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Applying to the Central Intelligence Agency is unlike most other job processes, in which certain areas are off-limits, and a decision arrives quickly. By contrast, the process of joining the nation's chief intelligence-gathering agency takes up to a year, and no aspect of your life goes unexplored. Candidates who acknowledge personal and financial mistakes can expect additional scrutiny. In those situations, the finalist must show why his problems aren't a liability for the agency.
A CIA career is nearly impossible to pursue without clearance to handle top secret information. About 70 percent of agency jobs require at least a secret clearance or higher, NBC News reported in its July 2009 overview of CIA hiring practices. To get such clearance, you must undergo an extensive investigation into your character and loyalty to the United States. The process averages six to 12 months, but can stretch longer for applicants with numerous foreign contacts. In either case, a CIA-certified polygraph examiner will evaluate your truthfulness.
Your Drug Use
Drug use isn't an automatic deal breaker, as long as it hasn't happened within the last year. Any usage before the 12-month timeline is considered on a case-by-case basis during the medical and security clearance screening process. Drug use is one of the chief reasons for security clearance denials. However, applicants can mitigate the agency's concerns by acknowledging the issue, "The Federal Times" reports. A candidate who shows that drugs aren't part of his life anymore could still gain a security clearance.
Financial liabilities, including back taxes, bankruptcies and unpaid student loans, can pose significant stumbling blocks during security clearance investigations. However, applicants may offer evidence to ease concerns about the issue, according to "The Federal Times." For example, the CIA might make allowances for debts stemming from financial or medical emergencies that were beyond an applicant's control.. Acting to resolve your credit -- whether it's done through a payment plan, or financial counseling -- will also count in your favor.
Your Personal Life
The CIA conducts extensive background checks to evaluate an applicant's judgment, reliability and trustworthiness. This process typically goes back seven to 10 years, so applicants should prepare at least 11 years of personal data, NBC News reports. A mental and psychological examination is also required to determine overall fitness for duty. Agency representatives may also interview family members, friends and neighbors to evaluate freedom from conflicting alliances, potential for coercion, and willingness to obey regulations for handling sensitive material.
The intense scrutiny that you experience as an applicant doesn't stop once you're hired. As the CIA notes on its website, employees undergo regular re-investigations -- including polygraph examinations -- throughout their careers. The job's confidential nature also demands that you continue to choose your associates carefully, asserts Steve Lee, a former CIA analyst interviewed for NBC News's report.
Ralph Heibutzki's articles have appeared in the "All Music Guide," "Goldmine," "Guitar Player" and "Vintage Guitar." He is also the author of "Unfinished Business: The Life & Times Of Danny Gatton," and holds a journalism degree from Michigan State University.