How to Become an Operations Officer

Three Parts:Applying to the CIADealing with the Contract PeriodPerforming on the Job

Operations Officers (abbreviated as “OO”) are certified in a category of human intelligence agents called “core collectors” by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). These officers, working under the Directorate of Operations (“DO”) collect intelligence of interest to the executive branch (including the president of the United States), Congress, and the military. Operations officers can be tasked with recruiting and managing human assets securely.[1][2][3][4]

Part 1
Applying to the CIA

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    Access the online application. The CIA, like most Federal employers at this time, are using online applications to process new potential employees.[5][6]
    • This is best to do in the privacy of your own home with a secure internet connection. If you cannot arrange the opportunity to access the application at home then try a local library that’s more likely to have a secure connection. But make sure you can use the computer with online access for long enough to fill out a lengthy application.
    • If you have access to a computer with wireless/wi-fi capabilities you can take it to a retail location with free wi-fi access. This is not the ideal choice as these connections are usually not secure and you risk electronic identity theft especially with so much sensitive information going across your application. However, if you have good internet security (virus protection, spyware protection, firewall), then you may be fine.
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    Create an online account. The CIA requires you to create a specific account profile with the agency before proceeding with any application to their positions.[7][8]
    • You can only create a single account and one application. You can submit one application for multiple jobs in the same sitting. But you cannot submit multiple applications under multiple accounts. Accounts are only enabled for three days even though review processes for the applications can take longer. Do not create another account while your current application is under review.
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    Type in the search for Operations Officer. The job search is the next step in the application process.[9][10]
    • Since you already want to become an OO you need to put “Operations Officer” into the search function to find the position.
    • Once you have brought up the position page for Operations Officer you then need to begin its “Application Package.”
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    Type in the information requested. You will have several forms asking extensive details about your personal background and expertise.[11][12]
    • This is a lengthy application process. Remember you have 3 days of account time to complete the application. Save your work frequently, and come back to it later if practical.
    • If you are using a computer in a public space then do not leave it unattended at any time with your application on and account logged in.
    • Expect to fill out information on: expertise; life experiences (including duration); knowledge; skills; abilities; academic majors and concentrations; work history; certifications and licenses; knowledge of foreign areas and languages; and any military experience.
    • There is also a personnel evaluation form. On the PEF expect to fill out information on: security clearances; background investigations; polygraphs; Selective Service (if applicable); military proceedings (if applicable); employment matters; drug use; legal and/or criminal issues; debut issues; and any Peace Corps activity.
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    Fill out any other forms that come up as completely and accurately as you can. Make sure all additional materials are included such as copies of college transcripts and a cover letter.[13][14]
    • The cover letter should include answers to questions such as: Why are you interested in working for the CIA? Why you are specifically interested in working with the Directorate of Operations? What are your distinguishing characteristics and experiences that promote you above other applicants? What other careers are you thinking about and why? Expect the assessment questionnaire to have similar questions, but the exact content of the assessment questionnaire can only be known once you go through the process yourself. The questionnaires are specific for each job listing.
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    Submit the application. You need to submit the application to the CIA electronically and confirm it was received.[15][16]
    • You should see a confirmation after you hit the submission button. You should also get confirmation instructions.
    • Within two business days you should be able to login into your account and see the application submission status as being successfully received. You will be able to confirm seeing this then the account will be disabled while your application is processed.
    • If the submission was unsuccessful then you can submit the application again. Do not submit again if I was successful.
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    Open your recruitment email. If you are accepted this should come from the CIA on a .gov email address. Check your email account spam filter and folder to make sure nothing was sent there from the CIA by mistake.[17][18]
    • If you haven’t received any contact from the CIA within 45 days of your application then you will not be offered a position at present. The CIA may still contact you later if there is interest in your application. If the CIA is interested in hiring you as an Operations Officer then a recruiter will call or email you.
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    Go to the interview. You’ll need a state authorized photo identification to gain access to the CIA facility. You will undergo an extensive personal security interview as well as job interview. Also expect to experience a detailed background investigation of your life history, character, honesty, reliability, and judgment. You will also be asked to undergo a mental and physical medical examination related to your impending duties.[19][20]
    • The Real ID Act requires that Federal agencies may only accept a state-issued driver’s license or photo identification card for access to facilities. These cards have to come from states or territories in compliance with the Real ID Act.
    • The CIA will evaluate any problems with conflicting allegiances, vulnerability to coercion, and discretion with sensitive information. The CIA uses a polygraph to check its findings.

