Inside the CIA: Q&A With a Former Intern & Current Recruiters
AIP sat down with two current CIA officers to uncover secrets to a successful application, bust CIA myths, and learn what it's like on the inside...
Meet Maggie and Cassandra. Both women work in the Central Intelligence Agency's Directorate of Support:
Maggie C. is CIA's Corporate Student Programs Outreach Coordinator in the Talent Acquisitions Office. She conducts outreach to organizations and high schools to demystify the CIA and recruit talent She reviews student's resumes to determine what part of CIA they best match, and she lets students know about CIA internships, scholarships, how to apply, and the clearance process.
Cassandra H. was a CIA intern who became a staff officer. She currently serves on the team that runs the student internship program for the Directorate of Science &Technology.
AIP: Cassandra, why did you decide to apply to the CIA internship and what made you choose the Directorate of Support?
Cassandra: I applied to the Agency after my college roommate encouraged me to do so. She had already applied the year prior and was even scheduled to intern that coming summer, so she recommended that I do so as well. I applied, at the beginning of my sophomore year and ended up interning between junior and senior year, so it is a long timeline from application to getting in the door. I chose the Directorate of Support because when I was looking through all of the different job postings the Directorate of Support specifically called out my major, although there's lots of different engineering jobs. The job that I applied to within Support was the only one that called out Facilities or civil engineering specifically. It aligned with the internships I had done in the private sector already with facilities management and construction, so it was matching my major and some of my previous experiences.
AIP: Maggie, can you tell us a little bit more about the different, the Directorate structure at the Agency, and the range of internships and jobs available?
Maggie: Absolutely, thanks for asking. We have different directorates, and each directorate covers a different part of our mission. We have the Directorate of Support, the Directorate of Digital Innovation, the Directorate of Operations, the Directorate of Analysis, and the Directorate of Intelligence. With all those different directorates, each directorate does something a little bit different, but like Cassandra said engineers are needed across the board. What we like to do is, when you get online to apply, you can select certainly four different positions. They don't have to all be in the same Directorate, and they don't have to all be a match with your major that you're currently working on. However, you're probably going to find a match to your, major in most, if not all of the directorates.
AIP: Could you each give a broad idea of the Agency's mission and what it means to you, or looks like in your work every day?
Maggie: Sure, the Agency mission is basically to keep our nation safe. Coming to work every day for me is so exciting. I'm very passionate, having been prior military, I've loved my career here. I get up in the morning and know that even if I'm just taking a phone message for somebody, I'm providing an integral part to our mission. I can go home at night and rest my head, knowing that I've done my part to keep every American safe as much as I can.
Cassandra: Great, I don't have too much to add in regard to the mission of the organization. It's definitely keeping our country safe, and we do that by collecting intel and providing that intel to various stakeholders throughout the government. For me and from a Support perspective, I'm not collecting Intel and I'm not analyzing that Intel to provide to Congress and other entities, but I'm supporting those that do. So, I am making sure from a facilities perspective that we have the spaces that we need. That people who need to be co-located are co-located together, and ensuring that our buildings serve their purposes. Especially with COVID, we looked a lot at how we're going to continue doing our work as the world around us changes. That's how I really identify with the mission is enabling those to achieve the core mission.
AIP: Great insights on the mission. Cassandra, can you give us a little bit of insight on what sorts of projects and work you did as an intern? How are they similar or different to what you do now?
Cassandra: As an intern, I was working in the facilities for an office supporting our headquarters compound. As an intern, I was only here for a summer, and facilities projects can be multi-year. Building a building can take a really long time, so I was just working on one small piece of a greater facilities project. I helped with a contractor site survey, getting them access and freeing their point of contact. It was a lot of responsibility considering I was still learning how to navigate the building myself, but my manager and mentor in the office really supported me and gave me that piece to own. I think that's really important for interns, whether they're working for the CIA or private sector is really owning whatever projects are given to you, because at the end of the summer you walk away feeling like you accomplished something.
When I came back as staff, I kind of switched gears a little bit. I focus more on environmental compliance, which is a very niche area within the Agency that I don't think a lot of people are aware of that we do have environmental compliance and safety program. It's a huge plug for them, it was something I had learned in school, but I hadn't actually done in practice even in other internships in the private sector or during my internship here. But again, my manager and the Agency really supported me in learning that program and making sure that I was able to complete my job successfully there. So, a lot of on the job training, and a lot of mentorship really helped me succeed there. Since then, I've kind of transitioned more into a role helping student programs and getting more into outreach and things like that. So a very different hat than facilities management, but it's one that I've really been enjoying. Again, the Agency is willing to give you the ability if you're willing to try, they're willing to help you try. So a lot of training and a lot of education opportunities as well.
AIP: It's fantastic that you've been able to mold and navigate your career. Since you're both working in talent acquisitions right now, so from this perspective, as you're bringing in new people and supporting this, what kind of traits do you guys think are distinct to each Directorate or specific internship opportunities and what skills are universal across the Agency?
Maggie: I'll take this one. What I can tell you is that the Agency is looking for all types of interns. We want people that have Support and HR experience. We're also looking for engineers and cyber security majors, and pretty much everybody in between. Each directorate can have a portion of Support folks that help pay the employees, help move them, where they need to go, help with facilities of the buildings that they're in. They also can be Directorate specific like cybersecurity or even analysis, so there's a spot for pretty much everybody in our organization. The best way to find out is to get on our website and, to look at the different Directorates. It breaks each one of them down and it also shows every job, internship or scholarship job that is available for people to apply to. And the website URL is www.cia.gov
AIP: Could you both give me a general idea of what is CIA culture like? And Cassandra, what was the intern culture like? Did you get to work with other students? How was that experience?
