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The Federal Bureau of Investigation had about 35,000 employees in 2017. Joining the bureau can bring multiple benefits, including great job security, prestige and the knowledge that you're helping keep your country safe. But there are disadvantages to consider, too. Working for the FBI means dealing with bureaucracy. The job can strain your family life and psyche. And, depending on your position, it can even put your life in danger.
FBI positions are divided into two categories: special agents and professional staff. While some agents possess certain skills and experiences that might not seem relatable to tactical situations, like being a certified public accountant or having law experience, all agents are armed and trained for tactical combat. Situations such as trying to extract an organized crime ringleader from a house or attempting to rescue a kidnapped child put you in volatile positions that could leave you injured or even dead. While Special Agent John Jeffries does note that such situations are fairly uncommon, being involved in them is still part of the job. Professional staff positions, such as those in information technology and business management, generally won't see you in the field or in dangerous situations; however, FBI police, a division that is grouped within professional staff positions, is an obvious exception.
As the largest employer of American citizens, the federal government has become synonymous with bureaucracy. Keeping together such a large and complex system requires an equally complex set of rules, regulations and red tape. If you like quick organizational change and seeing your ideas rapidly turn into action, you may be unhappy working for the FBI. When a problem arises, implementing a solution to that problem often takes time. When improvements can be made, they take time. Everything has to go through a process, the likes of which can be lengthy.
Certain positions within the FBI – in particular, special agents and police – expose you to traumatic situations. Looking at a gruesome crime scene, knowing that you pulled the trigger to kill a criminal, seeing pictures of horrific things that enable you to try and piece together an – those things can weigh on you and cause incredible amounts of stress. This is a disadvantage that doesn't affect everyone equally. Some people may shrug these types of experiences off and go on without missing a beat. Others are emotionally scarred by such encounters.
Many jobs in the FBI require mandatory travel. Special agents must be open to transfers to different field offices and locations, both domestic and international, at all times. Numerous professional staff positions also require travel, but the frequency of their excursions varies greatly, even for positions within the same division. Roles that require regular training can negatively affect your family life, particularly if you're gone for long periods of time or have to leave on short notice.
If you believe the pros of working for the FBI outweigh the cons and you'd like to apply for employment, know that the application process is one of the most rigorous in the nation. All candidates must have a security clearance, which requires a background check that combs through your educational, criminal, credit and employment history. FBI investigators will interview your friends, co-workers and family to determine whether you would be a good fit for the organization, and you'll need to take a polygraph and drug test. For professional staff positions, the FBI typically looks for a bachelor's degree or equivalent work experience. The requirements for special agents are considerably more stringent. Candidates must be at least 23 years of age and no older than 36 years and 6 months, possess a bachelor's degree, have three years of work experience, pass a physical fitness test and qualify for an accounting, computer science, language, law or diversified special agent entry program. New special agents must also undergo a 20-week training course at the FBI academy.