Here’s What It’s Like To Interview For The CIA, From People Who Have Done It

President George W Bush visits CIA Headquarters, March 20, 2001.

The Central Intelligence Agency is a well-known, yet highly-secretive branch of the intelligence community, but we know a little bit about how to get a job there thanks to Glassdoor.

The job site where anyone can rate their workplace and give an inside look at how to apply and interview has a page just for the CIA, which currently has a rating of 3.6 out of five stars. More than 40 people have left feedback on their interview process.

The reviews could not be independently verified since they were left anonymously, though many of the questions and background info seems to match up with other things already known about the CIA.

Most people who left feedback on the application process complained about how long it took.

While some users reported a shorter process, most reviews say it takes closer to a year to apply, interview, undergo background checks, and learn of whether you’ve got a job offer.

“The main bad thing about the interview process was that it was SO LONG,” wrote one applicant for a staff operations officer position. “From the date of my initial application to my final rejection just before the [conditional offer of employment], it was a total of 10 months. If I had made it further, it would have been as much as another 12 months before I could enter on duty. Which can make rejection that much more painful.”

The agency even puts on its website it can take anywhere from two months to a year to get through it all.

Though the CIA sometimes hosts job fairs, the process for many people starts online.

Though the CIA sometimes hosts job fairs, the process for many people starts online.

REUTERS/ Lucy Nicholson

The process starts by figuring out what exactly you want to do at the CIA. Like any other government agency, it’s a big bureaucracy with many different jobs, so not everyone is James Bond.

Applicants need to create an online account and search the job listings. Some of those include openings for accountants, engineers, and language officers. But for those interested in Martinis, shaken not stirred, it’s best to apply for jobs in the Directorate of Operations.

The current job listings also have an interesting 21st century intel addition: “Cyber Operations Officer,” which is basically a government hacker looking for the goodies on foreign networks.

Once a job is in mind, it’s time to fill out the very long application.

Once a job is in mind, it's time to fill out the very long application.

Reuters/Mario Anzuoni

It has the standard stuff about an applicant’s background, work experience, education, certifications, and known languages.

But then it dives much, much deeper: Applicants need to give up as much info as possible for security clearances, background investigations, military history, employment issues, drug use (CIA won’t hire anyone who has used drugs in the past year), disciplinary problems, and whether they have any debts.

Having things filled out as far as disciplinary infractions doesn’t mean you won’t get an interview, but lying about it here and them finding out about it later will certainly end your CIA job prospects.

Applicants then wait for a call back, or … they hear nothing at all.

Not surprisingly, the CIA gets flooded with potential hires. According to its website, thousands of people apply online each month, and sometimes the agency has trouble getting back to them all.

Still, most applicants will get a response — usually over the phone — within 45 days.

But, “if you have not heard from us within 45 days, we will not be offering you a position at this time,” the agency writes.

Many on Glassdoor mentioned a nice perk: If you make it past the phone interview, the CIA flies you out to D.C. for the next steps.

One applicant described the application process: First, he/she applied online, then had a telephone interview with basic behavioral questions. Next there was an information session invite, then one-on-one interviews with CIA officers and psychologists in Virginia or elsewhere.

“After a long screening process, they fly you in, give you a number of presentations and tours, making you all excited to work for them,” one applicant wrote. “Then you spend a day interviewing.”

After that, it’s a waiting game. The agency has to put applicants through a lengthy background investigation, which will later be verified through a polygraph exam.

Some of the questions CIA recruiters use to interview applicants are pretty standard fare.

Some of the questions CIA recruiters use to interview applicants are pretty standard fare.

Associated Press/J. Scott Applewhite

CIA wannabes are pretty far from the life of a spy they may know from Hollywood, and they won’t hear much about it during the interview.

Instead, their interview questions seem like those you’d hear anywhere else: “Describe a project you were in charge of,” “Talk about a moment you faced adversity,” or “why do you want to work for the CIA?”

Others reported a number of “behavioral questions” being asked.

Others reported a number of "behavioral questions" being asked.

Michaela Rehle/Reuters

Of course, it depends on the position a person is applying for, but most applicants brought up probing questions related to behavior.

With all the time and money the CIA is investing in the people it hires, the agency probably wants to make sure they have the right qualities to deal with stressful situations.

“Purely behavioral with no technical questions,” wrote one person who applied for an internship. “They just asked stuff about challenges I faced [and] how I usually worked with other people.”

Another applicant offered up two questions he/she was asked: “Describe a time when you’ve lied,” and “describe a time when you manipulated another person to get something you wanted.”

Some applicants have to do additional “homework” prior to interviews.

According to one user who applied to be an operations officer, after the phone interview, a packet came in the mail with paperwork he/she needed to fill out.

It included several questions asking what the motivation was to join the CIA and an essay question asking to explain a current international issue. The applicant also had to take an online personality assessment and an IQ test.

Regardless of the tests or interviews, the longest and most invasive part is the background check.

Regardless of the tests or interviews, the longest and most invasive part is the background check.

CIA flag is displayed on stage during a conference on national security Thomson Reuters

After all the interviewing is over, applicants need to turn in an SF-86 investigation form, where you need to list everything about you: your name, aliases, every address you’ve ever lived, family members and their addresses, friends, foreign contacts, and much more.

The government will then take this information and check it all out. For CIA personnel who are trying to get a Top Secret clearance, it can be more rigid than usual, as an investigator might talk with an applicant’s friends, family members, neighbors, and even their high school teacher.

“Typically, in a number of background screening steps,” CIA recruiter Ron Patrick told Forbes. “If someone has a connection to anything in their life that would put national security at risk, we would not hire that person.”

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