CIA Special Agent Qualifications

Some CIA Agents work as spies -- just like in the movie.
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Working for the nation's top intelligence agency can be an exciting career. Nevertheless, you must be prepared to keep a lid on the excitement. Special agents -- officially called CIA Inspector Generals by the Central Intelligence Agency -- might as well be called secret agents. Applicants are warned against telling family members and friends they are even considering a job with the CIA. The qualifications you need to be considered for this job, however, are no secret.

Personal Qualifications

    Before the CIA entrusts you with the nation's secrets, they must be sure you are trustworthy and grant you security clearance. Special agents must have high integrity and excellent personal conduct. Drug use in the past 12 months will disqualify applicants; any history of drug-use is also evaluated. Additionally, a lengthy investigation is conducted into your background. Your history, character and judgment are researched, as is your dependability, honesty, loyalty to country and risk of coercion. The CIA uses polygraph tests to verify information and special agents are subject to periodic retests.


    A college degree is required to be a special agent with a minimum grade point average of 3.0. An advanced degree is preferred. No specific major is required for the Inspector General position, although specialized experience or education in areas related to work assignments is helpful. For example, foreign-language skills such as Arabic, Chinese and Russian are desirable as the CIA has worked to increase its bilingual staff to better fight terrorism. Prior work experience investigating or researching complicated cases for other law enforcement agencies is also valued. The CIA needs special agents who demonstrate critical thinking, communication skills and the ability to excel under pressure.

Career Paths

    Applicants should explore the various career paths the CIA has for special agents. Positions include operations officers, collection management officers, staff operations officers, specialized skills officers and language officers. Career paths depend on the special agent's unique skills. A language officer, for example, needs to have advanced foreign language proficiency and culture knowledge.

Medical Requirements

    Working in potentially dangerous crime-fighting situations requires special agents to be both physically and mentally fit. Special agents must be able to be on their feet for extended periods of time, carry a weapon and perform in inclement conditions. All limbs must function correctly, and vision and hearing must be deemed satisfactory by the CIA. With corrected vision, you must be able to read typewritten text and hearing loss must be below 36 decibels at 1,000, 2,000 and 3,000 Hz levels. Any physical or mental condition that might make a special agent a liability or unable to perform her job duties in tough situations, disqualifies her from this job. However, the CIA is an Equal Opportunity Employer.

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