CIA Hiring Chief Demystifies Agency’s Recruitment

The logo of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency is shown in the lobby of the CIA headquarters

A tap on the shoulder from a university professor. A call from an unknown number leaving a vague voicemail message. Finding yourself strapped to a polygraph machine in a windowless room in Langley, VA, being told you might be lying when you’re not …

No mystery to solve here: This is classic CIA recruitment. Except these days you can also apply online.

“Coming to work at the CIA is not like coming to work at a technical company or a big retail chain,” says Ron Patrick, the CIA’s head of recruitment. “You are serving your country. You are serving your family, your friends.” When it comes to deciding to interview at the CIA, or hiring a particular candidate, he explains, the choices aren’t made lightly.

A 29-year veteran of the CIA, Patrick has overseen the recruitment of some of the agency’s—and the world’s—best spies, as well as equally critical analysts and support staff.

“The amazing thing about our agency is that there is no super secret password or thing to say,” Patrick explains. It’s not as if “someone has a glimmer of [what the right words are so] we let you in the club.” I feign a sigh of disappointment as he continues. “It doesn’t work that way at all. Everything out there—movies and books—make it seem as if there is some secret way to get into the CIA, when in fact it’s not so secret.”

The CIA’s recruitment procedure is a multi-step process that looks at the “whole person,” as Patrick puts it. For almost all occupations, the CIA conducts a résumé review in which an applicant’s skills and experiences are considered, along with knowledge, skills, and abilities necessary for the position. This review is followed by a telephone interview to determine general qualifications and basic security compatibility.

An applicant is then given several online tests that look at key competencies such as writing skills and problem-solving abilities. These tests also evaluate whether the applicant has the right “interpersonal fit” to work at the agency. Following this, a face-to-face interview occurs and, if successful, medical tests and a psychological screening. For some occupations, candidates have to undergo a current events knowledge screening.

“For an applicant interested in a clandestine position, the questions tend to be more focused on overseas events, the skills required to be successful in that occupation, and the true elements of the..

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