First and foremost, you must recognize that the CIA is a government agency; as such, the salaries are less than stellar. The exact salaries are kept top-secret (as is everything to do with the CIA's budget), but don't ever expect to make six figures - something between $30,000 - $60,000 is a lot more realistic. But don't complain; teachers, police officers, and firefighters all get paid crap too.

The CIA is divided up into four directorates (the agency's fancy word for "branches"):

  • The Directorate of Operations (referred to as the "DO"), which is responsible for collecting HUMINT (human intelligence). In other words, this is the part of the CIA that you go to when you want to be (or catch) spies. However, the DO contains only 1000-2000 of the CIA's 16,000-20,000 employees.

  • The Directorate of Science and Technology, which uses spy satellites (over $1 billion a pop) and other technological wizardry to gather intelligence.

  • The Directorate of Intelligence, which analyzes all the information (most of it easily available from sources like newspapers and radio) and prepares memos for briefing the president and other officials.

  • The Directorate of Administration, which handles the CIA's daily logistics and among other things would be responsible for hiring you.

Each directorate thinks that its work is the agency's most important; certainly part of working for the CIA is feeling a sense of pride and patriotism which compensates for the below-private-sector salaries.

Almost any educational background or field of study prepares one for a career at the CIA. In the last couple of years the agency has been on a hiring spree, attending numerous college recruitment fairs and trying to grab qualified candidate before they are snatched up by higher paying private-sector jobs. The CIA also has internships and graduate study opportunities available. Apparently, their strategy has worked: the number of applications in 1999 (39,000) doubled from the previous year.

Yes, many fields of study could prepare you for a career in the CIA, but some of the most highly sought experience includes:

  • Computer scientists, engineers, and programmers, needed for just about everything.
  • Economists to analyze economies (mainly the Middle East, Asia, and Africa) in order to brief policy makers.
  • Human resource people to keep the agency staffed and happy. (This is one of the easier jobs to get.)
  • Language teachers and translators to help those who cannot help themselves. In fact, fluent knowledge of any second language is a huge plus.
  • Psychologists to evaluate perspectives and keep the agency sane.
  • Specialists in paper and pulp science to make notes that self-destruct in 30 seconds or less.
  • Polygraph examiners to examine polygraphs.
  • Secretaries who, in addition to typing, get to "handle classified documents that will be used by the President."

If you are none of the above, then check out this complete list of currently available positions at the CIA.