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Do you like the idea of serving your country and using skills you already have to do it?

Security Intelligence work allows you to make a real difference in the world. By becoming an active member of a team that addresses present and future potential threats, your work will impact people in tangible ways and in ways they’ll never realize.

Intelligence work is visible in the media, but it’s also wildly misunderstood thanks to the over-dramatization done for entertainment.

As an intelligence analyst, you’ll work with information sources to create and share briefings and reports. What else is involved? Keep reading to learn more about careers in intelligence.

What Is an Intelligence Analyst?

You don’t need to tune into an HBO program to learn about the work. The CIA is transparent about what analytic positions are and what they do.

CIA and intelligence analysts are subject-matter experts with study and research skills. They work with information from whatever sources are most relevant including classified and unclassified sources.

Analysts need to have old school research skills in a cutting edge world. As more and more data gets created, they need to be able to sift through it all and still be able to spot the needle in the haystack.

The Qualities Intelligence Analysts Have

The CIA isn’t shy about describing the kind of person they want in these roles.

CIA interviewers look for people who have the following skills:

  • Problem-solving
  • Communication
  • Teamwork

These three foundation skills help you get started, but the agency is happy to train you on the rest.

What’s It like to Work in Intelligence?

If your idea of the intelligence community comes from popular shows like Homeland, then you’ll need to think carefully about the realities of a career in this field.

Working in intelligence requires sticking to the daily grind. For the vast majority of people, including and especially those starting, it’s a desk-based research job.

You need to love two things:

  • Working in a cubicle environment
  • Researching any topic under the sun as far as it will go

As a new intelligence analyst, you’ll receive assignments from supervisors to complete. These may play to your skills, such as if you have language or technical skills, or they may feel random.

Your work may also be part of a matter of national interest, but it could also be a small piece of a giant puzzle that no one has a clear picture of yet.

To understand why this is, you need to recognize one crucial facet of intelligence:

Your role isn’t to take down today’s terrorists. It’s to predict, understand, and prepare for tomorrow’s threats, wherever they may be.

The goal is not to become the headlines but to prevent those headlines from happening. Your work may or may not inform future policy positions that prevent national security issues from ever becoming threats.

Job Requirements for Intelligence Work

We described the essential qualities interviewers look for earlier. Although those personal characteristics are critical, the CIA also looks for more in its analysts. These job requirements can make or break your intelligence analyst application.


Research is the foundation of the job’s intelligence work, but you need to be able to communicate what you find in an accurate and timely manner. Every word matters when you complete an intelligence report. When you put together a report, there should be no room for error or misinterpretation.

Your communication skills will far outweigh your skills in specialist subject areas.

Hard Skills

Because you help the intelligence community prepare for potential and future threats, all skills are valuable. Some remain particularly in demand like:

  • Physical sciences
  • Computer science
  • Linguistics

There’s always space for subject matter experts in these areas. But you don’t need to study physics or finance to offer something of value.

Everything from Chinese folklore to Ukrainian gambling culture can come up. You never know what the future holds, and there’s always a chance your field of study could become valuable for protecting national security.

Financial Issues

The CIA becomes wary of financial issues like poor credit or defaulting on your loans. They will perform all the necessary background checks and find it on their own, so it is essential to be honest if it comes up in an interview.

Financial issues aren’t disqualifying, but the interviewers will look at your application holistically.

The Infamous Drug Requirement

If you admit or are found to use drugs of any type, then you will likely receive a rejection.

What counts? Anything you can’t buy in a pharmacy without a prescription.

The issue presents a challenge for applicants from states with medical and recreational marijuana legalization. Because federal law continues to classify weed as a controlled – and therefore illegal – substance, smoking it legally in states like Colorado still counts against you when you apply for security clearance.

Career Progression for an Intelligence Analyst

Intel security careers offer both lateral and hierarchical career progression to the right candidates.

You may start in the intelligence officer program, but you can move into specialist positions like:

  • Analytic methodologist
  • Counterterrorism analyst
  • Cyber threat analyst
  • Economic analyst
  • Leadership analyst
  • Military analyst
  • Political analyst
  • Science, technology and weapons analyst

As you grow and move into specialist positions, your pay grows with you.

You may start at $54,308 as an analyst, but you could end up in a specialist position that pays upwards of $80,505 per year.

How Will You Serve?

Those who work in intelligence work are public servants who protect their fellow citizens from dangers that they don’t even know exist. They don’t do it in firefights but on computers in cubicles using good old research and communication skills.

If you want to serve the public by working as an intelligence analyst, you can. Any U.S. citizen who offers the necessary skills can apply to entry-level positions.

Thinking about a career in intelligence or cybersecurity but aren’t sure about working for the government? Check out a list of high paying cybersecurity jobs here.