In law enforcement, no job is more sought after than becoming a federal agent as a part of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The FBI is very selective about who can become an agent and as a result, there are strict requirements for anyone who wants to become a federal agent.
Can You Become an FBI Agent If You’re Not A Cop?
Yes. You can become an FBI agent if you have no prior law enforcement experience. One path to becoming a federal agent is through a four-year degree in one of the appropriate fields relating to the job being applied for and three years of relevant work experience.
If you are unsure of whether or not you want to become a federal agent, keep reading! We will discuss whether or not having a law enforcement background helps, what an FBI agent does, and how to become one.
Does Having A Law Enforcement Background Help?
Having a law enforcement background might potentially help you if you want to become an FBI agent, but it doesn’t necessarily. The FBI hires a myriad of candidates with a large variety of backgrounds and degrees.
There are two cases where being in law enforcement can help your chances of becoming an FBI agent. The first is through knowing someone in the agency or having worked with the FBI before. The second is having relevant experience in a field the agency is looking for.
In the case of many police officers, they work with the FBI on joint task forces or investigations and cooperate. If you’ve worked with the FBI before, you may know someone within the FBI that could impact your hiring chances. Alternatively, the FBI may come to you to hire you if you are a good fit for a job opening they have.
Additionally, if you have relevant experience in an area that the FBI is looking for, you might be a good candidate. In this case, applying to normal channels would be the best way to apply for the job. If you are interviewed, be sure to highlight your relevant experience.
What Does It Mean To Be An FBI Agent?
An FBI agent works for the Federal Bureau of Investigation, which is a federal agency in the United States. Federal agents investigate crimes that violate the federal criminal code or involve US citizens in another country.
Federal agents are responsible for the following:
- Investigating a crime by interviewing witnesses and potential perpetrators.
- Reviewing evidence from a crime scene.
- Taking detailed field notes.
- Testifying in court on a case they were involved in.
Some FBI agents work in specialized fields such as:
- Arts and Communication
- Business and Administration
- Facilities and Logistics
- Medical and Counseling
- Police and Security
- Forensic Accounting
- Intelligence Analysis
Special agents have a wide variety of skills and backgrounds. They have very different duties on the job on a day-to-day basis depending on the needs of the bureau. One day an agent might execute a search warrant, the next they may need to testify in court. Additionally, they generally work 50 hours per week and are on call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Special agents often have to work on holidays and weekends.
All agents are required to follow the FBI’s core competencies. These are:
- Collaboration – An agent must be able to collaborate with other agencies, law enforcement, or government officials professionally. They must share information when appropriate and work toward common goals.
- Communication – An agent must be able to express his or her ideas effectively using both oral and written communication. They must also be able to follow both verbal and written commands.
- Flexibility and Adaptability – An agent must be adaptable and able to handle change. This will lessen the amount of stress an agent faces in difficult circumstances, particularly when the situation is urgent.
- Initiative – An agent must be able to take their initiative to start a project or solve a problem that requires their attention.
- Interpersonal Ability – An agent should be able to communicate effectively with others including management, peers, and subordinates. They should be able to resolve disputes quietly and effectively.
- Leadership – An agent should be able to mentor others and direct others towards achieving common goals.
- Organizing and Planning – An agent should be able to create objectives or goals and then determine a plan of action, including both strategic and tactical plans.
- Problem Solving and Judgment – An agent should be able to use critical thinking and reliance on data to determine what steps they should take next demonstrating sound judgment.
Some of the crimes that the FBI investigates are:
- Terrorism – The FBI investigates both domestic and international terrorism and uses intelligence and investigative skills to neutralize or dismantle threats.
- Counterintelligence – The FBI is responsible for investigating intelligence threats in the US including espionage.
- Cyber Crime – The FBI investigates cybercrime associated with both domestic criminals and overseas adversaries. Cybercrime can include identity theft and spoofing or phishing schemes.
- Public Corruption – The FBI investigates corruption that is perpetrated by public officials at all levels of government. This also addresses corruption via election fraud and government-funded programs.
- Civil Rights Violations – The FBI investigates civil rights violations including hate crimes and violations of both citizens’ and non-citizens’ rights
- Organized Crime – The FBI investigates organized crime by those that are looking to reap benefits through illegal activity such as monetary gain. These cases are sometimes referred to as RICO cases or Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations.
