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How to Become an FBI Agent

Omkar Phatak
This story will provide you with a detailed account of what it takes to become an FBI agent and what it means to put your life on the line for your country. Read to know about the recruitment process for one of the toughest jobs in the country.

FBI's Finest: Joseph Pistone a.k.a Donnie Brasco

From 1976 to 1981, for six years, FBI agent Joseph Pistone lived undercover, as part of a New York mafia family, with the alias, Donnie Brasco. His work and the evidence collected by him led to almost 100 convictions and over 200 indictments. Naturally, he is the stuff FBI legends are made of.

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The Federal Bureau of Investigation is the premier and foremost law enforcement agency in USA, that deals with all internal crime investigations and also serves as an internal intelligence agency. Its motto, "Fidelity, Bravery, Integrity" itself talks about what kind of candidates FBI looks out for, as future special agents.
Remember Clarice Starling from the 'Silence of the Lambs', played by Jodie Foster? Whenever I think about what it means to be an FBI agent, I remember special agent Starling. As the movie opens up, with her training in the woods, a sign looms in the background. It says "Agony, Pain, Hurt-Love it".
This slogan sums up what it takes to become an agent of this institution. Special agents are responsible for investigating all kinds of crimes, ranging from corruption, cyber crime, major thefts, civil rights violations, violent, organized crime, terrorism, extortion, and all other types of crimes on American soil.
They are also responsible for deployment of foreign counterintelligence. Basically, any crime that escalates beyond a point, comes under the purview of the FBI.

Before Going Further

This job is not for the fainthearted and if you are thinking about becoming an agent for the glamor factor, please think again. To be among one of the best agents, you must be ready to subject your mind and body to high degrees of stress and rigor. An average of 10 hours of daily work is the normal expectation in most field offices.
You need to overcome fear and get used to it being a constant companion. Attention to detail and a passion for solving problems or puzzles, are some of the qualities that are looked out for, in special agents. Of course, one of the prime ingredients that makes up your personality, should be courage.
Your mind and body need to be alert and ready for any eventuality, every time you are out in the field. It is a very hectic and unpredictable life, which demands a sacrifice of family life and all other priorities. The greatest thing it offers is an opportunity to safeguard whatever is true and worth fighting for.
Thanks to the agents and other law enforcement personnel, the American dream of freedom and justice for all, is a reality. So if you are ready to put all other priorities of life aside and devote it to safeguard law and order in the country, becoming an agent is the career path for you.

How to Become One?

The FBI looks out for bright minds, with an appetite for daredevilry and adventure, or who have an expertise in their field and who can hold their own, placing integrity above everything else.
There are various entry points to become a special agent as the bureau needs people from diverse fields, to investigate crime. Before going into the details of those entry points, let us look at the basic qualifications required.

Basic Requirements to Become an Agent

  • You must be a citizen of United States of America or a citizen of Northern Mariana islands.
  • Your age should not be more than 37 years or less than 23 years, when applying. War veterans may be granted concession even if they may have crossed the age limit of 37 years.
  • You must have a four-year degree from any government-recognized university or college.
  • It is mandatory that you have minimum three years of work experience, in your field.
  • You must have a valid driver's license and be ready to work in any place, which comes under jurisdiction of the FBI.
  • You have to subject yourself to rigorous background checks and tough fitness tests, in order to qualify. The test includes a 300-meter run, pushups, and other challenging physical feats. There is a polygraph (Lie Detector) test too.

Special Entry Programs

There are various special entry programs, through which you could apply, according to your specific area of expertise. To become a special agent, you must qualify for one of the programs described further.

Accounting Program

Accounting careers can land you a job in the bureau. To qualify for this program:
  • You must have a certification as a CPA
  • You must possess a four-year degree, with a major in accounting.
  • You must have at least three years of extensive and progressive work experience in a professional firm.

Computer Science/Information Technology Program

  • Either a degree in computer science or information technology, an electrical engineering degree, CCNP (Cisco Certified Network Professional) certification, or CCIE (Cisco Certified Internetworking Expert) certification
  • Applicants with CCNP or CCIE certification must also possess a degree in arts or science field.

Language Program

To qualify according to this program:
  • You must possess a BS or BA degree in any field, along with expertise in any of the languages, which will be useful to the FBI.
  • Currently, the bureau is looking for people with a mastery in Chinese, Arabic, Hindi, Farsi, Hebrew, Korean, Japanese, Pashtu, Russian, Punjabi, Spanish, Russian, Vietnamese, and Urdu.

Law Program

To become an agent, through this program, you need:
  • Diversified Program
  • A law degree
  • 3 years of professional experience.
  • If you want to qualify according to the diversified program, then you need to have a BS or BA degree, along with at least three years of work experience or a postgraduate degree, with two years of work experience.

