Five Important Skills for a CIA Agent

by Chelsea on December 13, 2012

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Central Intelligence Agency Seal

You might have often wondered how the CIA chooses their agents, and maybe you’ve even dreamed of becoming the ideal recruit for the agency. But what are the requirements? CIA agents should be physically fit, that’s true. You’ve seen them running over rooftops in movies enough to know that. But working for the CIA also requires a certain skillset that might be more academic and less daredevil than you imagined. As with most careers that have a criminal justice or law enforcement slant, being able to outsmart the bad guys is probably more important than being able to outrun them. How many of these areas can you master?

1. Foreign Languages

The more languages you speak, the more appealing you would be to the CIA, but of course certain languages are more useful than others. If you can speak Chinese, Arabic, or Korean you could easily find yourself a top position at the agency. Farsi and Russian are also big sellers, as long as you have excellent fluency and can translate documents, transmissions, and other sensitive material. If you can master at least one of these languages really well, you’re already ahead of the game.

2. Knowledge of International Affairs

More than speaking a language, you also have to be able to understand different cultures. You should be on top of what goes on in the Middle East, know which kinds of governments are where, and have above-average knowledge of current events. The CIA doesn’t have time to immerse its agents in training on the customs, history, and politics of different nations, so if you already have an extensive grasp on political science or international relations, you’ll do well.

3. Great People Skills

A big part of the CIA is interrogation, and to be a good interrogator, you have to be good with relating to people – even those who come from a world or ideology completely foreign to you. If you can listen and engage them in a personable way, you can more easily extract information. The CIA is also a collaborative agency, where your dependency on other agents can often mean the difference between life and death. There’s a reason that the CIA has often recruited from the military that goes beyond physical fitness – they want to hire team players.

4. Flexibility

For many agents, there’s an understanding that accepting a position with the CIA means you will live where they need you to live, and you will travel when they need you to travel. This can be really tough on agents who have spouses and children. The stability of your home life usually depends on the kind of job you do within the agency, but many CIA agents have to surrender a lot of control over their personal life to do their job. It’s a sacrifice that they prepare for in training.

5. Physical and Mental Excellence

It’s often hard to be both an amazing athlete and a 4.0 student, but the CIA recruits the best of the best. No matter what your field of study, they want to see your strong grade point average, as well as proof that you can excel in sports and fitness. Be prepared to be tested in both these areas before you are offered a position in the agency – there’s no real shortcut around either.

Working for the CIA can mean a career filled with adventure and fascinating situations. It can also mean long hours, grueling work, and difficult tasks that require analytical thinking as well as physical stamina. If you can succeed as a CIA agent, you’ll know that you’re among America’s brightest and best. Just remember to crack open the books as often as you run laps when you’re getting there.

Chantel Leck is a full-time writer for higher education blogs and journals nationwide with a focus on online education opportunities. Several schools offer online criminal justice degrees, including University of Cincinnati and Boston University.

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