How to Work for the FBI: A Quick Reference Guide

federal agent detectives working for the FBI

As kids, many of us dreamed of working for the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). After watching James Cagney in G Men, James Stewart in The FBI Story, David Duchovny in The X-Files or Jodie Foster in The Silence of the Lambs, many children – and adults – desired that badge and gun to catch the bad guys and the many adventures. While most young boys and girls gave up that career dream once they reached puberty and considered something less stressful, there are still plenty of school leavers and career changers that have decided to pursue a career as an FBI agent.

The FBI continues to be the symbol of law enforcement all over the world. Despite the bureau receiving negative press in recent years due to abuse of power and politicking, many Americans continue to see themselves joining the FBI. But not everyone can – there are many qualifications you need to hold, requirements you must meet and steps you will have to complete to become an agent.

So, do you want to infiltrate domestic terrorist organisations, stop crime syndicates and spy on political campaigns?

Here are all the necessary steps you need to follow to get your own badge!

1. Determine if You’re a Good Fit

Before you undergo the arduous application, testing and training process, you must figure out if you are a good fit for the FBI. You need to look at five major criteria to determine if you will fit in in the bureau:

  • Cognitive ability
  • Physical stamina
  • Leadership skills
  • Expertise in the job
  • Be a good cultural fit

2. Explore Your Options

The FBI is a large organisation with plenty of dangerous and non-dangerous positions to fill. Indeed, not all the jobs involve breaking up terrorist cells at home or working with Hannibal Lecter to stop a nationwide serial killer. There are many more mundane but rewarding jobs that need to be filled, too.

So, what are they?

Different Jobs

Special agent: Investigate terrorism, organised crime, counterintelligence and anything else in the purview of federal statute violations.

Linguist: Translate, analyse and report confidential materials relating to an FBI case.

Hostage rescue: Respond to hostage crisis situations – foreign and domestic. This will also consist of intelligence, logistics, tactical response and even a helicopter!

Analyst: There are many analyst positions within the bureau, including behavioural, intelligence, violent crime, profiler, surveillance, strategic and forensic.

Professional: The FBI will staff the organisation with professional positions that are office-based, such as surveillance and investigative support, information technology (engineering or database management), applied science (biologists or cryptographers) and management (accounting, human resources and records).

There are also police officer jobs that ensure FBI facilities and staff are safe and secure and enforce federal laws on property managed by the FBI.


There are six basic requirements that every candidate applying for a special agent must meet:

  • US citizenship
  • Be between 23 to 37 years of age
  • Have a Bachelor’s degree from an accredited four-year college is a minimum
  • Hold a valid state driver’s license
  • Have at least three years of professional work experience
  • No felony or previous convictions

In terms of your bachelor’s degree, it does not need to focus on law enforcement or criminal justice or a supposed best degree, though they are welcomed – the more education, the better. The FBI seeks out applicants who have specialised in studies relating to architecture, biology, computer science and engineering. Second, an advanced degree, like a master’s, can be substituted for the one or two years of professional work experience, which brings us to the next point.

Second, the requirement of working as a professional for two years might be vague, leaving some job candidates stumped. But this essentially means that you should have two years of practice in your expertise to be considered for the job.

In addition to these standard qualifications, each applicant should possess eight crucial skills that are imperative to the job:

  • Adaptability
  • Communication
  • Decisiveness
  • Interpersonal
  • Leadership
  • Organisation
  • Problem-solving
  • Teamwork


The FBI has an immense presence in the United States. In total, there are 56 division field offices across the country and nearly 400 small Resident Agencies, also known as satellite offices, which are situated in smaller cities and towns. These locations handle national and regional matters.

Of course, the three primary locations are:

  • The FBI Headquarters in the J. Edgar Hoover Building in Washington, D.C.
  • The Criminal Justice Information Services Division in Clarksburg, West Virginia.
  • The Laboratory Division, Operational Technology Division and FBI Academy in Quantico, Virginia.