Part 2
Dealing with the Contract Period

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    Sign your employment contract. CIA applicants that are hired under the DO as Operations Officers are considered contract employees.[21]
    • Read your contract carefully. You will have a specified term of employment depending on the job offer you applied to. Your precise compensation and benefits should also be in the contract. Expect to receive Federal benefits including leave and healthcare on par with Federal staff employees.[22]
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    Read up on your profession. The CIA has a recommended reading list on the clandestine service.[23]
    • The book list covers many topics from analysts to covert actions. Books on the subject of operations include: Milt Bearden and James Risen, The Main Enemy: The Inside Story of the CIA’s Final Showdown with the KGB; Duane R. Claridge, A Spy for All Seasons; Richard Holm, The American Agent; Floyd Paseman, A Spy’s Journey: A CIA Memoir; Ted Shackley with Richard A. Finney, Spymaster: My Life in the CIA; James M. Olson, The Moral Dilemma of Spying; Henry A. Crumpton, The Art of Intelligence: Lessons from a Life in the CIA’s Clandestine Service; William Hood, MOLE: The True Story of the First Russian Spy to Become an American Counterspy; Jose A. Rodriquez Jr., Thwarting Enemies At Home and Abroad: How to Be An Intelligence Officer; Sandy Grimes and Jeanne Vertefeuille, Circle of Treason: A CIA Account of Traitor Aldrich Ames and the Men He Betrayed.
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    Choose to tell others about your job. This is a significant decision and may get a variety of responses from others in your life.[24]
    • Your family, friends, other contacts, and even other organizations may be interested in your applying to the CIA. However, those interested in your job choice of the CIA may not interested in a positive way considering the CIA’s clandestine nature. The CIA will give you more information on letting others know about your employment after you are hired. So you may want to wait.

Part 3
Performing on the Job

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    Do your duties. If all goes well you can report to your assigned location for whatever duty the Agency has for you. As an OO this could range from counter-terrorism to cyber intelligence so it is hard to predict. You will need to be flexible and ready to interpret large quantities of data, handle many people from your office, abroad, and report back on complex situations. You will be working with fellow officers often while at home, but that is less certain where contact is unreliable abroad.[25]
    • Learn the different tasks your office is responsible for early so you can get a handle on what resources you have available for operations later on.
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    Do daily analysis. You could be looking at reports on criminal activity abroad, terrorist communication, or cybercrime programming. You may be asked to consolidate this information to interpret and present it to a superior. You may also be asked to present it in a report that could be sent to the president. You may need to combine language, math analysis, history, and political science into a single analysis.[26]
    • A good example of this is the Presidential Daily Brief. These are extremely short presentations given to the president by advisors that take many sources of security, economic, and political information and combine them into a single consolidated report. As an OO, you could be providing analysis that feeds into this.
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    Learn emergency medical skills. Attend training courses at the CIA or where the CIA recommends. You should learn the emergency services locations when you go abroad, but you could benefit from some emergency first aid training (cardio-pulmonary resuscitation (CPR), bandaging, putting on a splint, etc.) for help if cut-off in a crisis.[27]
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    Build relationships between your contacts. A good network of support early may help you with garnering information for operations later on. Talk to contacts on the street as well as high profile figures in political power.[28]
    • Be cautious as to whether or not your contacts know you are talking to the other. Not all of them will get along.
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    Adapt to new cultures. As an OO you will be assigned to overseas posts often. Get comfortable with the local traditions, language, hotspots, business places, and off-the-beaten-path locations your contacts use.[29]
    • Use a translator for the language at first if you must, but learn it yourself if you can.


  • "OOs" are responsible for clandestinely (secretly) spotting, evaluating, building up, recruiting, and maintaining personal contacts with access to intelligence.
  • Intelligence gathered as a OO is critical to U.S. foreign policy and national security.
  • An OO needs to have keen judgment, solid integrity, exceptional interpersonal skills, and the ability to read into situations and other people beyond the obvious.
  • OO have to handle fast-paced, sometimes vague, and unguided situations with only their personal knowledge and skills to assist them.
  • Knowledge of multiple languages and cultures is a great help—not required.
  • The majority of an OO career is spent overseas with occasional returns to a U.S. based office.
  • Operations officers can make between $50,000 and $85,000 annually.
  • Use secure internet connections when submitting applications online.
  • Save your application work frequently.
  • The CIA will usually respond within 45 days with an offer. If they don’t respond at all within 45 days then you were most likely not selected.
  • Only accept email from the CIA that comes from a .gov extension. Check your spam filters just in case.
  • The CIA will give you instructions on letting others know you are working for the CIA after you are hired.


  • The hiring process for an operations officer can take at least 12 months to complete, include a medical exam, psychological exam, and a polygraph (lie-detector test).
  • An extensive background check is run on applicants.
  • You may be excluded from consideration for hiring if you used illegal drugs within the past 12 months.
  • You may be dealing with transnational (sometimes dangerous) issues such as counter-terrorism, counter-proliferation, and cyber (electronic) intelligence.
  • You must be at least age 18, but under 36 years of age when you submit your application to be an OO.
  • You must have US citizenship at the time of application (dual national US citizens are eligible).
  • You must hold a four year college/university degree from an accredited institution (applicants within one year of earning a four year degree will be considered).
  • Application accounts are good only for 3 days.
  • Other people and organizations may not respond positively to news that you are applying to or hired by the CIA.

Things You'll Need

  • US citizenship at the time of application (dual national US citizens are eligible)
  • A four year college/university degree from an accredited institution (applicants within one year of earning a four year degree will be considered)

Sources and Citations

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Categories: Careers in Government