This Monday night, about 30 Bowdoin students attended an information session about careers with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in Lancaster Lounge, hosted by the Career Planning Center (CPC). The recruitment officer, Special Agent Alison King, stressed the importance of thinking early on about a career with the FBI.
King, who is based out of the Boston field office, outlined the two major career tracks within the FBI, both of which come with top security clearance: Special Agent and Professional Support.
“In the government, anyone who’s working national security matters—that’s CIA, NSA, FBI, or any other state department—has to have [top security] clearance. Even our interns have to have that clearance,” said King.
Getting this clearance, however, is not easy. The agency conducts extensive background checks and requires all applicants to sit for polygraph tests.
“What stops a lot of people from being able to work for us is the inability to pass the background check and the polygraph.” King told students. “The tough part for a lot of people of that background check is the drug policy. It’s very strict, and it’s something that they’re going to ask you about on the polygraph, so it’s very difficult to lie about.”
This is why King stresses the importance of considering the career ahead of time. The current drug policy requires that an applicant has not used marijuana or abused prescription drugs within the last three years, and has not used any other illegal drugs, including anabolic steroids, within the last ten years.
However, this background check is only one item on a long checklist.
To be a Special Agent you have to have three to five years of work experience. In the current job climate, this can be hard to come by.
“Most of the people for Special Agent positions are, I think, on a national average right around 29 or 30. And actually, it’s now moving towards even higher ages,” King said.
Another Special Agent job requirement is a physical fitness exam. The FBI usually receives about ten thousand applicants for four hundred positions.
The strict requirements are necessary to ensure FBI agents are up to the job—working for the FBI is far from stress-free.
Special Agents, who are required by law to carry a firearm, even on airplanes, have a deadly-force policy: shoot to kill.
“It’s not like TV, it’s not like Call of Duty, it’s not like Halo,” said King. “This job isn’t for everybody.”
Not only that, but all FBI employees must also be willing and able to accept assignments in any part of the country immediately following a 21-week training program at the FBI headquarters in Quantico, VA.
While television may give the impression that every member of the FBI is a criminal justice major, forensic scientist or computer analyst, this isn’t the case. The FBI does hire liberal arts grads, as part of a diversified program, which began in the late ’80s.
“If you have trouble communicating, it’s really tough to do this job,” said King, herself a liberal arts college graduate.
As of yet, Bowdoin is the only NESCAC school King has visited.
“I’ve mainly been visiting schools in the metropolitan Boston area,” said King in an interview with the Orient. “But I hope to do more of the NESCAC schools. As I mentioned last night [at the information session] I’m strong believer in the liberal arts education, as is the Bureau. They’re really looking for well-rounded people.”
The attendees were an even mix of sophomores, juniors, and seniors. Genevieve Barlow ’13 said she was starting to think about a future career in the FBI.
“I think I’m definitely interested in the FBI. I mean, there’s a ton of shows about it. It is partly interesting because it is something you have to do in your future and not necessarily something you can do next year,” said Barlow. “But definitely, being a government and legal studies major, it is something that I’m interested in pursuing perhaps eventually.”
Steve Buduo ’15 went to the info session to hear about the opportunities at the FBI, and to network with the agency.
“I was very excited to hear that the FBI was coming. They’re one of the only federal agencies coming to Bowdoin this year, so for me, since I’m interested in a career in government, I thought it was a good opportunity to make connections with current employees there,” said Buduo. “This was a rare chance to learn about [the FBI] first-hand.”