Become a Secret Service Agent: Step-by-Step Career Guide

Research the requirements to become a Secret Service Special Agent. Learn about the job description and duties and read the step-by-step process to start a career in the Secret Service.

Should I Become a Secret Service Agent?

The U.S. Secret Service has two main missions: protection of the president, vice president, and other designated U.S. and foreign dignitaries; and criminal investigations relating to counterfeiting and other financial crimes. Special Agents work long hours in undesirable locations, travel on short notice, and perform assignments keeping them away from home for up to 30 days or longer. Agents work undercover assignments and, as law enforcement officers, face dangerous situations with a high level of personal risk. However, they also have the satisfaction of protecting the lives of important political figures and their families, as well as being a part of trying to foil criminal activity, such as counterfeiting, that can damage the country's infrastructure on a wide scale.

An individual interested in becoming a Special Agent needs to be a U.S. citizen and possess a bachelor's degree, related law enforcement experience or a combination of college coursework and law enforcement experience. This job is physically demanding and requires applicants to be in top physical shape.

Career Requirements

Degree Level Bachelor's degree or college coursework with specialized experience.
Degree Field(s) Any; criminal justice or related area is helpful.
Licensure/Certification Current driver's license.
Experience In lieu of bachelor's degree, three years of law enforcement experience in criminal violations or a combination of college courses and law enforcement experience.
Key Skills Strong observational and criminal investigation skills, online research and database skills, firearms, surveillance, protection, and self-defense training; be a U.S. citizen between the ages of 21 and 37; possess excellent health and physical condition; pass a written examination; complete all training programs; pass drug test, medical exam and polygraph test; qualify for Top Secret clearance; complete a background investigation; be willing to travel.
Salary (2015) $79,236 (Salary for all Federal Special Agents).

Sources: U.S. Secret Service, PayScale.

Step 1: Obtain a Bachelor's Degree

While any major is acceptable, those related to law enforcement, such as criminology, criminal justice, homeland security, or protection management, give applicants a better understanding of the job. These programs include courses in law enforcement, criminal justice administration, crime scene investigation, and intelligence.

Success Tip:

  • Enroll in one of the Secret Service student programs. The Secret Service Student Temporary Education Employment Program (STEP) offers federal employment opportunities for degree-seeking students. The agency's Student Career Experience Program offers a two-year work-study program in certain fields of study; positions in these programs are limited. Also, the agency offers unpaid internships through the Student Volunteer Service Program, at which students work a minimum of 12 hours per week.

Step 2: Apply for Employment

Along with educational, U.S. citizenship, and age requirements, applicants must pass a polygraph test, drug test, and personal interview. Individuals meeting all the requirements must complete an online application through USAJobs.gov. This website allows applicants to upload resumes and supporting documentation, and to check on the status of their applications.

In order to obtain a Top Secret clearance for employment, applicants must undergo a full background investigation. This takes up to nine months to complete and includes verification of employment history, police records, credit history, and military records.

Step 3: Complete Training

New agent trainees are sent to the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC) for a 10-week Criminal Investigator Training Program covering investigative techniques, firearms, first aid, laws of arrest, police procedures, and criminal law. After this, recruits must complete a 17-week Special Agent training course at the James J. Rowley Training Center near Washington, D.C. This training provides basic and advanced instruction in physical protection, emergency medicine, combating counterfeiting, and financial device fraud along with extensive training in physical fitness, marksmanship, and water survival skills.

Step 4: Enter the Field

New Special Agents spend up to their first eight years assigned to field offices, after which they are transferred to a protective detail for another three to five years. Afterwards, an agent seeks another assignment at a training office, headquarters, or an international office, provided he or she has foreign language skills and training.

Step 5: Undergo Continuous Advanced Training

Agents must engage in periodic training including emergency medicine refresher courses and firearms requalification. Those who undertake protective assignments must also participate in specialized crisis training simulations. Agents also acquire advanced criminal investigations training, and all agents are encouraged to attend training sponsored by other law enforcement agencies. Finally, all employees of the Secret Service periodically participate in personal development courses and management, ethics, and diversity training.

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