How to Become an FBI Special Agent: Job Requirements and Education

By Indeed Editorial Team

February 22, 2021

Becoming an agent in the FBI is an accomplishment that is hard-won but rewarding. The skills you need to successfully perform the job's many responsibilities take years of training to develop. In this article, we explain what special agents do and what their job requirements are to help you decide if this is the right career path for you, and explore how to become an FBI agent in 11 steps.

What is an FBI agent?

An FBI agent is a member of law enforcement who investigates federal crimes and maintains federal security. The Federal Bureau of Investigation is one of the best law enforcement agencies in the world, and they serve as the government's primary investigation unit. Some of the federal crimes they are in charge of investigating are kidnappings, mail fraud and bank robberies.

What does an FBI agent do?

An FBI agent has many responsibilities. They must do whatever necessary to investigate federal crimes and enforce federal laws. This may include wiretapping, interrogating or working undercover. Agents also participate in serving warrants and conducting raids, searches and other dangerous activities. FBI agents also collect and analyze data, studying the changes in criminal patterns and keeping their mental and physical fitness at peak levels.

Agents work in traumatic situations that may include the death of victims, so they must be emotionally prepared to work under challenging conditions. They can also be called to work in one of 56 locations overseas.

FBI agent requirements

There are several basic requirements you need to meet to become an FBI agent:

  • You must be a U.S. citizen.

  • You must be between 23 and 36 years of age.

  • You should have a bachelor's degree.

  • You need a valid state driver's license.

  • You must have worked as a professional for two years.

Many people fit the criteria listed above, so to set highly qualified candidates apart, the FBI also looks for eight core competencies in their prospective agents:

1. Collaboration

Showing respect while working and sharing information with other parties in federal, state and local agencies is necessary for this field. Agents in the FBI often handle situations of a political nature, so it is necessary to be politically savvy as well.

2. Communication

An agent must be able to speak and write clearly. They must also be able to listen and interpret verbal and nonverbal cues. Persuasion and the ability to influence others is an imperative skill as an FBI agent.

3. Adaptability

The ability to adapt, be flexible and manage change in various situations is a skill required in the FBI. An agent's roles and responsibilities may change daily, and they will need to adapt to each role efficiently and successfully.

4. Initiative

An agent must have the initiative to begin projects and address issues without being told. They must be proactive regarding future needs and follow through with plans despite setbacks. Also, they must continually improve their skills and abilities while learning from others.

5. Interpersonal ability

Dealing with others is an important skill in any career. In the FBI, you will have to develop a rapport with fellow agents and supervisors. You must work with others while being sensitive to the differences that come with a culturally-diverse environment. Resolving and managing conflict that arises among individuals and groups is important, as you will be working with people who have different viewpoints.

6. Leadership

Agents are leaders. They often act as mentors to other agents. As a leader, you direct and inspire those under your leadership. Your presence should set the tone and direction for those working with you.

7. Organizing and planning

When given a task, an agent should prioritize the needs of the project and plan a course of action. They must be able to pay attention to detail, understand consequences and organize the steps involved in successfully carrying out the task.

8. Problem solving and judgment

These skills involve identifying problems and opportunities, making decisions, managing the risks of those decisions, evaluating and analyzing data and accepting the responsibility for the decisions that were made.

How to become an FBI agent

There are several challenging steps involved in becoming an FBI agent, known as the Special Agent Selection System. Here are the steps you will need to take to start the process:

  1. Education

  2. Work experience

  3. Application

  4. Phase I test

  5. Interview

  6. Phase II tests

  7. Physical fitness test

  8. Conditional appointment offer

  9. Background check

  10. FBI academy

  11. Graduation

1. Education

A bachelor's degree is required for all aspiring FBI agents. Although one in law enforcement or criminal justice is not required, many agents do have a background in these fields. However, agents come from all backgrounds, including engineering, computer science and teaching. At times, applicants with degrees in these alternative fields are even sought after for their knowledge in areas that aren't typically associated with law enforcement.

2. Work experience

Another requirement you must meet before applying to become an FBI agent is to have two years of professional work experience. The details of what this experience should look like are vague, so it is understood to mean full-time work at a high level in your area of expertise. This could be experience related to your degree, but it is also a good idea to work in a position where you can demonstrate the core competencies FBI agents need.

