Become a Defense Analyst: Step-by-Step Career Guide

Defense analysts usually work for the government or the military. They examine information related to domestic or global defense, such as an inventory of U.S. troops and weapons, foreign military forces, and possible terrorist threats.

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Should I Become a Defense Analyst?

Defense analysts may work for the Department of Defense in a specific military branch or as civilians for various agencies. They review and analyze information compiled from intelligence on global and domestic security threats. Defense analysts often write analytical reports that include data from military training, departmental spending, and financial trends. They will usually make some type of recommendation based on the results of their analysis.

Career Requirements

Key Skills Analytical, math, communications, research, critical thinking, and writing skills; intermediate to advanced computer technology skills; ability to use analysis software
Degree Level Bachelor's degrees; most positions require master's degrees
Degree Field Engineering, mathematics, computer science, physics, or other quantitative fields
Experience Most positions require several years of military service - minimum of 3 years
Salary $78,630 (2015 median for operations research analysts, including defense analysts)

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Steps to Become a Defense Analyst

How can I become a defense analyst?

Step 1: Research Career Options and Requirements

Since defense analysts can work for the military or for the government, job requirements and career options vary significantly. For example, defense analyst positions with the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) may require applicants to hold bachelor's degrees, whereas defense analyst positions with the military do not usually require formal degrees since the military trains successful job candidates.

Furthermore, there are multiple types of defense analysts. Some focus specifically on analyzing financial data. Others examine administrative practices related to military defense. Each type of defense analyst requires a different set of skills and training.

Step 2: Choose Between a Military or Civilian Career Path

When deciding between working in the military and working as a civilian, aspiring defense analysts should consider the significant benefits and disadvantages to each path. Benefits to working as a defense analyst in the military include having the military pay for training, food, and housing. Some of the disadvantages, however, include being contractually obligated to the military for several years, during which time soldiers may be placed in war zones or on bases far away from family members.

Civilian defense analysts often have more choice over where they choose to work and whether they wish to continue working for their employer. However, most civilians have to acquire the necessary education on their own prior to employment, which can be a financial setback. Additionally, working for the government often requires keeping information confidential, which may cause communication problems with friends and family members.

Step 3: Complete Classroom Training

Information from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reveals that non-military professionals working for various federal agencies almost always require the minimum of bachelor's degrees to obtain employment. Potential majors for defense analysts could include foreign and domestic policy, criminal justice, law, military history, accounting, international relations, or intelligence studies. Undergraduate and graduate degree programs in operations research, management science, or information systems can also help aspiring analysts who are interested in working primarily with data.

Officers and enlisted soldiers receive the military training necessary to complete their duties. Defense analysts might be placed under the career categories of intelligence, business administration, or international relations. Potential related training courses offered through these career categories may include:

  • Purchasing and accounting procedures
  • Intelligence operations
  • Use of surveillance technology
  • Interrogation methods
  • Preparing reports

Step 4: Gain Relevant Experience

Members of the military looking to become defense analysts may not require any previous direct job experience since candidates receive training as part of employment. Nevertheless, the military may prefer defense analyst candidates who possess certain skills gained from previous work experience, and those skills might include the ability to solve problems, maintain organized workstations, communicate clearly with others, and manage multiple projects.

According to the BLS, to become a federal civilian agent often requires previous work experience, particularly experience related to police work or the justice system. The amount and type of experience required varies by agency. For example, the BLS states that the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) usually requires a minimum of three years' work experience. Previous work experience for defense analysts may include careers in accounting, quality control, or other positions that require workers to review business operations.

Step 5: Pass Security-Related Exams, Interviews, and Investigations

Careers with the military or the federal government involve a high amount of confidentiality, which means job applicants must prove their ability to keep secrets. Civilian applicants must pass a background check, which may include interviews with investigators. Some investigators may contact an applicant's friends and family members to verify the applicant's attitude toward law enforcement and government. Investigators also check applicants' criminal records.

Enlisted soldiers and officers also have to go through the process of gaining security clearance, which is usually accomplished by filling out a standard form 86 from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management. The form includes questions about an applicant's military history, personal life, use of drugs and alcohol, and any potential criminal offenses.

The government and the military may also require defense analyst applicants to pass medical exams. These exams may be used to prove the applicant's level of dexterity and stamina. Some medical exams also evaluate an applicant's mental condition and ability to handle the stress of the job.

Step 6: Consider Advancement Options

Senior-level military analyst positions are available to those with many years' experience in the field and advanced degrees. Typically, senior-level positions require a PhD and 10 years of experience. However, lower degree levels may be acceptable, corresponding with more years of experience. Advanced defense analyst positions carry additional stress and responsibility, but higher wages may be expected.

Defense analysts are highly analytical and well-educated with bachelor's degrees, master's degrees, or extensive military training. They review and analyze information compiled from intelligence on global and domestic security threats, and they earn a median salary of $78,630.

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