How to Become an Intelligence Analyst: Step-by-Step Career Guide

Research the requirements to become an intelligence analyst. Learn about the job description and duties, and read the step-by-step process to start a career in intelligence analysis.

Do I Want to Be an Intelligence Analyst?

Intelligence analysts work for a variety of organizations, most notably federal government agencies, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), National Security Agency (NSA), and Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). The tasks involved in this line of work entail the extensive research into and collection of information from many sources. Intelligence analysts then sort, target, and identify relevant data, which is reported to key officials.

Individuals employed by government bodies usually enjoy a measure of job security as well as good benefits. Intelligence analysts rarely work in the field and spend most of their time in an office or digital laboratory, sifting through and deciphering information pertinent to law enforcement cases. This job carries less risk of personal injury than most careers related to law enforcement.

Job Requirements

These positions involve access to confidential information, so a top-secret clearance and background check is required, as well as having a bachelor's degree. The following table contains the core requirements for becoming an intelligence analyst, per October 2012 job postings from the FBI, CIA and NSA;

Common Requirements
Degree Level Bachelor's degree
Degree Field Intelligence studies, national security, political science
Experience Some experience preferred in areas like cryptology, intelligence collection, military or foreign service
Key Skills Critical thinking, analytical skills, problem solving, decision making, communication skills, interpersonal skills
Computer Skills Proficiency with industry software used to perform classified tasks
Additional Requirements Foreign language skills preferred, ability to pass background investigation required or obtain security clearance, must be U.S. citizen

Step 1: Earn a Bachelor's Degree

An intelligence analyst is expected to have earned at least a bachelor's degree from an accredited university. Degrees in intelligence studies, political science, national security and international studies are all beneficial to aspiring analysts. In addition, coursework in counter-terrorism and homeland security can increase employment opportunities. Fluency in another language is also important for some positions. Computer courses are also helpful.

Success Tip:

  • Complete an internship program. Participating in an internship provides students with the opportunity to learn more about the field of intelligence analysis. Depending on the sponsoring agency, the program highlights may include providing aspiring candidates with an overview of how the process of intelligence gathering works from the initial point of research to collection, assessment and preparing reports.

Step 2: Apply for a Position

Those who successfully complete a rigorous interview and testing process may be offered a position as an intelligence analyst. These offers will specify job title, pay grade, salary and other incentives. Application and acceptance standards are quite high and stringent. Disqualification is based on several factors depending on the hiring agency and includes having a criminal record and illegal drug use.

Success Tip:

  • Be prepared for a background investigation. Working as an intelligence analyst includes handling confidential information; therefore, an extensive background investigation is required. Obtaining a position working for top-level federal agencies, such as the FBI, CIA or NSA, entail several lengthy steps including passing a polygraph examination as well as criminal record and credit checks. Past and current employers and neighbors will be questioned, and references will be required. These thorough investigations usually take several months to complete.

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