The Real Poop
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There are lots of reasons to want to fight crime at the federal level. Maybe you enjoy those gangster movies of the 1930s and 1940s, where "G-Men" ride into town in a blaze of dust and glory to save the day. Or maybe you want to know if "the truth is out there," like certain paranormal investigators of the 1990s.
There are plenty of reasons to become an agent of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, but whatever your motivations, it's important to first know what you're getting yourself into.
To start, you'll dress like the Men in Black.
Despite how the FBI is portrayed in the media, though, it's not all shootouts and undercover work. There's desk work, paper work, and the occasional office party (they're pretty great at surprises in the Bureau). You'll get paid like any other government employee, on a scale from $45,000 to $120,000 plus benefits. We'll call it an even $90,000 on average, all things included (source).
There are two main areas of focus that you can embrace within the FBI: Special Agent and Professional Staff. We're mostly going to focus on becoming a Special Agent, but that doesn't mean if you become Professional Staffer you won't get a chance to save the world on a regular basis.
Okay, so you won't, but you're the much-needed support team. The quarterback may be the star, but he's not winning football games if his offensive line isn't holding off the defense.
FBI Professional Staff work all sorts of investigation-related gigs (source). They might work in intelligence analysis (spy stuff), information technology (computer stuff), applied science (science stuff), engineering and technology (evidence stuff), linguistics (linguistical stuff), or a bunch of really specific other stuff ("stuff" stuff).
There are even normal, everyday jobs like nursing, public relations, and automotive maintenance. If you're not front-line agent material, you can still be a gun- and badge-toting member of the FBI.
Now the main event: being an FBI Special Agent is where the real action is. Most of the Feds you see on TV are portraying those agents. Special Agents are the ones who maintain the field offices and go out on assignments to solve cases and enforce federal laws. They get to do field work (exciting stuff) like gather evidence and intelligence, make arrests, and testify in court.
There are lots of different ways to go if you want to become an FBI Special Agent. From counterterrorism to organized crime to drug trafficking, federal agents spend their days fighting the good fight on the streets of America (and many other countries). Don't just assume that knowing which area of the FBI you'd enjoy working in means that you're set to go, though.
There are super-strict requirements involved, and your background needs to be squeaky clean. They're going to expect you to have a four-year degree, a solid work history, and dozens of references with whom they can verify, check, cross-check, re-cross-check, and check-re-cross-verify while crossing their checks about you.
You also might want to know a bit of Federal Agent history before you apply, because you'll definitely be tested on this information later. If you think a pop quiz in history class is bad, try taking it while the government is watching.
If serving your country as a federal agent of the Bureau of Investigation seems like the best use of your time, we're happy for you. We're also sad for you because you're going to be working really hard day in and day out for the rest of your life.
You won't be able to attend every summer barbecue, but at least you can always conduct surveillance on it from a van parked across the street. This job does have its perks.