How to Become an ATF Agent

Four Parts:Understanding ATF Job RolesEnsuring Your Eligibility for an ATF positionPreparing for the Exam, the Application, and the JobGetting the Job

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) is a U.S. Federal law enforcement organization and is part of the Department of Justice.[1] Special Agents with the ATF are not only charged with the task of preventing and investigating federal offenses involving alcohol, tobacco or firearms, but also with regulating the interstate commerce of firearms and explosives.[2]

Part 1
Understanding ATF Job Roles

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    Investigate everyday job tasks. While a job as an ATF agent may seem action packed, there are tasks you will be doing every day.
    • You will investigate criminal violations within U.S. jurisdiction.
    • You will work with the Department of Justice with investigating and controlling laws concerning the sale of alcohol, tobacco, and firearms.
    • You may keep irregular hours and under both mentally and physical activities.
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    Read about special job requirements. Sometimes, you may be asked to do special tasks as an ATF agent. This may include:
    • Testifying in front of a court or grand jury on behalf of the Federal government.
    • Interviewing subjects on behalf of U.S. laws regarding alcohol, tobacco, and firearms.
    • Conducting arrests.
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    Learn about the research aspect of the job. You may find this job to be more physically demanding than you may have first thought. There may be some dangerous aspects of the job as well, but you will also spend time behind a desk researching and doing paperwork.
    • You will gather and analyze evidence from investigations.
    • You may conduct surveillance on suspected subjects.
    • You may be gathering evidence for search warrants.

Part 2
Ensuring Your Eligibility for an ATF position

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    Meet age requirements. You must be at least 21 years of age at the time of application. You cannot be over 36 years of age of the time of application.
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    Meet citizen requirements. You must be a U.S. Citizen in order to be applicable for an ATF position.
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    Sign up for selective service (if applicable.) If you are a male and born after December 31, 1959, you must be signed up with U.S. Selective Service.
    • The selective service registers you to be eligible for military action in the (unlikely) case of a draft.[3]
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    Meet basic education requirements. To qualify for an ATF (G-5) position, you must possess a four year post-secondary education degree from an accredited university.[4]
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    Obtain a degree in criminal studies or other applicable area of study for this position. This will make you a more suitable candidate for the position, although this is not required.
    • You may substitute a degree with three years of relevant experience in a position similar (such as police or military work).[5]
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    Pass ATF required exams. There are a number of exams you must pass to officially become an ATF agent. Other sections of this article will discuss this further.[6]You must pass:
    • A medical exam including a physical exam
    • A written exam at the interview
    • A drug test
    • A polygraph test
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    Pass a background investigation. All applicable candidates will undergo a background check on their personal and professional life. This will make sure that you are eligible for a top secret security clearance.[7]
    • These agents will make sure you do not have a criminal record.
    • The background investigation may involve interviews with friends, family, and coworkers.
    • You will have to submit to a polygraph ("lie detector") examination.
    • You will not be automatically disqualified if you have a criminal or drug record. ATF agents review this on a case-by-case basis.[8]
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    Pass a basic health requirements examination. ATF has basic requirements regarding health for all agents. You must not:
    • Be overweight (usually, a BMI over 25)[9]
    • Have bad eyesight (minimum 20/100 vision on both eyes.)
    • Be colorblind
    • Be hearing-impaired[10]

Part 3
Preparing for the Exam, the Application, and the Job

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    Research additional job requirements or job perks. There are bonuses, incentives, and other potentials as an ATF agent.
    • You can get paid a bonus, through the Federal Language Award Program, if you are multilingual.
    • As an ATF agent, you have the potential for upward mobility within the career. Generally, you will start as a Grade Level 5 (G-5) and the maximum promotion level is a G-13.[11]
    • Pay scale increases with each G-level and is based on performance reviews.
    • As a government employee, you may be eligible for loan-forgiveness for your federal student loans (not private loans).[12]
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    Study for the ATF Special Agent Exam. The ATF exam is made of three parts: verbal reasoning, quantitative reasoning, and investigative reasoning. The ATF website provides sample questions for you if you would like to practice.[13]
    • Part A - Verbal Reasoning -- You will get a set number of questions that include a paragraph with information required to answer the question correctly. This section is designed to have you be able to read information and answer questions based on reasoning and critical thinking, but not on assumptions.[14]
    • Part B - Quantitative Reasoning -- This section requires you to answer questions based on numerical or statistical values. You are not able to use calculators on this exam.
    • Part C - Investigating Reasoning -- In this part of the exam, you will have to read a paragraph about a case study of a fictional investigation. The questions require you to draw conclusions based on the information provided.
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    Prepare for the physical exam. You will have to be physically fit to be an ATF agent.[15] This exam requires you to be able to do:
    • Situps -- You must do a requirement amount of situps in one-minute (number based on age and gender)
    • Running -- You must run 1.5 miles in under a certain amount of time (time based on age and gender)
    • Pushups -- You must do a requirement amount of pushups in one-minute (number based on age and gender)

Part 4
Getting the Job

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    Contact a recruiter. Government positions often are acquired through recruiters and recruitment offices. The Department of Justice website provides recruiter information based on location and by major city.[16]
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    Apply on the website. Specific jobs are listed through directly through the Department of Justice job board through[17]
    • You can search for jobs by certain locations, requirements, or positions.
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    Check job boards. Some online job boards will list government jobs. They generally redirect you directly to the Department of Justice’s website/application.
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    Talk with HR, if applicable. If you are already in a relevant government position (police or security work, for example), you may have an easier position transferring into an ATF position. Talk to your Human Resource department or your managers for opportunities.
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    Participate in a field panel interview. After you have applied and passed the examinations, you will be requested to appear for a field panel interview. You will need to bring a writing sample with you.[18]
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    Graduate from ATF basic training. If you pass your examinations and interview, you must complete a two-part, 27-week basic training program. This program trains you in criminal investigation and other operations, including analysis, procedures, and writing reports.[19]
    • After you graduate from basic training, you advance to becoming an ATF Special Agent Trainee. You will be assigned to an ATF office.

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