For many people, the words “federal agent” conjure up a mental image of men and women in black suits who drive nondescript dark-colored sedans and flash their shields at crime victims and perpetrators to explain they are from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), or the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). However, the United States offers a plethora of jobs in federal law enforcement, not only in the FBI and the CIA, and these jobs can be found in many different branches of the government. The training and requirements to become a federal agent vary depending upon the agency, but every applicant must go through a rigorous screening and training process.
To become a federal agent, a person first must decide which job they would like to apply for. There are nearly 100 federal agencies and organizations available to those who wish to become a federal agent. In addition to the FBI and the CIA, these agencies include the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), to name just a few. Each agency provides a different service to the government and enforces different laws, as well as investigates different types of crimes. The education and requirements for each organization vary greatly, but the guidelines to become a federal agent are strict across the board.
The FBI, for example, requires applicants to be have reached a minimum age of 23, but be younger than 37 years old. The FBI's mission is to investigate crimes against federal law, as well as to protect the United States from foreign threats by gathering intelligence and providing intelligence to other federal, local and state law enforcement agencies. Applicants wishing to become a federal agent with the FBI must have a valid United States driver’s license, and a minimum of a bachelor's degree from a four-year university. Those wishing for a federal agent job in this area must also be drug-free, have no felony convictions and, if male, have registered for the Selective Service.
Not all federal agent careers are law enforcement-related. Many research-related jobs are also available to federal agents. Those possessing strong language skills or the ability to learn languages quickly are in demand as translators among most federal agencies. Whether working on the front lines or at a desk job, the hours and demands of a federal agent are many. Most federal agents are required to work 50 hours or more a week and be on call at all hours.
Because of the long hours worked, there are many bonuses and pay increases available to those federal agents who devote more time to their jobs. Also, because the hours and type of work vary, there is no standard salary for federal agents. Those wishing to become a federal agent are encouraged to perform independent research and contact the agency of their choice for further instructions on how to apply.