In 2009, the CIA received around 180,000 resumes, making it the most since it started keeping such records. The number of people who work at the CIA, however, is roughly 20,000, as only a small percent of applicants are picked. Aspiring candidates should start by sending a resume to Langley, and meeting qualifications ranging from thorough integrity tests to the ability to master two or more languages.
The Chances as a Woman
Women make up 46 percent of the CIA and even occupy lead positions in two out of four CIA directorates. While women appear to have just as good a chance at joining the CIA as men, and there are women leaders in the agency, the glass ceiling keeps many women from attaining those higher positions. Only 31 percent of the CIA's Senior Intelligence Service is filled by women as of 2013, and, under David H. Patraeus, only 19 percent of those promoted to the service were women. Avril D. Haines' appointment as the first female deputy director may help to raise and eventually shatter the glass ceiling.
The Chances as a Minority
The CIA's website describes the agency as having a respect for diversity, encouraging relations with universities, organizations, heritage groups and minority-serving institutions. In 2011, CIA Director Leon Panetta said the CIA must represent the world it operates in and began more enthusiastically courting Americans from various ethnic backgrounds. While in-group favoritism bars minorities from advancement, or acceptance, in many organizations, the CIA's need for diversity may actually put certain minorities at an advantage. The agency has targeted American Middle Eastern communities with ads in Arabic and Farsi, but convincing Arab and Iranian-Americans to join the CIA has been "tough," according to Patty Brandmaier, CIA Chief Recruiter in 2011.
Application and Clearance
Instead of applying for a single position, the CIA allows applicants four choices on a single application. If you're not right for one, you may be for another one. Once the application is accepted, potential candidates are given a rigorous background check, and questioned with a polygraph to test the integrity of their answers. Also, if you use, or have used, drugs, the agency will not outright dismiss you, as it doesn't believe in turning down agents if their benefits outweigh the risks.
Increasing Your Odds
The CIA looks at character, integrity, initiative and leadership above all, but speaking a foreign language adds an edge to an otherwise tense process. Languages such as Arabic, Pashto, Urdu, Persian, Russian, Korean and Chinese are considered mission-critical. Additionally, candidates have a better chance if they are educated, have insightful life and professional experiences, and bring a different way of thinking to the agency.
Johnny Kilhefner is a writer with a focus on technology, design and marketing. Writing for more than five years, he has contributed to Writer's Weekly, PopMatters, Bridged Design and APMP, among many other outlets.