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How to Become an FBI Agent

A job as an FBI agent is a highly rewarding and prestigious career. Special Agents perform complex work to achieve a simple mission, which is to protect the American people and uphold the U.S. Constitution. They’re part of an elite team charged with the critical task of keeping their communities and the nation safe. Positions with the Federal Bureau of Investigation provide competitive pay, great health insurance coverage, and excellent retirement benefits. If you think you’re cut out for this type of career, keep reading to learn how to become an FBI Special Agent. 

A career with the FBI can be as demanding as it is rewarding. Special Agents must be willing and ready to work anywhere in the world, commit to at least 50 hours of work per week, and maintain a high level of fitness. 

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Eligibility requirements for FBI agents

To be eligible for an FBI Special Agent position, you must meet the following minimum requirements: 

  • Be a U.S. citizen
  • Be between 23 and 36 years old
  • Earned a bachelor’s degree from a U.S.-accredited college or university
  • Have at least two years of full-time professional work experience (or one year if you have earned a master’s degree or higher)
  • Possess a valid driver’s license and six months of driving experience
  • Meet the physical fitness standards

Application process

The Special Agent Selection System (SASS) identifies the most mentally and physically capable applicants. The application process is rigorous and lengthy, typically taking at least one year to complete. Hare are the steps of the application process:: 

1. Application and Screening

The first step is to submit your application on the FBI’s website. Applicants are screened based on the eligibility requirements listed above. They’re then evaluated based on whether their skills are a good match for the FBI’s current needs. In order to secure a position, you may be required to have skills or experience related to investigation, law enforcement, computer science, physical and biological sciences, language, intelligence gathering, finance, or accounting. The amount of time it takes to complete the initial screening process varies greatly. 

2. Phase I Test

If you pass the initial screening, you’ll receive an invite to take the Phase I computerized test. This is a three-hour exam at a local FBI facility. The test consists of five sections: Logic-Based Reasoning, Figural Reasoning, Personality Assessment, Preferences and Interests, and Situational Judgment. Essentially, the Phase I test is designed to evaluate basic abilities, knowledge, and competency. Candidates receive a pass/fail notification within one hour of taking the test. 

3. Required Information

Upon receiving a passing score on the Phase I test, candidates receive an email prompting them to complete the Required Information section of their application. This includes the Special Agent Physical Fitness Test (SA PFT) self-evaluation, Critical Skills, and Self-Reported Language sections. Candidates must submit this information before moving on in the application process. 

4. Meet and Greet / Review Process

Next, applicants will attend a meet and greet session conducted by their Processing Field Office (PFO). Your application will be reviewed in person and the information you submitted will be verified. You’ll then be evaluated for suitability to move on to Phase II. The average timeframe for a candidate to move from Phase I to Phase II is 23 weeks.

5. Phase II Test

The Phase II test involves a writing assignment and in-depth interview conducted by a panel of three Special Agents. Candidates receive a pass/fail notification within about two weeks of completing the test. 

6. Official Physical Fitness Test (PFT)

After Phase II, candidates must pass a Physical Fitness Test (PFT). Trained FBI personnel conduct the test, held at the applicant’s local Field Office. The PFT consists of sit-ups, push-ups, a 300-meter sprint, a 1.5-mile run, and sometimes pull-ups. Applicants are offered three opportunities to pass the official PFT within one year after passing Phase II. 

7. Conditional Appointment Offer (CAO)

Upon passing both Phase II and the PFT, candidates receive a Conditional Appointment Offer (CAO). Hiring is contingent upon the successful completion of a background check, medical examination, and other components. Candidates will receive their CAO shortly after passing their PFT and will have five days to accept or reject the offer.

8. Background Investigation and Medical Check

The next step is an intensive background investigation. This typically includes a polygraph exam, credit and arrest check, drug test, fingerprinting, and interviews with neighbors, friends, coworkers, and previous employers. Candidates must also undergo medical testing to ensure they don’t have any underlying health issues. The medical screening includes checks for high blood pressure, as well as vision and hearing tests. The average background investigation takes six months, but can last as long as 18 months depending on the candidate. 

9. Basic Field Training Course (BFTC)

If you make it past all these steps, you’ll be invited to a Basic Field Training

Course (BFTC) at the FBI Academy in Quantico, Virginia. During this 19-week program, New Agent Trainees (NATs) live on campus and learn firearms proficiency, defensive tactics, and other special skills. Trainees are paid for their time at the FBI Academy, but they must successfully complete the course in order to be hired as FBI Special Agents.

10. Placement 

If you’ve made it this far, congratulations! Candidates who complete the BFTC can officially join the FBI as Special Agents. 

Other career paths

Special Agents aren’t the only people that work for the FBI. In fact, there’s a variety of career paths available at the FBI. If you’re not sure that a Special Agent role is right for you, consider the following positions:

Intelligence Analyst 

When it comes to national security, intelligence analysts are part of the first line of defense. They analyze information and make recommendations to decision-makers to help identify and mitigate threats. 

Surveillance Professional

Surveillance professionals discreetly gather information supporting counterterrorism, foreign counterintelligence, and criminal investigations. They may work in an ordinary office setting or in the field, gathering intelligence via foot, vehicle, or public transportation. 

Forensic Accountant

Forensic accountants investigate complex financial crimes such as corporate fraud and various other types of fraud. They work closely with Special Agents to trace the funding sources of criminal activity. 

Language Analyst

FBI linguists use their proficiency of foreign languages and cultures to protect the U.S. from both domestic and international threats. They work with a team to defend against counterintelligence threats, cases of corruption, espionage, cybercrime, and other unlawful offenses.

Specialized Career Paths  

The FBI also employs specialized professionals in the following fields:

Opportunities for students 

While you can certainly apply for FBI positions directly, you may want to consider programs specifically meant for college students and recent graduates. The following programs help young people prepare for and transition into a career with the FBI. 

Honors Internship Program

The FBI Honors Internship Program is a 10-week, paid internship for college undergraduate and graduate students. Interns work alongside FBI professionals at the Washington, D.C. headquarters or in Field Offices around the country. Open to a wide range of academic areas, the internship provides students the chance to explore career options within the FBI. 

Collegiate Hiring Initiative 

The FBI’s Collegiate Hiring Initiative recruits graduating seniors who have undergraduate, graduate, or doctorate degrees to begin their careers in a hands-on team environment. Graduates are given the opportunity to explore and transition into the many career paths the FBI has to offer. 

Visiting Scientist Program

The Visiting Scientist Program gives applicants the chance to work within the FBI Laboratory, one of the largest crime labs in the world. The program is open to college students, postgraduates, and even faculty. Under the guidance of forensic scientists, participants engage in research regarding law enforcement and national security. 

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