Criminal Justice News

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Top Stories: Become an FBI Agent

The Life of an FBI Agent

Media Coordinator Beth Anne Steele recently sat down with Special Agent John Jeffries, the applicant coordinator for FBI Portland. In this interview, he discusses his experiences as an FBI agent and offers advice to those looking to pursue the same path.
Beth Anne: Let’s talk about your life, John. What did you do before joining the FBI?

John: I came from the world of corporate finance. My days included analyzing profit-loss statements and working with customers on solutions for off-balance sheet acquisitions. One day, I was talking with the chief financial officer of my company. He said something about the moral characteristics of FBI employees, and it piqued my interest. The interest became more than just a passing thought, and I began to pursue a career.

Beth Anne: How long have you been an agent, and what do you enjoy most about your career?

John: While it may sound old-fashioned, it has been a privilege to serve the citizens of our country as an agent for more than 16 years. I have had so many incredible experiences as an agent. However, the stories of those times are really wrapped in the people who experienced those moments with me. The most enjoyable part my career is and has always been the people who I work with every day.

Beth Anne: When you think of these co-workers, what is it that makes them so special to you?

John: The culture of the FBI is we are a family. A family takes care of each other and is there when help is needed. Within the tactical setting, we must rely upon each other and that can be a strong bond, but the day-to-day, more common examples are what define the FBI culture. For instance, if a co-worker who is pregnant develops complications resulting in physician-prescribed bed rest, she may not have enough sick or vacation time to cover the extended absence. Co-workers can donate their vacation time so she never misses a paycheck. It is just one of the many ways we take care of each other.

Beth Anne: What advice would you give to prospective agents?

John: Be honest. In the private sector, taking credit for anything you barely touched is sadly the norm. When you apply to the Bureau, be absolutely honest. We will conduct lengthy interviews, polygraph exams, and a background investigation prior to allowing you to become an agent. We lose large numbers of people because they omit pertinent information or “stretch the truth.” For that, you will be discontinued and never be given a second chance.

Beth Anne: What do you think are the biggest misconceptions about a career as an FBI special agent?

John: First, my life is not what you might see from Hollywood…not even close. I don’t think I have ever seen “Jack Bauer” type anything documenting his actions. Our careers as FBI agents require detailed attention to everything we do—details that are often tedious and anything but exciting. Think of a jigsaw puzzle that has thousands of pieces that must be carefully examined and put together. It is the detail that allows the FBI to put together large cases that end with placing handcuffs on the subject. Yes, there are times when we are in the forest on the trail of someone who just shot or abducted someone, but do not make the mistake of thinking you will be doing that every day.

Secondly, most people wrongly assume we are only looking for employees who were formerly in law enforcement. One of the strengths of the Bureau is that we have varied backgrounds. If the Bureau were comprised of nothing but finance people like me, we would be a weaker organization. In general, we like people who have jobs that require attention to detail. That includes all kinds of professionals from software engineers to lawyers to foreign language specialists.

For details on becoming an FBI special agent, please go to The special agent application period is currently open until August 15, 2012.

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