In the Tom Clancy universe, Jack Ryan is a mild-mannered history teacher and former Marine whose military skill set combined with history and economics degrees lead him to a career as an analyst at the CIA.

Jack Ryan may be fiction — especially considering he eventually ends up as president — but an economics expert or a veteran with a strong knowledge of military strategy can be just as valuable a part of the intelligence team as an operative.

CIA recruits can range from those with a high school diploma or a GED to a PhD. A former enlisted recruit with six years of service can be as viable as a candidate with a doctorate in cybersecurity.

Candidates sought by the agency have earned degrees that range from engineering, economics, psychology, and technology and from law school to war college. Most important to those transitioning from service, CIA places a high value on the skills, dedication, and unique perspectives former military members bring to their mission. Veterans play a vital role in all departments of its diverse workforce.

The agency encourages former military — who understand the importance of OPSEC — to apply and offers specific benefits tailored to veterans who chose to join. For example, current openings, such as paramilitary officer, are paying hiring bonuses up to 25% of base pay.

Here’s a primer on why veterans may be a good fit for the agency.

What it takes

Each candidate is carefully vetted through several intensive interviews and security screenings. The entire process can take more than a year. The positions are not for those without a clear idea of what type of life and career they want. Working for the CIA is a lifestyle choice, not a job. According to the website, all of the department positions at the agency require dedication to one common core goal: to keep the country safe.

The basics of applying

The CIA prefers candidates are physically in the United States or one of its territories when submitting an online application. They must also be a U.S. citizen (dual U.S. citizens also eligible) and willing to move to the Washington, DC area (Virginia). They must also be able to successfully complete and pass full security and medical evaluations, including a background investigation, a polygraph interview, and a physical and psychological examination.

The benefits

Special benefits and credits exist for former military (see below), but benefits for all agency employees include health insurance through the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program, including dental, vision, and long-term health; there are also indoor and outdoor on-site fitness facilities and three hours a week allotted to fitness. Paid time off, sick leave, childcare, flexible-scheduling, overtime, holiday, night differential, and premium pay, student loan repayment assistance, retirement, continuing education, foreign language school — and financial compensation for certain existing language skills — are among other benefits available.

Special veterans credits and benefits

Candidates’ veteran status may influence the benefits received. Veterans get credit for time served. Unlike a civilian entering the agency’s workforce, they don’t start at the bottom. When it comes to leave, aka vacation and retirement, time in service counts.

Service credit for retirement

Those who are separated, but not retired, can use uniformed service for credit toward their civilian retirement by making a 3% deposit to the Federal Employees Retirement System.

Retired military can use their uniformed service toward civilian retirement by making a deposit to the retirement fund and waiving their military retirement pay at civilian retirement. However, if a military retiree wishes to keep their military retirement pay, they can’t use that military service toward civilian retirement.

The Central Intelligence Agency currently offers over 100 career choices for qualified veterans. Openings vary from administrative, logistics, human resources, accounting, targeting, security, analysts, information technology, paramilitary, and operations officers. Career choice depends on education level, specific experience, aptitude, and language skills. Being bilingual is not required.

Security caveats:

  1. Do not tell anyone — friends, family, or organizations — of your interest in CIA or joining CIA.
  2. If you are interested in a position with CIA, it is required that you do not follow, friend, share, interact, post, or mention the agency on any of your social media platforms.
  3. Do not download unauthorized copies of items or illegally downloaded music, movies, software, animations, courses, or TV episodes.
  4. Do not use illegal drugs within twelve months of your application, and do not remain in the presence of those who use illegal substances.
  5. You may not contact CIA while outside the United States using any means of communication, phone, email, or snail mail.

Seriously. Your application could be canned before you begin.

Military leave accrual for National Guard or Reserves duty

Full-time employees in the National Guard or the Reserves for Active Duty or Training accrue 15 days of military leave each year. Accrual rates for part-time employees are prorated. Employees can carry up to 120 unused military leave hours into the new year. Employees on military leave receive both civilian and military pay.

The nitty-gritty on the agency’s military leave policy

Employees required for emergency duty as ordered by the president or state governor receive up to 22 days of leave per calendar year; however, leave cannot be carried over into the next calendar year. Therefore, civilian salary is reduced by the amount of pay for the days of military leave. However, agency employees may choose to take annual instead of military leave and receive both military and civilian pay.

The CIA’s hiring process

For those seriously considering a second career in the intelligence field, the agency prides itself on an open, organized, logical hiring process. The process is broken down into five chronological steps, and each of these steps is broken down into different requirements or sections. As the hiring process is arduous, the agency allows candidates to apply for up to four job openings at once.

The five hiring steps at the CIA, broken down

While it may only be listed as five steps, there are many components in the application and hiring process. Know that CIA expects an immediate response to their communications and a delayed response can disqualify you.

  1. Apply online
  2. Screening, testing, and interviews
  3. A conditional offer of employment and SF-86
  4. Security and medical evaluations as part of the clearance process
  5. Official job offer and onboarding
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