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

Mar 11, 2020

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.

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Becoming 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 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.

Career 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/Requirements Critical-thinking, analytical, problem-solving, decision-making, communication, and interpersonal skills; foreign language skills preferred, ability to pass background investigation or obtain security clearance; must be a U.S. citizen; proficiency with industry software used to perform classified tasks
Median Salary $69,306 (February 2020 for intelligence analysis)


According to the CIA, there are various requirements for this career. Intelligence analysts must be U.S. citizens, they typically hold bachelor's degrees in intelligence studies, national security, or political science and have some experience in areas like cryptology, intelligence collection, or military or foreign service. Key skills for intelligence analysts include critical thinking, analytical, problem solving, decision making, communication, interpersonal, and foreign language skills, as well as the ability to pass background investigation or obtain security clearance, and proficiency with industry software used to perform classified tasks. In February 2020, reported that the median annual salary for intelligence analysis was $69,306.

Step 1: Earn a Bachelor's Degree

The first step towards becoming an intelligence analyst is to 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.

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 Position

The second step toward becoming an intelligence analyst is to apply for a position. Those who successfully complete a rigorous interview and testing process may be offered a position as an intelligence analyst. 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.

Be Prepared for a Background Investigation

Because working as an intelligence analyst includes handling confidential information, an extensive background investigation is required. Obtaining a position with top-level federal agencies, such as the FBI, CIA, or NSA, entails 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.

Step 3: Continue Education

The third step toward becoming an intelligence analyst is to continue your education for career advancement. In order to showcase your dedication, it is important to take the initiative. For example, if you were interested in working on issues related to a particular part of the world, do your best to become acquainted with the social, cultural, political, and economic climates of those areas. In addition, do your best to pick up the local language. The better informed you are the more qualified you become to tackle issues you're interested in.

The steps toward becoming an intelligence analyst include earning a bachelor's degree, applying for a position and continuing your education for career advancement.

Expert Contributor: Edward LaBarge Edward is a Certified Information Systems Security Professional & digital forensic examiner. He's taught cyber crime courses & worked in the US Army.

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