Tracy L. Baldwin Swayne
Former FBI Special Agent
So You Want to Be a G-Man? – Throughout the years, I’ve often been asked, “Is being an FBI Agent like it is in the movies and on TV?” Personally, I never solved a case in an hour (with commercial breaks), and there was no cool lighting where I worked. Being an FBI Special Agent (SA), depending on your Squad area, can be 90% tedious with a 10% pucker factor.
There are a lot of misconceptions about the FBI SA position and the work that we do. By the way, every agent is a Special Agent; it’s just shortened by the public to be “Agent.” I’ll give an overall disclaimer that the following is from my personal experience and observation. You can get the “FBI Version” from the FBI website or the FBI recruiters.
So You Want to Be a G-Man?
You should answer is…do you have the patience and perseverance to find a penny lost on a football field systematically? If you answered no, then this may not be the job for you. FBI work is meticulous and detailed. Everything is documented, and the smallest piece(s) of information may be the nugget needed to get the “bad guys.”
Of course, the FBI SA application requirements are detailed on https://www.fbijobs.gov. I hope to give you some tips from my nine (9) years of experience as an FBI SA.
I don’t know of anyone that was accepted for the SA position immediately after college graduation. As an SA, you carry a gun and make life and death decisions. The FBI is looking for will change from year to year – but they consistently want people who have had success before the FBI application. That success can be in any field. I have a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration (BSBA) with a Minor in Management Information Systems (MIS). I worked in Government Contracting in Huntsville, AL for six (6) years and with Pentagon Officials for two (2) years in Washington, DC in Public Relations and Marketing. In my FBI New Agent Class (NAC), we had a former Casino Manager, a Scientist, an Engineer, and those that worked in Finance. We even had a former professional Clown.
The FBI has the main specialty skills categories for people they are looking to hire: Law, Accounting, Foreign Language, Computer Science, and then everything else. The best advice I can give you is to love what you are doing; if the FBI can use those skills – great! If not, continue with your career. We were told that we were among the top 2% of the population, and it was harder to get into the FBI than it is to get into Harvard. We were also told that hundreds of thousands of applicants covered the seat we held.
I know of people who wanted to be an SA from the time they were kids. Their father or grandfather was an SA, and that’s all they wanted to be. The problem with that is there is no guarantee you will be accepted. Many wash out because of prior drug use, some at the interview, and some during the polygraph. I know of good candidates that were not selected. It’s great to have a goal…but if the FBI does not accept you, life goes on, and you can be successful!
I talked to several people that went through college in Criminal Justice with the sole goal of getting into the FBI. When they didn’t make it in, they were completely lost. I found the FBI didn’t really want those who went through Criminal Justice. The FBI will teach you what they want you to know – they don’t want to reverse other training. That’s true for law enforcement as well. I only knew one person who was a police officer and then made it into the FBI SA program. If you are interested in Criminal Justice, then, by all means, study that – but keep your options open about Agencies for future employment.
Tracy with MP3: Sub-Machine Pistol
Be Sure The FBI is What You Want
Take the initiative and cold-call FBI offices in your area. Ask if you can take an SA to lunch and ask about their experience. Do you like what you see? Do you like what you hear? You will get completely different input from an FBI recruiter. I specifically wanted to know about the SA position from a woman’s point of view. I found the women in three (3) states to talk with me and meet with me to talk about their experience.
The Hiring Process
My book, God Is Bigger Than Your FBI, goes into great detail about the hiring process and New Agent Training with numerous tips. I’ll just put a few here:
The FBI application process is long and difficult. One (1) to three (3) years is average. I was required to do:
- A short application, a regular job application. This is the easiest thing you’ll do. 2- A 3-part testing (written, multiple-choice, and timed test). I had been out of “test-taking” for quite a while, so I went through every SAT Study Guide I could find and brushed up. There is a math portion, and the FBI’s sample booklet was nothing like the actual test. The math section was the most difficult for me.
- A long-form application that took ~ 40 hours to complete. This covers your entire life. Be patient and accurate. This will be used for your Top Secret Background Investigation.
- Panel Interview and Written Test (in another state) – see book excerpt below. 5- Polygraph. You will not pass this if you lie. Tell the truth about everything, and you should be fine. If you are not within the drug use parameters, don’t waste your time or your time.
- Be prepared to be stationed anywhere in the United States.
- Don’t think you’ll be working where you want to right away. For the first two (2) years, you are a probationary Agent and a body to fill a vacancy.
Below is an excerpt from my book, God Is Bigger Than Your FBI:
The interview is quite intense. They tape-recorded the entire process, and each of the three SAs asked questions in rotation. They find out what you’re made of. In “active” listening, you receive constant feedback by the listener giving verbal and non-verbal cues. For example, nodding your head with understanding, or saying, “ah huh,” or making an expression of question or disapproval – you get the idea. What I remember most about this interview was seeing the top of each person’s head. They gave no verbal or non-verbal listening cues. In fact, they gave no response at all…they wrote notes the entire time…except for the man in front of me that kicked me under the table three different times. The third time, I asked if he was trying to tell me something. He just laughed and apologized. Being an actress has distinct advantages in several situations. My inner dialog during this interview was that I must be saying things that are so great they have to write them down. In doing that, my energy was higher at the end of the hour than when I arrived. I answered all the questions thoughtfully and honestly and felt very confident that it went well.
I’ve since learned that the majority of candidates don’t make it through this interview stage. I think these folks go in expecting positive feedback, and when they don’t get it, they sink back. Here’s the thing…as an FBI SA, out on the streets, people look to you to solve whatever problem is at hand – be it a bank robbery, arrest, interview…whatever. You don’t get positive feedback – you often get resistance and chaos. It’s important to have the inner strength to “bring it” when you have to rely on yourself in difficult and even dangerous situations. This interview process is only a tiny example of what’s to come, and I think it’s a good measure of who’s got “it.” The report writing was very easy for me, and again, I think it’s a good measure of things to come since the entire FBI is based on documentation and reports. It was simply an exercise in organizing content, developing an outline, and writing clearly and concisely. Having seen some horrendous reports written by current agents, I believe this testing phase should carry more weight and hinder more candidates from moving on. Use all the time allotted. If you have finished, review your work. Be the last one to leave.
Tracy at FBI New Agent Training – Quantico, VA
Be in Good Physical Shape
You won’t be successful if you sit on a couch and think you’ll make it through the FBI Training/Testing. Get in shape when you start the application process so you’ll be ready. I remember a poster in our work-out area that had a picture of a prisoner lifting massive weights. The caption read, “He’s working out – are you?” I recently started a YouTube Channel and have a short video about preparing for FBI Firearms training at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dFcKf-3FZU4&t=29s The FBI SA position can be very rewarding, and I know I made a real difference in many of the cases I worked. Each person will have a different experience, but I think it most important to keep your values intact and live the FBI Motto: Fidelity, Bravery, and Integrity.
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