How to Chase Bad Guys: A Day in the Life of an FBI Agent

by MDC on December 12, 2012

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You see them in movies and on television, but most people have a limited idea of what it means to be an FBI agent. It probably comes as no surprise that they aren’t chasing criminals over rooftops all the time, but what exactly do they do? A quick glance at the official FBI job site will let you know what the requirements are for becoming an FBI agent. You have to be between the ages of 23 and 37 – there’s a mandatory retirement at age 57 – and you have to pass strict vision, hearing, and physical fitness assessments. All qualified agents go through a 20 week training program at the Quantico, Virginia FBI Academy. After that, most agents find that their typical work days vary greatly depending on what they’re investigating and where they’re needed most.

1. The Basics

Although they often get to work early, an FBI agent does not have anywhere near a typical 9 to 5 job. Agents are usually considered on call, and they can be recruited to join an investigation, testify at a trial, or travel across the country or even the world at a moment’s notice. To be hired at the FBI, agents will have passed an extensive background check that could even include polygraphs and interrogations, so their security clearance gives them leave to be involved with nearly all aspects of law enforcement. When they’re not working on a case, many agents spend additional time training, especially with firearms, as they might not have had experience with guns prior to their training at Quantico.

2. What are Investigations Like?

The FBI investigates many different crimes, both foreign and domestic. They’re involved in fighting terrorism and espionage, working to keep U.S. secrets and weapons technologies out of reach for foreign criminals. They can also investigate organized crime in the United States, and many agents also specialize in corrupt politicians and white-collar crime. When necessary, the FBI can get involved in a local investigation and work with police. Most FBI agents will tell you that the most important part of a criminal investigation are the details, and that while chases might be great in the movies, more often you will rely on outsmarting a criminal rather than overpowering them. These days, quite a lot of FBI investigations involve cybercrime. The internet can be a perfect place to catch pedophiles and serial killers as well as people trying to hack their way to government information.

3. The FBI Structure

The director of the FBI is appointed by the president for a 10-year term. They work from FBI Headquarters in Washington D.C. along with the heads of departments and the FBI Crime Lab. But naturally, not all FBI agents work in Washington D.C. – there are FBI offices in 56 major cities around the country. The FBI mostly employs agents, but there are also a number of administrators and lab technicians. Contrary to popular myth, nobody at the FBI actually prosecutes court cases, but they can provide valuable evidence to judges and lawyers and testify in many trials. One of the things FBI agents love most about their job is the sense of family. Agents go through harrowing experiences together, and they look out for each other – they can even donate their sick time to another agent in need.

Even the starting pay for an FBI agent is pretty good, but agents can advance their careers quickly if they are working in an in-demand area and end up making up to $150,000 a year. The flexible schedules can pay off, too – an agent might get called in in the middle of the night sometimes, but they’ll find themselves with time to spend with their families, as well. It might not always be the job you see in works of fiction, but working for the FBI is never boring. Every day can be a new experience when you’re protecting the country from its greatest and most formidable foes.

Gary Leonard writes for several education sites and suggests finding a school that offers a degree needed to become an FBI agent.



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