’s online Master of Arts in Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness program can ready them to meet the FBI’s high standards of excellence.
The program can help students hone the hard and soft skills required for a career in the FBI, with courses taught by expert faculty with experience in law enforcement, counterterrorism, emergency management and intelligence. Discover how to work for the FBI and excel in a career in national security with VCU.