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FBI Special Agent Job Description, Career as a FBI Special Agent, Salary, Employment

Definition and Nature of the Work, Education and Training Requirements, Getting the Job

Education and Training College plus training

Salary Varies—see profile

Employment Outlook Fair

Definition and Nature of the Work

Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) special agents investigate violations of U.S. laws and report their findings to the office of the attorney general. They investigate crimes such as kidnapping, extortion, espionage, bank robbery, fraud, and sabotage. To carry out their jobs, they talk to witnesses, observe the activities of their suspects, do research, and participate in raids.

Because their work is strictly investigative, special agents do not express opinions about the guilt or innocence of suspects. These decisions are left to lawyers employed by the federal government. If agents testify in court, they relay the information they have gathered. Much of their work is confidential, so they are not allowed to discuss it with outsiders, including members of their families. On assignments they may have to carry firearms.

Agents work from field offices located in the United States and Puerto Rico and from the national headquarters in Washington, DC. To uncover facts, they use the crime detection laboratory in Washington, where experts analyze blood, paint, and fragments that agents find at the scenes of crimes. They also use a fingerprint database.

Some federal crimes, such as tax evasion and counterfeiting, are investigated by other agencies. However, FBI agents may be called in for assistance. FBI agents also run character and security checks on many employees of the government.

Education and Training Requirements

To become an FBI special agent, you must be a graduate of a state-accredited law school or be a college graduate with a major in accounting. You may also qualify if you have a bachelor's degree in any discipline, with fluency in a foreign language that is especially useful to the bureau; a bachelor's degree in any discipline plus three years of full-time work experience; or an advanced degree plus two years of work experience.

Applicants must be citizens of the United States, between the ages of twenty-three and thirty-seven, and in good physical condition. Excellent eyesight and hearing are essential. Background and character are investigated thoroughly. Applicants must pass physical, written, and oral examinations, which are similar to those required for employment by the federal civil service.

During the first year, which is probationary, agents receive sixteen weeks of intensive training in Washington, DC, and at the FBI Academy in Quantico, VA. They learn self-defense, FBI rules and methods, fingerprinting, criminal law, and weapons use. At the end of their training, they are assigned to one of the field offices for the remainder of the year, after which they are given permanent assignments.

Getting the Job

If you are interested in getting a job as a special agent, write to the director of the FBI. In addition to sending a resume and cover letter, request information on vacancies, requirements, and employment applications.

Advancement Possibilities and Employment Outlook

Special agents are eligible for periodic salary increases. After demonstrating ability and proving that they are capable of assuming more responsibilities, agents may be promoted to supervisory or administrative positions.

Openings are limited. The rate of turnover in the FBI is very low. Each year some agents are hired because of expansion, but most people working as agents remain in their positions until retirement.

Working Conditions

FBI special agents must be ready for assignments in all places at all times. They are subject to call twenty-four hours a day. Because agents generally put in many extra hours, they are compensated with an annual bonus in a fixed amount.

The work can be both exciting and dangerous. Agents work alone or in small groups. Agents who can accept the responsibilities of the job find it a rewarding career. The work is seldom routine.

Where to Go for More Information

Federal Bureau of Investigation
J. Edgar Hoover Building
935 Pennsylvania Ave. NW
Washington, DC 20535-0001
(202) 324-3000

Earnings and Benefits

In 2004 beginning special agents received a base salary of $42,548 per year, but they could earn $53,185 per year with overtime pay. Experienced agents who had advanced to field assignments that were nonsupervisory received a base salary of $64,478 per year. Overtime brought their total wage to $80,597 per year. Supervisory agents earned $76,193 or more per year. Benefits include paid holidays and vacations, medical insurance, and retirement plans.

Additional topics

Job Descriptions and Careers, Career and Job Opportunities, Career Search, and Career Choices and ProfilesLaw and Public Service