The intelligence community offers a variety of professions distributed across sixteen federal government agencies, numerous state and local organizations, and many private sector companies. Though there are many career options, intelligence and security careers can fall into three general categories: intelligence analyst, operations officer, and competitive intelligence analyst.
As an intelligence analyst, you will collate diverse reports from the largest information feeds in history, distilling the essence of the data into daily briefings or longer-format reports, like National Intelligence Estimates. You will apply Structured Analytic Methodologies to your critical thinking, and generate plausible hypotheses from very little information. Depending on your specialization, you will build profiles of nations, organizations, drug lords, terrorists or serial killers. Your job will constantly change, shifting with national security objectives or moving with the flow of street crime.
Intelligence Analysts work in national security, law enforcement, and private industry.
Operations Officers serve on the front lines of the human intelligence collection business by clandestinely recruiting and handling sources of foreign intelligence. It takes special skills and professional discipline to establish strong human relationships that result in high-value intelligence from clandestine sources.
—CIA National Clandestine Service Brochure
As an Operations Officer, you will collect information and run counter-intelligence operations. You will use your interest in foreign affairs, your language and communication skills, and your impeccable integrity to work with people of different backgrounds and viewpoints, all in the name of advancing national security interests. Operations Officers have the opportunity to travel or live abroad, which allows them to become culturally flexible and versatile.
Operations Officers work for the CIA’s National Clandestine Service and the Defense Intelligence Agency. In the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Operations Officers are referred to as Special Agents; they conduct operations domestically and investigate federal criminal matters.
“CI is a necessary, ethical business discipline for decision making based on understanding the competitive environment.”
—Society of Competitive Intelligence Professionals
Executives in the business world cannot rely solely on intuition and experience when making business decisions. Fast-growth CEOs who rated competitor information as being either ”very” or “critically” important grew revenues 20% faster than their counterparts (PriceWaterhouseCoopers Trendsetter Barometer, March 2002). Competitive intelligence is not industrial espionage, which is illegal. It is a process involving the gathering of information and converting it into intelligence, and then using this in business decision making.
Salaries in the Intelligence Community are commensurate with your expertise. A starting intelligence analyst often earns a Grade 7 Step 1 ($40,000) salary. If you have a degree in a critical field, such as chemistry or biology, or you are fluent in a language, your base salary may be higher for some organizations (e.g., CIA NCS offers one-time language bonuses up to $35,000 at signing). The intelligence community is moving to a pay for performance system, where bonuses are awarded for effective analysts.
Competitive intelligence analysts working in the private sector can earn an average of $65,358. The top 37% of job postings advertise salaries over $80,000 (source: indeed.com). The average salary for a competitive intelligence administrator is $150,000. The highest-paid 25% of independent consultants earn $100,000 or more (Society of Competitive Intelligence Professionals).