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CIA Special Agent Qualifications

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CIA agents work in internal investigations and in clandestine operations abroad. The CIA only takes the top applicants who pass its rigorous screening process, which can take several months to a year.


To work as an agent with the CIA, applicants need a bachelor's degree from an accredited college or university. Applicants are expected to show superior academic performance in their field of study. The CIA does not specify a specific field of study, but those who pursue degrees in a field useful to the agency are likely to receive first consideration. Above all, applicants need to have a degree in a field that emphasizes research and strong analytical skills.


Experience is essential to qualifying to be a CIA agent. The CIA prefers applicants with a minimum of three years' experience in a field related to the position they seek. Experience in law enforcement or as a private investigator can serve as a launchpad to a career as a CIA agent.

Background and Testing

Applicants for special agent positions with the CIA should have a clean criminal background. The CIA conducts an extensive background check of each applicant. A polygraph examination is required of those who make it through the initial background check. Applicants must also be U.S. citizens and have an exemplary background with an indication of complete loyalty to the United States. An extensive psychological and physical examination is also required.

Other Qualifications

Agents with the CIA must be able to work in high-pressure situations with short deadlines to complete projects. They also have to be able to work both independently and collaboratively. Agents need to have a penchant for working in a multicultural environment and must be keenly aware and sensitive to other people's cultures. They need excellent interpersonal and communication skills, including the ability to negotiate in high-pressure situations.


Jared Lewis is a professor of history, philosophy and the humanities. He has taught various courses in these fields since 2001. A former licensed financial adviser, he now works as a writer and has published numerous articles on education and business. He holds a bachelor's degree in history, a master's degree in theology and has completed doctoral work in American history.