What’s it Really Like to be an FBI Agent?
The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) holds a special place in the imagination of millions of Americans. The FBI has been a staple in many movies and TV shows in America for a long time, and this is partly because long-time FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover took an active interest in the agency being portrayed in a positive and heroic light in the media. But aside from what you see on the big or small screen, what’s it really like to work as an FBI agent?
For one thing, working for the FBI is more than just a job. For many people, a career as an FBI agent is a calling, and the work demands long, irregular hours, frequent travel, and the ability to handle intense stress. People who deem themselves patriotic and enjoy a job where no two days are alike are usually drawn to working as FBI agents.
FBI agents must be willing to work at least 50 hours per week, and they’re on-call 24 hours a day. This is not the type of job where you can demand work/life balance. When your job duties include protecting national security and dealing with top-secret security clearances, any semblance of balance is thrown out the window. To become an FBI agent, you must also go through an extensive background check, physical fitness test, and even take a polygraph test.
Despite all the hardships, many people love their work as FBI agents. And while agents do encounter dangerous situations, the media portrayals of working for the FBI usually blow this part of the job out of proportion. According to NBC News, FBI agents reported increases in job satisfaction in 2019, showing how people with the right personality type really enjoy the work.
Empire Resume will delve into what it’s really like working as an FBI agent, including what the bureau requires to become one and the pros and cons of working for the FBI.
Who’s Eligible to Work as an FBI Agent?
The FBI is the domestic intelligence and security service of the United States and the nation’s principal law enforcement agency. The FBI operates under the U.S. Department of Justice and is a member of the U.S. Intelligence Community, as the bureau reports to both the U.S. Attorney General and the National Director of Intelligence. The FBI currently has jurisdiction over violations of more than 200 categories of federal crimes. Although the FBI operates somewhat overseas, its primary focus is domestic law enforcement. The bureau maintains 56 field offices in major cities across the United States.
According to its own statistics, the FBI employs about 35,000 people, including special agents, language specialists, and intelligence analysts. Becoming an FBI agent is definitely not easy; the bureau has strict eligibility criteria. To become an agent, you must be between the ages of 23 and 37, unless you’re a preference-eligible veteran. Applicants must also be American citizens, have a four-year college degree, have a clean record, and be of high moral character.
All FBI agents require Top-Secret security clearance and, to get that clearance, potential personnel must pass an extensive background check. Special agents must also pass a vigorous physical fitness test that includes a 300-meter run, one-minute sit-ups, and a 1.5-mile run. Potential agents must also pass a polygraph test that will likely have questions about past drug use. Applicants who fail the polygraph test are denied employment with the FBI.
Frequent Travel and Long Hours
You can make a good living working as an FBI agent with excellent salary potential and a competitive benefits package. FBI agent salaries fit into the federal GL-10 Special Base Rate pay grade specific to the law enforcement field. The least experienced agents start at about $52,000, and new agents with the most comprehensive skill sets can begin at about $67,000 annually. Agents who work up to management level go up a pay grade and earn as much as $143,000.
FBI agents are eligible for all federal employee benefits, including health insurance, life insurance, and retirement savings accounts. FBI employees also get student loan repayment benefits, transit subsidies, and tuition reimbursement if they pursue further studies that end in a degree or certificate.
Working as an FBI agent is a dream job for people with a passion for criminal justice. Agents work on high-level law enforcement cases, everything from neutralizing terrorist activities to dealing with major organized crime to working on the cutting edge of cybercrime prevention. FBI agents say the job is often exciting, and working on such significant, challenging issues is very rewarding.
One of the most significant downsides of working as an FBI agent is so many additional work hours in sometimes very challenging situations. For example, following the 9/11 attacks, FBI agents said they often worked virtually around the clock gathering evidence for several months straight. This can obviously lead to burnout for some people, especially if you’re not entirely engaged with the bureau’s mission and don’t feel you’re making a difference.
Working as an FBI agent also requires a lot of travel. Depending on your personality type, this could be good or bad. Many FBI agents say traveling all over the country and sometimes exotic international locations is one of the best parts of the job. But if you’re someone with roots in a hometown or want to start a family, the frequent and hectic travel schedule can be demanding.
Do You Have a Passion for Law Enforcement?
The FBI receives thousands of applications every year, so it’s evident that many people are drawn to a career as an FBI agent. The extensive portrayals of FBI agents in movies and TV shows have molded our imagination of what it’s like to be an agent and, in some cases, may have acted as recruiting tools.
Working as an FBI agent may not be as dangerous as it looks on TV, but there are other potential downsides, such as the impossibility of having any work/life balance and working long hours in less-than-ideal locations. For people with a passion for law enforcement, this may not be such a bad thing, though.
The eligibility requirements for becoming an FBI agent are also strict. For example, entry-level education to become a police officer or detective is usually only a high school diploma, while the FBI requires a four-year degree. Nevertheless, working as an FBI agent can be very rewarding. Current and former agents say working on exciting cases in high-level law enforcement activities is a thrill, and so is the chance for frequent travel. If you have a passion for law enforcement and consider yourself patriotic, an FBI agent job could be for you.
Stay tuned to Empire Resume’s blog for more helpful insights on careers and employment, such as articles like Job Hunting During a Recession, How to Work from Home, and Best Job Seeking Sites.
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Maria Gold is a Content Manager/Writer for Empire Resume. She is dedicated to helping educate and motivate people with the latest career articles and job search advice. Her interests range from writing to programming and design. She is also passionate about innovation, entrepreneurship, and technology.