Critical Skills Required

After you get qualified through any of these entry programs, you are sorted according to certain critical skills, which form the recruitment criteria for the FBI. It is currently recruiting people as special agents, who possess at least one of the following critical skills.
  • Accounting
  • Computer Science/IT expertise
  • Engineering Expertise
  • Foreign Language Expertise
  • Law Experience
  • Intelligence Experience
  • Diversified Experience
  • Military Experience
  • Basic Science Experience (Physics, Chemistry, Biology)
The more skill sets you qualify for, the better it is. FBI recruits experts from every field. It advertises itself as an equal opportunity employer, and supports diversity in its workforce. After selection, the candidate must undergo a rigorous training program, according to the kind of operation he is selected for.
Provided you satisfy all the eligibility requirements specified above, you have to go through a vigorous physical test and an extensive background check to make it to the FBI cadres.

Physical Requirements

Since an agent's physical capacity could make the difference between life and death in this field of work, the FBI doesn't compromise when testing candidates for physical requirements. Besides passing the fitness test, the candidates must pass through a rigorous medical review and meet the vision and hearing requirements.
The physical fitness test includes the maximum number of sit-ups you can perform in a minute, a timed 300 meter run, the maximum number of push-ups you can perform, and a timed one and a half mile run. During phase 1 testing, a self assessment test report of all the above-mentioned physical feats needs to be submitted, to be eligible for further evaluation.
After phase 2 testing, this fitness test needs to be taken again and cleared, to be eligible for induction into the academy. At least 6 or more points need to be scored in this test, to stay eligible for further evaluation, though passing takes a lot more.
Even after getting inducted into the academy, a more rigorous physical examination needs to be passed, to be eligible for the course.
Besides all this, uncorrected visual acuity of at least 20/200, with a corrected vision of 20/20 in one eye and at least 20/40 in the other eye is necessary. People who do not meet these requirements, but do manage to use contact lenses or have undergone laser surgery, are also allowed to apply with certain conditions.
An audiometer test is carried out, that allows an average of 25 decibel loss in hearing at 1000, 2000, and 3000 Hertz, while requiring single readings of 35 decibels at 1000, 2000, and 3000 Hz, and 45 decibels at 4000 Hertz.
This is followed up by a rigorous medical examination which evaluates your body's fitness levels to perform satisfactorily in service. Only after clearance of physical requirements can a candidate be inducted for training, provided he clears the background check, and other tests.

Background Check

Naturally, FBI is very strict about drug usage and candidates with a history of usage or addiction are disqualified. You need to fill up certain forms detailing your past acquaintances, employment history, and education. The agency then runs a thorough background check, interviewing your neighbors, past colleagues, and acquaintances.
Convicted felony, student loan default, drug usage history, failure to pass urine analysis test, and non-registration with the Selective Service System (in case of male candidates), constitute grounds for disqualification.

The Application Process

Finally, here's an overview of the entire process involved in getting inducted into the 21-week training program at FBI academy, situated in Quantico, Virginia. This is known as the Special Agent Selection System (SASS).

Step 1: Apply Online

You must apply online with your resume and requisite documents establishing your eligibility for the special agent program. Your application will be screened and if found to be eligible, you will be invited to take the Phase I screening test. You must appear within 21 days, for the phase I test, after you receive an invitation.

Step 2: Clear Phase I

Select candidates will be invited to take a 3-hour examination that tests them for logical, behavioral, and cognitive abilities. This is an automated test and is conducted at local centers.
The candidates that qualify through this test and submit a passing self-assessment report of physical testing, are invited to the local FBI field office for introduction to the agency's policies, by senior agents. Those applying through the language program are tested further, at this stage.
Based on the performance of the candidates in these tests, they are graded as 'Most competitive', 'Competitive', and 'Least Competitive'. This is known as 'Headquarter Review'. Only the highest graded ones are invited to take the next set of tests.

Step 3: Clear Phase II

Phase II involves a 90-minute written examination, along with a 1-hour panel interview. Candidates that pass through these stages are subjected to a physical fitness test (as described before), along with a background check, and medical examination.
Those who make it through all these steps, are chosen for the 21-week training program at Quantico, Virginia, after which they are inducted as special agents in field offices all over USA, in their chosen field.
FBI is one of the most powerful law enforcement agencies in the world. Becoming an agent is one of the most adventurous careers that you could pursue. One day, you could be one of the people in black suits and shades, always in the background, quietly doing their jobs.
Visit the official FBI careers website, for detailed information about the special agent program. There, you will find the latest details about the skill set that the agency is currently looking for, along with an updated set of guidelines, about the application process.