How to Join the FBI After Leaving the Military

How to join the FBI
(FBI photo via Twitter)

A lot of military personnel make the switch from GI to G-Men, and there's good news: The FBI wants veterans.

Before you apply at the FBI's jobs website, make sure you meet its requirements for veteran applicants, what documents you need for your veterans' preference and -- most important -- what automatically disqualifies you.

It's called the Special Agent Selection System (SASS), and here is a very brief, very general overview.

How to Join the FBI

The FBI needs applicants from diverse backgrounds, given the varied nature of the crimes it investigates. It isn't just looking in the backwoods of America for terrorist sleeper cells or investigating murders across state lines.

To be clear, FBI agents are hunting down spies, terrorists and serial killers. But those are not the only crimes they pursue. There are some 300 different federal violations the FBI must investigate.

The FBI takes on cyber crime, organized crime, white-collar crimes such as embezzlement, political corruption and a lot more. To hunt down perpetrators of these kinds of crime, it needs more than door-kicking gunslingers (although, it needs those, too). The feds need a lot of expert career fields, many of which can be learned in the military.

Veterans with backgrounds in accounting, architecture, contracting, engineering, physical sciences, logistics and more can all find a place as a special agent in the FBI. Don't let your preconceived notions of your military specialty keep you from applying.

After you apply, if you make the cut (more on that later), you get hired as a special agent and are sent to the FBI Training Academy at Quantico, Virginia. New-agent training is 20 weeks long, and you learn the basics of everything you need to be a special agent. This is not for the weak-minded or faint of heart: It's one of the hardest training regimens in the U.S. government.

New agents in training (NATs) are given a rundown in law, informant development, investigative techniques, ethics, surveillance, interviewing, interrogation, intelligence, defensive tactics and practical application -- at a mock town square known as "Hogan's Alley."

On top of the academics and 110 hours of firearms training, you'll also need to pass a fitness test consisting of a 1.5-mile run, push-ups, sit-ups and a 300-meter sprint. Pass all that without violating the FBI's core values, and you'll get a badge, a sidearm and an assignment.

Veterans Joining the FBI

Veterans get special consideration while joining the FBI, like most other government jobs. If the veteran has an honorable discharge or a service-connected disability (and the DD-214 Member-4 copy to prove it), they can be eligible for 10-point preference. This also makes them eligible for an age waiver if they will apply for the FBI after their 37th birthday.

The day before one's 37th birthday is normally the cutoff date for any new law enforcement officer at the Department of Justice, but preference-eligible veterans can get this waived if they pass all other sections of the SASS.

Veterans who have a valid top-secret clearance are already ahead of the game, because that's one of the FBI's non-negotiables.

Making the Cut

The Special Agent Selection System is a rigorous way of pulling the best of the best into the FBI. There are a few things the bureau demands right off the bat, and being a veteran won't help:

  • A bachelor's degree
  • 20/20 vision in at least one eye and no worse than 20/40 in the other
  • U.S. citizenship
  • A top-secret clearance

Those are the basics. It's a hard cut to make, considering the FBI received 35,000 applications in 2019 for 900 open jobs. Be sure to take special care when filling out the knowledge, skills and abilities portion of your application. You will also be given a full local and national background check to receive an interim clearance (if you don't have one already).

Then, you'll fill out the SF-86 form, which is the background information needed to get you that top-secret clearance. As all veterans know from their time in service, it's important to be brutally honest on this form, because lying can get you disqualified from a clearance and is a violation of one of the FBI's core values: uncompromising personal integrity.

Plus, you're going to take a polygraph. So don't lie.

Other automatic disqualifications include:

  • Defaulting on federal student loans
  • Failing to register with Selective Service
  • Felony convictions
  • Failing the FBI drug test
  • Lying about past drug use
  • Failure to pay child support
  • Failing to pay taxes
  • Attempting to overthrow the U.S. government

Once you're "hired" and make it to Quantico, the FBI will be looking to cut you at every turn. NATs must score at least an 80 on every exam, with only one possible re-test. It doesn't really end there. Once you make the cut and have your badge, you're still on probation for two years.

If none of this deterred you, good. Apply for your new FBI career on its application site.

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