The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) hires professionals in several criminal justice specialties. FBI career opportunities include such roles as special agent, special agent linguist, Hostage Rescue Team (HRT) member and intelligence analyst. A great way to embark on the path to an FBI career is to enroll in a bachelor of arts in criminal justice program.

Job Outlook

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicts that employment of FBI special agents and intelligence analysts will grow rapidly in coming years. Job growth will occur as the population expands and the emphasis on national security continues to increase. Competition for FBI jobs will be strong. Bilingual candidates with college degrees and law enforcement or military experience should enjoy the best prospects.

Job Duties

FBI special agents conduct sensitive national security investigations into a variety of criminal activities. They investigate violations of federal statutes such as incidents of organized crime, terrorism, interstate criminal activity, foreign counterintelligence, extortion, white-collar crime, bribery and drug trafficking. Special agents execute warrants, gather evidence and testify in federal court. They may also interview witnesses or suspects to obtain intelligence on illegal activities. Filing forms, preparing reports and keeping records are other important tasks involved with this FBI career.

Individuals with proficiency in more than one language may be eligible for a special agent linguist position. These professionals use their language and investigative skills to study and block terrorist activities. They may also handle undercover assignments, gathering evidence through surveillance and observation. Monitoring activity on court-authorized wiretaps is another important part of an FBI special agent linguist’s job. Some assist in other aspects of investigative work, from apprehending fugitives to collecting evidence.

Select special agents with military or law enforcement experience may be assigned to the FBI Hostage Rescue Team (HRT). These individuals undergo specialized training to respond to the most urgent, complex cases in the United States and abroad. They are responsible for investigating terrorist threats against the U.S., apprehending terrorists before they can act and conducting other high-risk tactical operations. The HRT is organized into tactical units that are backed up by helicopter and mobility teams as well as communications, intelligence, logistics and command personnel.

Intelligence analysts perform yet another specialized FBI function. These highly trained professionals play a key role in protecting national security. FBI intelligence analysts are skilled at examining unrelated pieces of evidence and information, and forming a complete picture of possible threats. They often work in a specific functional area, such as weapons of mass destruction or counterterrorism, or a particular geographic region, like China or the Middle East. In addition to identifying and combating both foreign and domestic threats, intelligence analysts often help to shape U.S. intelligence policy.

Depending on the position, FBI employees may work anywhere from a desk in an office to a tent in the desert. Generally, FBI special agents divide their time into field and desk work, while linguists and intelligence analysts are more likely to work in an office setting. HRT members are called to report wherever there is a hostage situation – from inside public buildings to outside in extreme weather conditions. Depending on the duty and assignment, travel may be an occasional or frequent requirement. Relocation is often a condition of employment for FBI careers.

Potential Salary for FBI Careers

According to FBIjobs.gov, special agents enter as GS-10 employees on the law enforcement government pay scale. In 2014, a GS-10 employee earned from $46,229-60,098. Special agents can advance to the GS-13 grade level in a field, non-supervisory role, which ranges from $72,391-94,108. From there, special agents can qualify for promotion to grades GS-14 and GS-15 through promotions to supervisory, management, and executive positions, as well as to the FBI Senior Executive Service, for pay ranges of $85,544-111,203 and $100,624-130,813 respectively. Salaries may vary depending on the field office to which the special agent is assigned.

Education and Training

To be considered for an FBI special agent position, applicants must hold a bachelor’s degree and fulfill additional qualifications in accordance with the FBI’s current recruitment needs. Depending on the position, the FBI may give preference to candidates with foreign language proficiency or a law, technology or criminal justice degree. Individuals who have a bachelor’s or advanced degree in any discipline and meet minimum work experience requirements may qualify as well. Experience can be attained through FBI internship programs, law enforcement work or military service. Additionally, all applicants must be U.S. citizens between the ages of 23 and 36, and must undergo a background check. Top Secret (TS) security clearance may be required for some positions.

Special agent linguists must meet all special agent qualifications and possess proficiency in a language needed by the FBI. Languages currently deemed critical include Arabic, Chinese, Farsi, Korean, Hebrew, Urdu, Pashto, Punjabi, Vietnamese and Russian, among others.

Hostage Rescue Team members must meet all the requirements of FBI special agents and possess special skills such as law enforcement or military experience. SWAT team experience is especially desirable. Candidates undergo a demanding evaluation process to determine their physical and mental ability to handle the job. They must also pass an enhanced physical fitness test, which requires superior physical conditioning.

An FBI intelligence analyst career typically begins with a bachelor’s degree or current service as an FBI agent. Special consideration is often given to individuals with expertise or experience in a variety of critical skills, such as law enforcement, international studies, analytical studies, language skills and engineering. Applicants must also be U.S. citizens and qualify for TS, Sensitive Compartmented Information (SCI) security clearance.

The path to an FBI career can begin with a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice. Coursework typically includes law enforcement systems, introduction to criminal justice, criminal investigation and research methods in criminal justice.

Employers can be confident that graduates of a criminal justice program are able to:

  • Analyze statistics, crime trends and other components of crime prevention.
  • Develop a global perspective of criminal justice, from investigation and arrest, to court and prisons.
  • Conduct a crime analysis using proven methods and techniques.
  • Understand key legal concepts, including due process, use of force, and search and seizure.
  • Leverage advanced skills and knowledge to succeed in an FBI career.

The FBI may offer opportunities for continuing education. It’s possible to gain an entry-level position with a bachelor’s degree and use a tuition assistance program to further your education.

Do You Have What It Takes to Pursue an FBI Career?

Becoming an FBI special agent, linguist, HRT member or intelligence analyst requires intelligence, mental stability and physical fitness. Fortitude is also an asset, as a career with the FBI can be as demanding as it is rewarding. If you are self-disciplined, driven and committed to protecting your fellow citizens from internal and external threats, this could be an excellent career choice for you. Together with hard work and outstanding personal qualities, a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice can put you on the path to an exciting career with the FBI.

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