Becoming a clandestine service operations officer, as the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) refers to its agents, is a lengthy and grueling process. Prospective CIA agents should be aware that it can take over a year from the time a resume is submitted to the moment an agent walks through the doors on the first day of work, and that only a small fraction of applicants are accepted for any position at the CIA, let alone a clandestine service position. Someone who wants to become a CIA agent should be prepared to be very patient.
Good preparation for candidates who want to become a CIA agent starts with foreign language education. Candidates may want to take languages which are politically relevant, such as Arabic and Chinese, although fluency in any foreign language will be useful. The CIA also strongly recommends that candidates hold an undergraduate degree, which can be in any field of interest, with a high grade point average. One must also be a United States citizen to become a CIA agent.
Once someone has fulfilled the basic requirements, he or she can file a resume with the Central Intelligence Agency. The CIA allows applicants to file resumes online, encouraging people to file for specific job openings, rather than to send in a generic resume. For someone who wants to become a CIA agent, the resume should be filed for a position in the clandestine service area of the agency. The CIA can take up to 45 days to review the resume and contact the applicant; if an applicant is not contacted after this point, the resume will be held for a year in case the agency thinks it may be useful.
If the Agency approaches an applicant with a request for more information, the applicant can prepare for a round of exhaustive interviews. He or she must also undergo a background check, which includes medical exams, drug testing, and a review of the applicant's past. It is not possible to become a CIA agent with any evidence of potential conflicts of interest, or if an applicant has a past which suggests that he or she may be a security risk. Once accepted for training, a clandestine service operations officer will also undergo clearance, which determine the level of information that the agent will have access to.
There are some shortcuts in the process. The Agency often recruits at American colleges and Universities, looking for bright candidates who could have strong careers in clandestine service, and students should consider attending job information sessions and job fairs to get into contact with CIA representatives. Prior military service can also be an advantage when applying to become a CIA agent, although it isn't an assurance that a candidate will be accepted.