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The FBI’s motto—fidelity, bravery, integrity—succinctly describes what it means to be a special agent. If you possess all of those qualities, working in this branch of federal law enforcement could be the right fit for you.
This article details how to join the FBI and explores the day-to-day responsibilities of FBI special agents.
What Is an FBI Special Agent?
An FBI Special Agent is a law enforcement officer who investigates federal criminal law violations. These agents work for the FBI, which is an investigative arm of the U.S. Department of Justice.
FBI special agents probe various national security threats, including terrorism, cybercrime, espionage, public corruption, white-collar crime and organized and violent crime.
Tasks that make up a special agent’s daily routine may include:
- Gathering evidence of a crime
- Investigating data theft and violent crimes
- Examining business records
- Safeguarding valuable weapons and technology
- Identifying organized crimes groups
- Interrogating suspects and witnesses
- Monitoring the activities of suspects
- Infiltrating criminal organizations as an undercover agent
- Arresting proven criminals
- Testifying against criminals in court
Minimum Qualifications to Become an FBI Special Agent
The FBI receives thousands of applications per year and only employs a fraction of applicants. To be considered for this competitive job, you must meet the following basic eligibility requirements.
- Be a U.S. citizen.
- Be at least 23 years old but younger than 36 at the time of applying.
- Have a bachelor’s degree and at least two years of full-time work experience.
- Possess a valid driver’s license.
- Meet the FBI’s physical fitness requirements.
- Obtain the FBI’s Top Secret Sensitive Compartmented Information (SCI) clearance.
Working as a special agent is unlike any typical 9-to-5 job. It’s a challenging role that requires constant mobility and adaptability. Therefore, an aspiring FBI agent must be willing to travel when duty calls.
How to Become a Special Agent: the SASS Process
SASS is an acronym for the Special Agents Selection System. Through this multi-step process, the FBI filters suitable applicants for the special agent role.
The SASS process begins once you apply, and it can take up to a year to complete. Let’s look at major milestones in the FBI’s hiring process.
Submit an Application
The first step is completing a federal application form on the FBI careers page. You must also attach a federal resume and a college transcript on the application page.
Current and former government employees are advised to attach an SF-50. Veterans should include a DD-214 and a Veterans’ Affairs letter dated within the last year.
Pass the FBI Phase I Test
The FBI Phase I test is a computerized exam that takes about three hours to complete. The test comprises five sections—figural reasoning, logic-based reasoning, preferences, personality assessment and situational judgment—all of which evaluate the candidate’s ability to navigate situations as a special agent.
If you pass the test, you’ll be invited to a meet-and-greet interview at a field office near you.
Meet and Greet Interview
The meet-and-greet interview is an in-person review of your application at your local processing field office. At this interview, you must verify the information on your application and ask questions about the organization’s policies. The agents in charge then assess you based on the FBI’s core competencies. This interview determines whether you’ll enter Phase II.
Pass the Phase II Test
This exam is in two sections: a writing assessment and a structured interview. If you pass the writing test, you’ll receive an email invitation to attend the structured interview at an FBI regional site.
Receive a Conditional Appointment Offer
Passing the Phase II test qualifies you for a conditional appointment, which is only valid as long as you complete the remaining SASS components. The FBI can terminate your conditional appointment offer if it detects any discrepancies down the line.
Undergo a Background Investigation
The background investigation involves a polygraph exam, a personnel security interview, fingerprinting, drug tests and a credit and arrest check, along with other verifications.
All candidates must complete this process to obtain a Top Secret SCI clearance. The FBI’s background investigation takes anywhere from six to 18 months.
Pass the Physical Fitness Test (PFT)
A special agent’s role requires ample strength, hence the physical fitness test. To scale this stage, you must present medical documentation from your physician, showing proof of relevant vaccinations and other medical histories.
You’re also required to complete the PFT multiple times throughout the SASS process.
The PFT is used to evaluate a candidate’s fitness level through four main events:
- Continuous sit-ups in one minute
- A timed 300-meter sprint
- A maximum number of continuous push-ups
- A timed 1.5-mile run
To pass the PFT, you must score no less than zero in each event and a minimum of nine points for all four.
Take the Basic Field Training Course (BFTC)
The BFTC equips aspiring special agents with the foundational knowledge and skills that are needed on the job. The curriculum focuses on defensive tactics, interrogation, human intelligence and firearms lessons.
During this training program, you must also complete one physical fitness test scoring at least 12 total points.
Receive Your Career Placement
Upon completion of the basic field training course, you’ll officially become an FBI special agent. At this point, the FBI assigns you to one of its 56 field offices in the U.S., where you’ll begin active duty.
The FBI’s core competencies describe the soft skills special agents need to succeed both on and off the field. While the FBI’s evaluators may not outrightly ask how great you are at communication or leadership, they constantly assess those competencies as you progress through the SASS.
Working with the FBI requires team spirit because you must liaise with other agents to solve tough cases. To pass as a good fit for the FBI, you must be willing to share accurate information as needed, interact with other agents and respond professionally to opposing views.
During the SASS process, the FBI evaluators rank your communication skills based on how you listen to, analyze and interpret information. You must demonstrate that you can write and speak clearly, concisely and persuasively.
Flexibility and Adaptability
To succeed at work, an FBI special agent must anticipate problems and quickly adjust to new situations. Your flexibility and adaptability are measured by how you respond to work changes.
According to the FBI, having initiative is all about being proactive and staying positive despite setbacks. The FBI’s evaluators look at candidates’ willingness to develop new skills and participate in projects.
Interpersonal skills help you relate well with people, both one on one and in groups. For this competency, your rapport with colleagues, response to opposing views and conflict management skills are evaluated.
At some point in your law enforcement career, you may need to spearhead an investigation. This can only happen if you possess leadership skills. The FBI ranks candidates’ leadership competencies through their ability to set a strategic direction and mentor and inspire others.
Planning and Organization
Organizational skills are critical to an agent’s ability to plan and prioritize. Since national security is a sensitive issue, FBI special agents must be able to establish their priorities and develop strategies that yield results in record time.
Judgment and Problem-Solving
FBI special agents must be able to analyze situations, identify risks and opportunities and make decisions rooted in data and logic. During the SASS process, the FBI evaluates candidates’ problem-solving skills based on how they accept responsibility, manage risks and make decisions.
FBI Special Agent Salary and Benefits
The FBI pays its special agents annual salaries ranging from $78,000 to $153,000, depending on their rank. Supervisory special agents can earn up to $170,000. FBI special agents make at least 25% more than the national average.
Special agents enjoy numerous advantages, including a substantial 401K plan, health insurance and paid time off. They often get to work abroad and receive relocation benefits and access to specialized training programs. These agents can also apply for student loan forgiveness.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) About How to Become an FBI Agent
Is it hard to get into the FBI?
Getting into the FBI is a rigorous process that requires time, energy and patience. However, the outcome is worth it if becoming a special agent is your goal.
How many years does it take to become an FBI agent?
To become an FBI agent, you must have a bachelor’s degree and two years of working experience, and you must complete the SASS process, which takes about a year. This time totals about seven years.