How To Become a CIA Agent

Updated February 27, 2023

The Central Intelligence Agency is one of the largest U.S. federal agencies, with many different branches employing a variety of skill sets. Roles within the CIA offer many opportunities to develop your skills and grow in your career. You can also play an important role in the security and protection of the country and its citizens. In this article, we examine what CIA agents do, how much they are paid and how to become a CIA agent.

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What does a CIA agent do?

A CIA agent is a federal employee who collects and evaluates intelligence information as it pertains to national security. Some CIA agents work overseas to gather information on foreign intelligence but most work in the U.S. Your duties as a CIA agent will vary depending on your specific role, but they might include:

  • Gathering and analyzing data that could be important to national security

  • Reviewing foreign newspapers, magazines and other media sources for information related to potential intelligence

  • Examining satellite imagery to monitor potentially threatening activity

  • Deciphering coded messages from other countries looking for sensitive information

  • Determining the credibility of any information obtained from a foreign source

  • Writing reports to relevant government authorities based on data gathered

  • Researching and developing technologies for gathering information

  • Cooperating with other agencies to help investigate international crime and terrorism

Related: A Guide to Civil Service Jobs

The average salary of a CIA agent

The average salary for a CIA agent is $81,207 per year. Salaries range from $25,000 to $169,000 per year. Your actual salary will depend upon your skills, experience and which branch of the CIA you enter and the position you hold.

How to become a CIA agent

These professionals are often required to have certain levels of education, complete specialized training and pass various tests to secure employment. If you are interested in a career as a CIA agent, here are some steps you need to follow:

1. Earn a bachelor's degree

A degree in law enforcement, criminal justice or a related field serves as good preparation for a career as a CIA agent. However, a degree in computer science or other fields may be beneficial depending on where within the CIA you want to work. The CIA normally requires applicants for an agent position to have a GPA of 3.0 or higher from an accredited institution.

2. Consider earning a master's degree

The CIA does not require you to have a master's degree, but the higher your education, the better chance you have of being employed. You may also find your salary and opportunities increase with the amount of education you have. Earning a master's degree in a specialized field related to security, technology, foreign affairs or others can also provide you a stronger foundation and refined skills for your role.

Related: Master's Degree: Definition, Elements and Benefits

3. Become fluent in one or two foreign languages

CIA agent positions that work in a foreign country may require you to be fluent in more than one language. Middle Eastern and Asian languages such as Arabic, Korean, Russian and Japanese are particularly useful due to the intelligence work being conducted in these areas. Agents fluent in one or more foreign languages can also help translate foreign documents, newspapers and other communication and media that might be relevant to an investigation. Foreign language fluency is also critical if you are working in clandestine services posing as a foreign national.

4. Gain relevant experience

While not required, it helps if you have experience in the military, security or law enforcement. Since the CIA is concerned with national security, any experience you have with security services or national service is valuable. Any experience you have living and working in a foreign country is also useful. A number of CIA agents work abroad, so it helps if you are used to adapting to a foreign culture.

The CIA does offer undergraduate internships and co-ops. These are paid internships that give college students an excellent opportunity to gain experience in and appreciation for national service. There are five categories of internships and co-ops to which you can apply depending on your skill and interest: analysis, clandestine, STEM, enterprise and support and foreign language. You must have at least a 3.0 GPA, pass background, drug and polygraph testing and be willing to work in Washington, DC.

5. Complete the required testing and medical examinations

Every prospective agent must undergo a thorough background check and a drug test. You might also need to take a polygraph test and agree to a credit check. It is important that your criminal record is clean and you are free from anything that might make you a risk to the agency.

6. Finish an internal training program

Once your application is successful, you will go through an internal training program. On top of basic policy and procedures training, you will be trained according to the service you are entering. For clandestine service—or the directorate of operations (DO)—you will take the 18-month Clandestine Service Trainee Program. If you are in investigations, you will complete the Criminal Investigator Training Program.

Related: What is On-the-Job Training?

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Job similar to CIA agents

If you're interested in becoming a CIA agent or another profession in this field, there are several options to consider. Here's a list of 10 jobs that are similar to CIA agents:

1. Operations officer

2. Intelligence collector

3. Criminal investigator

4. Litigation attorney

5. FBI agent

6. Specialized skills officer

7. Protective agent

8. Resource analyst

9. Logistics officer

10. Collection management officer

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Frequently asked questions

Are there any restrictions to becoming a CIA agent?

Candidates need to be over 18 and under 35 years old, though under certain circumstances this upper age limit may be waived. Also, the CIA only accepts applications from U.S. citizens. If you are not yet a U.S. citizen, you must first go through the proper immigration process to obtain U.S. citizenship. If you are married, your spouse must also be a U.S. citizen.

Can I apply for a job as a CIA agent if I am a U.S. citizen living or working overseas?

You may also apply for a job as a CIA agent if you live or work outside of the U.S. However, you must be a U.S. citizen and you must conduct the application process from inside the U.S. or one of the U.S. territories. This is out of consideration for your safety and to maintain a secure application process.

What are some important soft skills I need as a CIA agent?

The soft skills you need for a career as a CIA agent include:

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