How to Improve Your Chances of Becoming a Special Agent from a non Law Enforcement Background

How to Improve Your Chances of Becoming a Special Agent from a non Law Enforcement Background

Becoming a special agent for a federal law enforcement agency like the FBI, DEA or any other federal agency is an extremely competitive process. Only the most qualified applicants are selected from the thousands of people who apply each year. While many special agents come from law enforcement backgrounds, it is possible to get hired as a special agent without previous law enforcement experience. Here are some tips to improve your chances if you are applying from a non-law enforcement background.

Understanding the Special Agent Role

Special agents are responsible for conducting sensitive investigations and operations to uphold federal laws. They gather intelligence, conduct surveillance, make arrests, and interview witnesses and suspects. It’s challenging work that requires strong interpersonal skills, attention to detail, integrity, and the ability to analyze complex situations.

Though most agents have prior law enforcement experience, there are benefits to bringing in qualified professionals from other backgrounds as well. Diversity of experience and expertise enhances investigations and operations. Civilian backgrounds like accounting, law, foreign languages, and computer science offer new perspectives.

Gaining Relevant Knowledge and Skills

Without law enforcement experience, you need to demonstrate your investigative aptitude, legal and procedural knowledge, and applicable skillset in other ways. Here are some recommendations:

  • Earn a relevant four-year degree in areas like criminal justice, forensic accounting, foreign languages, or computer science. Many applicants have law degrees.
  • Take ride-alongs with local law enforcement and observe officers on the job to gain law enforcement exposure.
  • Study the federal legal system and investigative procedures to understand protocols. Master subjects like evidence gathering, surveillance authorization, warrants, and interrogations.
  • Obtain any prior experience with investigations, intelligence analysis, forensics, or relevant technical skills through work or academics. Federal agents often specialize, so unique expertise is an asset.
  • Consider getting certified in skills like fraud examination, forensic accounting, or foreign languages to stand out.

Acing the Application and Examinations

The application process is rigorous, with fewer than 5% of applicants becoming special agents. Follow these tips to excel:

  • Highlight your applicable skills, education, and any exposure to law enforcement in your resume and personal narratives. Draw clear connections to the special agent role.
  • Perform well on the written tests assessing your judgment, analytical ability, and other attributes. Practice frequently with sample test questions.
  • Thoroughly prep for the panel interview, polygraph, and physical fitness test. Be confident conveying your qualifications and motivation.
  • Submit glowing recommendations from professors, employers, and any law enforcement contacts who can vouch for your abilities.
  • Remain patient through the lengthy evaluation. The process can take around a year before final hiring decisions are made.


Becoming an FBI, DEA, or other agency special agent is highly competitive but attainable for qualified civilians without law enforcement backgrounds. Success requires understanding the special agent role, obtaining relevant education and skills, and meticulously preparing for the demanding application process. With persistence and the right qualifications, those with non-law enforcement backgrounds can excel as special agents.

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