As an alternative to working for two full years, you can pursue a master's degree. This will only replace one of the two years, however, so you will still need to acquire a year of actual work experience as well.

3. Application

Once you have completed the required education and work experience, you can apply to the FBI website. This will include a resume, which should follow the federal resume template. Applicants with current or former federal work experience should submit the SF-50 with their application, and current or prior members of the armed forces should include the DD-214 or submit a Statement of Service Letter with their application.

Read more: How to Write a Federal Resume

4. Phase I test

If your application passes the preliminary screening, you will be invited to take Phase I, a three-hour computerized exam. This exam assesses everything about the candidate and their abilities. It consists of five smaller assessments that measure your critical thinking and reasoning skills. These five assessments are logic-based reasoning, figural reasoning, personality assessment, preferences and interests and situational judgment.

5. Interview

Those who pass Phase I are called in for an in-person interview. Applicants will be asked to expand on what they included in their applications as well as their past experiences. This is also a great opportunity to ask any questions you may have related to the job.

6. Phase II tests

Those who have completed Phase I, passed the interview and have been deemed competitive are invited to participate in Phase II. This consists of two parts—a writing assessment and a more structured interview. The writing assessment must be passed first before the interview can take place. The interview lasts for an hour and is administered by three special agents who measure your ability for certain criteria based on the answers you give to questions.

Related: How to Succeed at a Group Interview

7. Physical fitness test

A physical fitness test is administered to those who pass Phase II of the application process. You are tested in five different events:

  • Sit-ups: maximum number in one minute

  • Timed 300-meter sprint

  • Pushups: as many as you can do consecutively

  • 1.5-mile run

  • Pull-ups: as many as you can do consecutively

A medical review is also administered at this time. Your vision must be no worse than 20/40, and your hearing loss may not exceed 25 decibels.

8. Conditional appointment offer

After the successful completion of Phase I, Phase II and the physical fitness test, a conditional offer for employment is given to the candidate. This outlines expectations, salary and the next steps. Whether you are hired will depend on background checks and completion of the training academy.

9. Background check

Candidates who are offered a position conditionally and accept within five days are subjected to an FBI background check and polygraph test. The background check can consist of credit checks, arrest records, previous polygraph exams and interviews with past employers, neighbors and friends. This portion takes approximately six months for those who have lived in the United States.

Related: Q&A: What's Included in an Employment Background Check?

10. FBI academy

New agents participate in a 21-week training program that consists of 800 hours in four major areas:

Academics

Potential agents study law, behavioral science, ethics, report writing, interviewing, investigative and intelligence techniques, forensic science and interrogation. They also learn how to handle counter-terrorism, weapons of mass destruction, counterintelligence and criminal and cyber investigations. As part of their study on ethics, trainees tour two important historical sites. A tour of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum helps them understand what happens when core values among law enforcement are lost. A visit to the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial helps them gain perspective on civil rights and equality.

Case exercises

These exercises allow the trainees to experience real-life situations that they may have to handle. They take place in the fake town of Hogan's Alley where actors pretend to be criminals and terrorists. Trainees get the opportunity to arrest and interrogate suspects and present evidence in court.

Firearms training

Since FBI agents have the very real potential to experience deadly force encounters, all agents receive training with a pistol, a shotgun and a carbine. Marksmanship, safety, orientation, handling skills and live-fire training are all critical components of this intense training. This part of the academy consists of 28 sessions, 110 hours of instruction and 5,000 rounds of ammunition.

Operational skills

The skills you will learn in the academy consist of defensive tactics, surveillance, tactical driving and physical fitness. Defensive tactics include hands-on training that focuses on handcuffing, searching subjects, disarming, boxing, grappling, control holds and weapon retention. Driving instruction takes place at the academy's Tactical Emergency Vehicle Operations Center.

11. Graduation

The graduation ceremony is a prestigious event that celebrates your accomplishments of completing the FBI academy and becoming an FBI agent. Next, you will be assigned to one of the 56 available locations. New agents have some say in where they go, but they often go where there is the greatest need.

Browse more articles