Photo courtesy of the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is a U.S. Department of Justice agency that employs a variety of professionals, from language specialists to intelligence analysts. The bureau’s special agents are responsible for enforcing some 300 federal statutes and conducting highly sensitive national security investigations.
A career as an FBI special agent can be challenging and exciting, with opportunities to be involved in the frontline fight against terrorism, drug trafficking, financial and cyber crimes, and other important national security issues.
FBI special agents carry out a variety of duties related to investigating criminal violations of federal laws. Daily tasks typically include identifying case issues and evidence based on complaints, charges or allegations of violations. Special agents interview suspects and witnesses to obtain and verify information, and record interviews using cameras or other means. They also search for and collect evidence, such as fingerprints, DNA samples and computer records. They are typically responsible for preparing detailed reports of their findings, and for testifying before juries concerning their criminal investigations.
According to data published in 2012 by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment among the category of workers that includes law enforcement special agents is projected to increase 7% nationwide through 2020. Job prospects are expected to be best for bilingual applicants with college degrees and law enforcement or military experience.
According to data published by the FBI, newly assigned special agents receive a base salary of $43,441, plus locality pay ranging from 12.5% to 28.7% of base, as well as availability pay, which equates to a 25% increase in adjusted salary due to the requirement that agents average 50-hour work weeks. Therefore, new agents may earn $61,100 to $69,900 depending on the location of their assignment.
As with any career, salary potential and employment opportunities also can vary based on an individual’s work history and educational qualifications.
The FBI prioritizes special agent candidates with identified critical skills, which may include:
FBI special agent requirements are stringent; to qualify, applicants must:
Applicants are also required to complete several interviews and a medical exam, and qualify for a Top Secret security clearance. The extensive background investigation includes a review of attributes such as character, loyalty, ability, bias or prejudice and reputation, as well as the individual’s associates, financial responsibilities and any history of alcohol or drug abuse.
New agents are selected for one of five career paths: counterterrorism, cyber investigations, criminal investigations, intelligence or counterintelligence. They then undergo a 20-week training program at the FBI Academy to learn basic skills for collecting intelligence during investigations. Academy courses include cyber fraud, computer search and seizure, counterterrorism, the intelligence cycle, ethics, human behavior and firearms.
After training, new agents spend about three years rotating through a variety of assignments, establishing a broad knowledge base while developing specialized expertise in their designated career path.
FBI special agents are required to maintain their Top Secret security clearance eligibility and to undergo a limited background check every five years. Throughout their careers, FBI special agents may be required to relocate to other offices in order to serve the bureau’s needs.
In combination with investigative experience, a master’s degree in law enforcement or a related field, such as public safety and law enforcement leadership, can help position professionals for advancement into a management position. Agents may also pursue special certifications, such as a bomb technician, technically trained agent or member of the elite Hostage Rescue Team.