- White-Collar Crime – The FBI investigates crimes committed by government or business officials that intend to defraud. These are typically financial crimes to avoid losing money or property.
- Violent Crime – The FBI investigates violent crimes such as serial killings and mass killings. These include school shootings.
- Weapons of Mass Destruction or WMD – The FBI investigates threats of weapons of mass destruction, which can include bombs or grenades. Weapons of mass destruction can also be biological agents or nuclear weapons.
How Do I Become An FBI Agent?
The FBI receives many applications each year for special agents. According to an interview with an FBI special agent, over 10,000 applications are submitted every year and only 500 to 750 agents are hired per year.
There are a few paths to entering the FBI. One is to apply via a career track. The second is to be in law enforcement. The third is to be in the military.
To apply for entering the FBI on a career track, you must have a four-year degree in the career you are hoping to apply for. For example, if you have an accounting degree, you would apply to be an accountant within the FBI. You must also have three years of relevant work experience.
To apply for entering the FBI as a law enforcement officer, you can qualify as part of the diversified entry path. As part of the diversified entry program, you still must have a four-year degree and three years of relevant work experience. So in this case, you’d have experience as a law enforcement officer or an investigative specialist.
To apply for the FBI as active duty military, you must be within one year of completing your military service. Veterans are given preference within the FBI as recognition for completing military service. Military applicants still must have a four-year degree.
All applicants must meet the following criteria:
- Applicants must be U.S. citizens.
- Applicants must hold a valid driver’s license and have at least 6 months of experience driving.
- Applicants must be willing to work anywhere in the world.
- Applicants must be between 23 and 36 years of age. This is because required retirement happens at the age of 57. For an FBI agent to qualify for full retirement, they must work with the FBI for 20 years of service. So the age of 37 is the latest age that an agent can start as.
- Applicants must meet the physical fitness standards. The physical fitness test or PFT tests agents on their ability to do sit-ups, pushups, pullups, sprinting, and running.
- Applicants must pass a background investigation. This investigation ensures that the applicant doesn’t have a criminal history. It’s very thorough and includes a background check, credit check, interviews with friends and family members, interviews with prior employers, a drug test, and a polygraph examination.
- Applicants must pass a physical medical exam. Agents must have 20/20 vision or a history of being able to use soft contacts to correct their vision. Additionally, certain medical conditions can be disqualifying.
- Applicants must be able to complete a 21-week intensive training course at the FBI headquarters in Quantico, VA. If an applicant fails their fitness tests at their training, they will be disqualified.
- Applicants must be able to obtain a Top Secret clearance.
Some automatic disqualifying conditions can prevent an applicant from becoming an FBI agent. These include:
- Applicant is not a U.S. citizen.
- Applicant has been convicted of a felony.
- Applicant fails the drug test.
- Applicant has defaulted on a student loan issued by the government.
- Applicant has tried to overthrow the government, such as by sedition.
- Applicant has failed to pay court-ordered child support
- Applicant has failed to file any tax returns; local, state, or federal.
More tips on the FBI HERE.
Becoming an FBI agent is no small feat. It requires dedication and perseverance. You need not have law enforcement experience, but you must have a minimum of a bachelor’s degree and three years of work experience in a relevant field.
Can you join the FBI straight out of college?
No. You must have three years of relevant work experience if you have a bachelor’s degree or two years experience with an advanced degree.
Does becoming an FBI agent require more training than being a cop?
On average, police training takes between 13 and 19 weeks, though sometimes it can take as long as 6 months. The FBI academy requires 21 weeks of intense training.
Is working for the FBI dangerous?
There is always some inherent risk in working in law enforcement. However, the vast majority of work is done in the office or from a location somewhat far away from danger.
To learn how to best prepare and study for your police exam click here.
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Please note: This blog post is for educational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. Please consult a legal expert to address your specific needs.
Hi! I’m Shawn Chun and I’m so grateful that you’re here.
Civil servants are some of the hardest working, most generous people I know. I have been passionate about all types of civil service career paths for years now and enjoy sharing everything I continue to learn about them.
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