Secret agent, spy and criminal profiler are popular dream careers, often heavily influenced by pop culture and entertainment. If you’re considering a career with the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) in your real life, you may wonder about the pros and cons of this professional path and how to decide whether to move forward with your plans. As part of these deliberations, you should keep in mind that working for the FBI is more of a calling than simply a job, consider the earning potential you can expect in your intended job role and ask yourself what you do and don’t want in your work.
Not Just a Career, But a Lifestyle
IMAGE SOURCE: Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain
A major factor in pursuing a career with the FBI is a sort of calling to serve your country. FBI employees, particularly Special Agents, go where they are needed and do the work that is necessary to achieve the agency’s missions in protecting national security and enforcing federal law. The profession requires more than flexibility. Deep patriotism and a sense of duty to serve are crucial.
The work you do in a career with the FBI is much different than a typical job where the workday has a defined end and you can share the details of your day with friends and family. Only candidates who are eligible to obtain a Top Secret security clearance may work for the FBI due to the extremely sensitive nature of the agency’s investigations. If a threat to national security is imminent or there’s a major, time-sensitive break in the investigation of a heinous crime, you don’t get to clock out just because the workday is over and wait to handle the matter until the next workday. In fact, willingness to work at least 50 hours per week and be on call 24/7 is one of the major duties expected of FBI Special Agents.
There are also inherent risks in working in certain positions within the FBI, such as Special Agent and other law enforcement roles, that an employee accepts upon joining the organization.
Salary and Benefits for FBI Workers
You can make a good living pursuing a career with the FBI, although how your salary as part of the agency compares to what you might earn outside the agency depends on your specific job role. In a law enforcement role, you are likely to earn more than you would if employed at a state or local police department or other law enforcement agency. The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports a median wage of $63,380 for all police and detective roles across the country but a much higher $87,130 median annual salary for those employed by the federal government.
That’s good news for aspiring FBI Special Agents, whose starting salaries fit into the federal GL-10 Special Base Rate pay grade specific to the field of law enforcement. As of 2019, the GL-10 level of pay spanned 10 steps, with the least experienced FBI Special Agents starting at $50,605 and new agents with the most extensive skills and experience earning $65,293 per year. Over time, FBI Special Agents can advance to the GS-13 pay level, for which compensation ranges from $76,687 to $99,691 per year, in field roles that do not include supervisory duties. Special Agents who want to seek management positions can be promoted to a role at the GS-15 pay grade level, where annual wages start at $106,595 and rise to $138,572.
In addition to the salary, FBI employees enjoy a competitive benefits package. They are eligible for all federal employee benefits programs, including health insurance, life insurance and retirement savings accounts. Other benefits for FBI employees specifically include student loan repayment benefits of up to $10,000 per year, transit subsidies for workers who commute via public transportation and tuition reimbursement for further professional development studies that culminate in a degree or certificate. FBI workers are entitled to paid time off in the form of sick leave, accrued personal leave, 10 paid federal holidays and, for those also serving in the military, designated military leave.
If you come to the FBI from a background outside of law enforcement, seeking a specialized career path, you may not find opportunities to be quite as lucrative – especially if you have a great deal of experience in your field and are already paid well.
Weighing the Pros and Cons of an FBI Career
Because different individuals look for different things in their ideal job, a lot of the positives and negatives of working for the FBI are open to interpretation. For example, one candidate may rejoice at the prospect of an exciting career where no two days are ever the same and you may be called upon to make an impromptu trip across the globe at the drop of a hat. Another candidate could lament the lack of structure and reliability and dread the hassle of having to arrange childcare and leave the family at unexpected times and with little notice. Personality types, career objectives and personal and professional priorities all play a role in determining whether a career with the FBI is right for you.
If the exciting, meaningful nature of working in national security is enough to outweigh negatives like long and irregular hours and personal sacrifice for the greater good, working for the FBI may be a good fit. Otherwise, it may be time to consider a different career path.