Pretty much everyone reading this will have considered themselves a Hercule Poirot or Agatha Christie at one point or another. We’ve all done it, sat and watched a thriller or crime drama on the telly and worked out who the bad guy is quicker than you can say 007. For me this usually consists of choosing a completely random person, or the person closest to the victim and proclaiming, ‘she done it’ in the manner of Vicky Pollard – it usually works out right. I imagine though that being part of the secret service involves a lot less glamour and a lot more office work (not to mention fewer martinis) than the lives of the secret agents and investigators we see on our TV screens. Nevertheless, a job at MI5 is still thought of as a dream job by many and I have uncovered a couple of very interesting aspects of the recruitment process, for your eyes only.
I learnt not so long ago that, as well as the very transparent job advertisements for UK intelligence services MI5 and MI6 which appear in job listings and on their website, they also recruit in very sneaky ways – it is espionage after all.
Through investigative journalist Jon Ronson’s bestselling book The Psychopath Test, I first learnt of how conspiracy theorist and MI5 whistle-blower turned wannabe messiah David Shayler was recruited into the British security service. He applied for a job in the paper which he thought was media-related, as it referenced a Samuel Beckett play and asked for an interest in current affairs, writing ability and common sense. However, this mysterious advert was actually part of the recruitment process for MI5. Every now and then I see a suspect job advert and think for a split-second ‘that’s definitely MI5’, it probably isn’t, but maybe I’m prone to theorising too. Do you think you could spot a covert ad? If so, then you may just be spy material. If not, you may also be spy material, considering the fact that the advert appealed to you in the first place.
Another way to find out if you’ve got the potential to be a secret agent is by taking the MI5 Investigative Challenge which features in the careers section of their website. This is an interactive test which asseses your suitability for the job through exercises which require strong analytical skills, the ability to process information quickly and I think, even a strong sense of personal intuition and gut feeling. The challenge begins by presenting a fictitious scenario, providing you with an e-mail from a colleague, a news clipping, two suspect profiles along with intelligence and surveillance reports. But the pressure is really on, since you only have 10 minutes to take in all of the information. The next step involves multiple choice questions which reflect how well you have taken in the info, asks what the next steps should be, and invites you to make judgements on the case at hand. At the very least, this game is a lot of fun and you can compete with friends and family. It’s by no means an official part of the recruitment process, so don’t worry your data won’t be retained. There’s also an MI6 one which involves remembering the details of a false identity. Role-playing is fun!
I don’t think I could be a secret agent. I’m a terrible liar and would probably blow my cover straight away. Well I’ve just ruined my chances by writing that anyway… Plus, we all know what the first rule of fight club is.