Cassandra: I'd say the intern culture and the culture are very similar. The CIA is surprisingly small and I'll use an example from my internship. I was walking through the hallways and I passed someone who lived in my dorm. I never knew she applied to the Agency and she never knew I applied, so it's a very small organization. It's surprising how quickly you'll cross paths with people, even if you're from Kansas or somewhere in the Midwest, you're going to find someone from your hometown somehow affiliated with the organization. With that comes a family mindset of everyone looking out for each other. Maybe you're at a picnic or sporting event and you run into someone from work and you just kind of give each other that nod and that courtesy of hey, I see you.
It's a very supportive environment. Along that same line it's supportive from a professional and a personal matter. We have great resources here for people because we recognize what happens at home can also come into work and what happens at work can also be taken home -- not the actual work, but the stress of work. The support structure here is phenomenal. They really encourage employees to take advantage of the assistance program. That's something within student programs we're really encouraging because students have unique stressors that are different than the normal workforce. The culture for internships especially is very academic, focused on learning and taking advantage of the resources. In non- COVID times there's lots of speaker events, and different activities going on. There's a student association that is run for and by the students, where they help with networking and other things. I don't want to say it's like college because it is a job, but because there's so many students and different things going on, and ways to get involved it does feel very academic
AIP: That's awesome. Maggie, what about CIA culture more generally?
Maggie: I would echo everything that Cassandra said, once you become full-time staff, if that's the path you choose, those outreach items always stay with you. We support our staff and students with all kinds of different entities. We have various groups students and full-time staff can join. As a staff officer, I've always been well taken care of. I had mentor resources any time I wanted, not just when I started, I've made friends that have lasted a lifetime. I know walking down these hallways that any given time that one of these people have my back,
AIP: What a fantastic work environment to be in. Now a more fun question. It can be confusing and scary as a young person trying to navigate the Agency, and there are a lot of ideas surrounding what the Agency really is. Do either of you have a favorite myth to bust about the CIA or is there anything that seems like a myth, but is actually true?
Maggie: Go ahead. I know you're dying to do this one.
Cassandra: From a Support perspective, a lot of people think that we're wearing sunglasses and have guns and three-piece suits and we're all trying to collect Intel or we're very ops focused, but that's not true at all. There are a lot of support components as we've gone over, there's facilities, there's HR, there's logistics. Then you also have DDI, all the IT perspectives, and then you also have the analysts. Can people from any of those groups also get into more of the operation side? It is possible, but there's lots of people who, frankly, don't want to do that, and I'm honestly one of them. I am happy to stay in the DC area. That's one myth that I always like to bust because, if you don't want to travel, there are jobs at the CIA that don't require travel. It's just making sure that you're applying and positioning yourself to be in those positions. On the flip side of that, if your goal is to be traveling and doing the Op side of things, that's possible too, and it's just positioning yourself accordingly.
AIP: Awesome. Maggie, anything you want to add?
Maggie: Not really. I think she covered it all. When I go out and talk to potential applicants and even high school seniors and juniors, I like to get out in front of them so that they can actually see what the Agency looks like and see themselves as part of the Agency and know that we're not all spies. As Cassandra said, we don't drive around in tinted window cars and we're not planting, microphones every meeting that we go to. There's so much more we can do. That's an opportunity to do that if you want to, but you can also make sure people get paid or work in any of our financial offices or construct a brand-new building that we're using. There's so much to do, and it does really take everybody to accomplish our mission.
AIP: Both of you work with students and Cassandra, you were an intern. Maggie, is there advice you like to give to incoming applicants? And Cassandra, what would you tell someone coming into a similar role you had for the first time as a CIA intern?
Maggie: A lot of my job is to go out and inform potential applicants or even high school juniors and seniors of all the different opportunities that we provide. We like to start very early since we do have a lengthy application process, and applicants have to obtain a security clearance prior to working here. What we try to do is plant a seed to set these individuals up for a successful application processing, which means that we're telling them, about our anti-drug policy, we're telling them about illegal downloading. We're making sure that they know that we are not perfect and that we depend on candor and total open communication during the processing. We know nobody's perfect, but it's better to just go in there and tell all your secrets to the application processing person, to show that there are no surprises because eventually they will find out. That shows you're not perfect, but you are willing to tell the truth when you need to. And that you will always, always be a hundred percent honest in your application process, and everything to that nature. My boss would absolutely kill me if I didn't give a plug for our scholarship applications, which are now open. We are currently accepting scholarship applications. It closes at the end of June, so June 27th, and it is currently open. Internship applications, however, are accepted year-round.
AIP: Cassandra, what about you? What would you say to someone coming into the position you had as an intern for the first time?
Cassandra: This is probably applicable to any internship, private or government, but one thing I was complimented on at the end of my internship was how positive of an attitude I had every single day. I came into work with a smile. I didn't realize I was doing that, but it didn't go unnoticed by my management, and that's probably what helped me to get a full-time job. Sometimes interns feel like they aren't making an impact, because they may not be seeing the direct impact themselves by virtue of how short their time with us. Come in ready to learn, exuding positive energy because we thrive off that as well. Interns with their new ideas, and optimism for the future really refreshes the organization. We're all really looking forward to our interns who are starting to trickle in for the summer. It is what gives us a drive to keep doing our job every day. I would tell any intern regardless of where you're going to work, because there's a lot to learn wherever you go, as long as you go in with the attitude to learn.
AIP: That's great advice. Thank you both for your time and all you do to keep us safe.