The FBI also maintains 60 other offices in US consulates and embassies in Europe, Africa, Asia and the Middle East.

3. Getting the Job

In motion pictures, it is all about scaling fences, firing handguns and going through elaborate testing to see how good your social awareness is. But unlike the movies, it is a bit more elementary and routine, though you are still required to show off your physical skills.

It should be noted that because there are a handful of non-disclosure agreements in the application process that details of the questions are made available.

That said, we do know how the application process starts.

Submit the Application

The first step to getting hired is to contact a recruitment office in person or by telephone. This will take about 35 minutes, and you will get clarity on the requirements, expectations, length of time and tips on how to submit your application.

You will need to create an account, upload using the federal resume format and submit necessary documents:

  • Official or unofficial college transcripts
  • Statement of Service (if applicable)
  • VA letter for disabled veterans (if applicable)
  • SF-50 for current or previous federal work experience.

Then, you will fill out the application that will consist of several open-ended questions and you will need to offer a physical fitness self-evaluation. It is important to be honest when answering the questions, and assessing your personal stamina because you will be later examined in person anyway.

Special Agents Interview – Phase I

If all goes well, you will advance to phase one and be given a 61-page PDF to read. This part of the exhaustive process will include a three-hour test that exams five crucial elements:

  • Figural reasoning
  • Logic-based reasoning
  • Personality assessment
  • Preference and interests
  • Situational judgment.

If you have listed language skills, then you may also be tested on your language proficiency.

Should you meet the required score, then you will be asked to submit extra paperwork. This phase takes approximately 23 weeks to complete.

Meet and Greet

After you have successfully gone through the basic questions, you will be requested to come into your nearest FBI office for a group interview – this will typically have about 15 other people. Here you will complete a computer test that questions your interest in FBI employment.

Either immediately after the group chat or in the weeks following, candidates will be asked to come in for an in-person evaluation, or a meet and greet session. Here, you will sit down with someone from the bureau and review the submitted application, examinations and additional information.

Special Agents Interview – Phase II

Round two will include more testing and interviews, but they are a bit more complicated.

First, you will participate in a 180-minute assessment that requires applications to read a fictional scenario and offer typed reports. Once completed, you will be scheduled for a structured interview performed by three current special agents.

Second, there will be an FBI Physical Fitness Test that measures your rudimentary physical ability. Men and women have separate scoring levels, and if you are applying for SWAT or hostage rescue, then you will need to attain a higher score. This is what you will be doing:

  • Pushups (maximum and untimed)
  • Pull-ups (maximum and untimed)
  • Situps for one minute
  • 300-metre sprint
  • 5-mile run

4. Conditional Letter of Appointment

If you pass all these tests and approved by management, then it is on to your trial run, in which you will be given a Conditional Letter of Appointment within five days. You must agree to a drug screening, a polygraph test, medical examination and background check (credit check and interviews with family and friends).

If everything meets the FBI’s standard, then you are an employee with the designation of New Agent Trainee at a level one pay grade. You will be sent to the Basic Field Training Course at the FBI Academy in Virginia. You will spend more than 21 weeks of training and receive 800 hours of instruction that covers academics, case exercises, firearms training and operational skills.

Indeed, you will be assessed, monitored and tested under the watchful eye of seasoned veterans, professional instructors and other special agents who are assigned in finding standouts.

Not everyone is cut out for FBI work. Just like not everyone is cut out for the mundane, Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm, desk jockey life. But if you so happen to have the physical stamina of James Cagney, the intellect of Jodie Foster, the likeability of James Stewart and the thirst for discovery of David Duchovny, then an FBI career may be what you are searching for.

While it can be difficult to join any part of the FBI organisation, it is not impossible. You may not flip open a badge and say to suspects, “John Smith, FBI.” But you could still be an integral part of the bureau, from computing to forensic psychology.

In the end, you need to ask a pertinent question: Is the FBI still an organisation I want to work for?