What’s the Best Degree Path for Becoming an Intelligence Analyst?

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The need for insightful, actionable, and reliable intelligence in the private, public, and governmental sectors is at an all-time high. Reliable intelligence is critical to businesses and governments, and organizations strive to make sense of large amounts of information that is generated daily, monthly, and yearly. As a result of information accumulation, skilled professionals are needed to synthesize data and derive action plans based on what’s been collected. These skilled professionals are called intelligence analysts.

When you make the decision to major in the humanities, you are cultivating the foundation you need to work in any number of career paths, including the role of an intelligence analyst. Earning a degree from a college or university is an important part of an aspiring intelligence analyst’s career preparation.

 An Intelligence Analyst’s Education

In military and government agencies, intelligence analysis is essential to security. Intelligence analysts find work in agencies like the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), and the National Security Agency (NSA), as well as in branches of the military like the Army and the Marines. The work of an intelligence analyst is to gather, research, analyze, and evaluate information. Often, the information is crucial to homeland security or the safety of military troops and civilians.

However, there is a big difference between information and intelligence. To completely understand the role and educational pathway for an intelligence analyst, one must know the distinction between the two. Information is data about a specific issue or circumstance. In business, analysts collect data or information that might impact operations. But intelligence would then identify how the business might be impacted. Intelligence would indicate when the issue might arise and what steps need to be taken to eliminate risk or problems. Intelligence analysts collect information and then interpret it. They draw conclusions needed to make assessments for policy makers and provide analysis that helps in future planning.

There is no one degree path that leads to a career as an intelligence analyst. Instead, there are many possible paths for candidates to take. Humanities majors, like political science, are in demand, according to the federal government’s intelligence website, U.S. Intelligence Careers. The FBI seeks candidates with degrees in subjects like criminal justice, history, international law, international studies, and English. An education in foreign languages, such as Arabic, Chinese, Hebrew, Korean, Russian, or Vietnamese, is also desirable.

Many fields of study can prepare students for careers in intelligence, including business, engineering, and science. However, studying the humanities helps students develop valuable skills in analysis, critical thinking, and writing. These abilities can be instrumental when it comes to researching and analyzing important information.

A bachelor’s degree is a necessity for aspiring intelligence analysts. An advanced degree, like a master’s degree, can sometimes strengthen a candidate’s résumé and give him or her a competitive edge over other candidates for intelligence jobs.

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Gaining Government Experience

Aspiring intelligence analysts need more than work experience to land their dream jobs. They also need security clearance. Because of this necessity, candidates often enter the military and begin their intelligence careers in the armed forces. During service time, they are able to get the security clearance they need to work in intelligence positions outside of the military, as well. Other aspiring intelligence analysts complete government internships during college to get a foot in the door. Either way, gaining the experience and making the networking connections from either military service or government internship opportunities can increase a candidate’s likelihood of getting the desired job.

Both a favorable job outlook and a high earnings potential, as seen below, drive individuals to this career path. But in addition to being paid well, intelligence analysts have the satisfaction of doing a job that is important to the security of the nation. They often enjoy excellent benefits and advancement potential later on in the course of their careers. Though intelligence analysts typically work for the government, these professionals can also choose to put their skills to work in the private sector, in positions involving business intelligence and consulting.

Important Qualities and Skills for Intelligence Analysts

Critical-thinking skills: Strong analytical- and critical-thinking skills are important for the role of an intelligence analyst. In order to draw meaningful conclusions from the intelligence collected, analysts must study multiple sources. Once data is gathered, they must evaluate the validity of the source of the information and intelligence. Comprehensive analytical assessment is required of each source. An analyst must be able to draw conclusions and generate actionable plans based on their findings.

Detail-orientation: As an intelligence analyst, one must anticipate issues, detect problems, and execute plans to resolve challenges based on research and findings. In order to carry out the role of an intelligence analyst, one must be detail-oriented.

Self-awareness: For individuals with intelligence-focused roles, having the ability to recognize cognitive biases is extremely important. A person who is self-aware is able to remain unbiased, or at the very least, recognize biases that may get in the way when interacting with information. Biases interfere with analyses. The ability to recognize biases is important to the role of an intelligence analyst.

Strong research skills: Going hand-in-hand with critical-thinking abilities, strong research skills are important for intelligence analysts. The role of intelligence analyst requires collection and evaluation of information. Once collected, analysts ensure insights are well-informed. Sources are checked and analyzed for accuracy and reliability. Factually based conclusions are then drawn.

Written-communication abilities: An intelligence analyst must be able to effectively communicate and articulate findings to clients, stakeholders, and administration. They must be able to present their findings based on research analysis through reports and memos, or other forms of writing. Excellent writing skills are needed, in addition to superior analysis and research skills.

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The Job Outlook for an Intelligence Analyst

The job market for intelligence analysts in the United States is favorable for the next several years. In fact, CareerExplorer reports the job market for this occupation should grow by four to five percent through 2026. The projected growth is slightly higher than the average for all other occupations. Growth should occur in this role due to the number of individuals reaching retirement age and the need to fill those vacancies. Over the next 10 years, approximately 8,500 intelligence analysts will need to be added to the industry.

However, employment is concentrated in a handful of geographic locations. By state, most intelligence analysts work in Texas. In fact, the Lone Star State employs about 16,780 intelligence analysts, which is nearly 5,000 more than any other U.S. state. California offers the second-highest concentration of individuals in this occupation. In California, there are approximately 11,700 individuals employed with the title of intelligence analyst. New York, Florida, Arizona, and Georgia also rank among the states with the most intelligence analysts. Alaska, Wyoming, and West Virginia all rank as states with the lowest number of intelligence analysts. The bottom three states all have less than 200 individuals employed in this role.

Earnings for Intelligence Analysts

According to the PayScale, which is a data-informed company reporting compensation and benefits for various occupations, the average annual salary for intelligence analysts is $71,516. However, the earnings can reach as high as $107,000 for the top 10% of individuals in this occupation. Earnings vary depending on where the individual works and their level of experience and education.

PayScale reports that entry-level intelligence analysts with less than one year of experience can expect to earn an average total compensation (including bonuses and overtime pay) of approximately $57,556. This number is based on the average of 123 salaries reported. But with more experience, pay increases. According to PayScale’s reporting, intelligence analysts with one to four years of experience earn an average total compensation of $64,257. This number is based on the average earnings of 872 salaries. For individuals with five to nine years of experience, an average total compensation of $73,807 is expected, based on 710 salaries. Experienced intelligence analysts, specifically those with 10 to 19 years of experience, earn an average total compensation of about $87,500. This number is based on the average of 486 salaries. Lastly, late-career intelligence analysts, those with more than 20 years of experience, earn an average compensation of $90,885.

In addition to experience, earnings for intelligence analysts vary by geographic location. According to data published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), top-paying areas for this occupation, as well as for information security analysts, include California, New York, New Jersey, the District of Columbia, and Virginia. The highest-paying state, California, shows an annual mean wage of $125,990 for this occupation.

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Possible Certifications Needed for Intelligence Analysts

While there are no specific certifications required to land a job as an intelligence analyst, some employers may prefer individuals with certain certifications. Certifications help a candidate stand out among competition. Since there are sometimes fewer jobs than there are candidates, competition can be fierce. A certification will help one showcase dedication to the profession and convey the knowledge and depth of understanding one has in the role. Below are possible certifications one can obtain when seeking a job as an intelligence analyst.

Certified Business Intelligence Professional (CBIP)
The Certified Business Intelligence Professional (CBIP) certification is for professionals who work closely with or in data management. This credential is considered to be the business intelligence and data management industry’s most meaningful certification. Achievement of this credential lets employers know that you are serious about business intelligence. To qualify for the credential, you will need a bachelor’s degree in a related field and a minimum of two years of experience. Once qualified for the exam, you must complete three separate examinations. Scores received on the examinations will determine whether you earn a practitioner- or mastery-level certification. The higher the score, the higher the mastery earned.

Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP)
The CISSP certification is available through the International Information System Security Certification Consortium. It is a highly sought-after certification for intelligence analysts working in the cybersecurity industry. Individuals can only qualify for this certification after five years of experience. Two of those five years must be hands-on experience. A passing score is also required on the CISSP certification exam.

Criminal Intelligence Certified Analyst (CICA)
Criminal Intelligence Certified Analyst (CICA) certification is available through the International Association of Law Enforcement Intelligence Analysts (IALEIA). It is an ideal certification choice for intelligence analysts who work in the criminal justice industry. Certification is rooted in the concepts of professionalism, as set forth by the SCCA, and it is guided by the NCISP recommendations, as well as the Law Enforcement Analyst Certification Standards for certification organizations. Applicants for certification must have the work experience and professional training that is required to become a professional analyst. Certification also requires IALEIA membership and a passing score obtained on the examination.

Intelligence Fundamentals Professional Certification (IFPC)
Offered through the Department of Defense, the IFPC certification requires applicants be a U.S. citizen and pass an examination. The IFPC exam consists of 90 questions. Upon passing, the certification lasts three years and may be renewed by retaking and passing the IFPC exam or achieving a higher-level certification from a program that is endorsed by the USD(I&S). The IFPC is based on enterprise-wide Defense Intelligence Fundamentals standards, which set forth the core expectations of what all defense intelligence professionals must know and execute.

Work Environment of Intelligence Analysts

Busy days and large volumes of data are to be expected in the role of an intelligence analyst, but the work setting may vary by role. Intelligence analysts may work in government or military departments, international agencies and embassies, or private intelligence agencies. They may work with small businesses, investment companies, or large corporations. Intelligence analysts may also work in different fields, such as business, cybersecurity, engineering, finance, or telecommunications. No matter the industry or setting, analysts spend long hours analyzing collections of data and issuing security warnings. Some field work and travel may also be required.

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BDP Staff
August 2021

This concludes our article on the best degree path for becoming an intelligence analyst.

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