The FBI. You can hardly hear that acronym without thinking of black-suited secret agents and television crime dramas; and like most people, I'd harbored midday fantasies about how working for such an agency could dramatically improve my life. If not with the pay scale, then with the excitement.
I was an international business major in college at the time I decided to send my resume the way of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, for I was facing the thought of coming out of college with a pile of student debt, a stagnant job market, and little to no prospects of a secure job right out of graduation. "Sam," I told myself, "it can't hurt, can it?" If the FBI rejected my application, I certainly couldn't have been any worse off than I already was.
A careful preparation
I submitted my resume online, after agonizing over its format and content (or lack thereof) for nearly a month, and had a return phone call within three days. Turned out that a local recruiter was doing a presentation at my college that very same month and I was invited to sit down for the presentation and have my interview afterward. At that point, I was ecstatic! An interview is an interview.
For my presentation and interview ensemble, I chose a conservative skirt suit in dark charcoal with a pale blouse, low heels and similarly conservative makeup. Sensible. I printed out copies of the resume I'd sent, as well as some pertinent notes from the research I'd done.
Before I go on, I have to say that no one, anywhere, should ever go to a preliminary interview without doing research. Doesn't matter if you're applying to McDonald's or the president's office -- your researching might yield valuable information that might set you apart from other applicants, or make you realize that it's just not the job for you. Either way, it's a lifesaver.
I started my research by looking at the agency's hiring portal. Afterward, I started contacting people I knew who'd had experience with the agency, starting with my mother, who'd applied 10 years earlier and had ultimately turned down their offer of employment. It was her advice, by the way, that influenced my wardrobe decision.
I arrived to the presentation a full 20 minutes early; but to my dismay two other people, similarly attired and holding folders that I was sure also contained resumes, had made it there before me and were happily chatting away with the presenter. Not to be outdone, I slid into a second-row seat, and before long was invited to join the conversation, which was mostly centered around the humid Florida weather. As time wore on, the room filled, and about five minutes later than scheduled, the presentation began.
A thorough briefing
It was typical of what you would expect from a hiring presentation that was geared toward college students: a slide show, a middle-aged presenter who was able to offer a few personal and comical anecdotes, lots of statistics and a lot of time spent underscoring the potential upside of federal employment, which is having a secure job with great benefits. The atmosphere was casual enough to make even those who'd come to the presentation in jeans and a T-shirt feel at ease (and there were at least a handful of those), and I felt satisfied and curious by the end.
I still remember the major points, even years later, that the FBI's biggest need was for linguists, and that having a strong lingual background (preferably with fluency in languages like Spanish and Russian) was virtually a guarantee of a job offer. And that, for those who had no language experience, employment was competitive -- for not only were members of other law-enforcement and government agencies applying, but people from a variety of backgrounds in the public sector were as well.
However, they did let us know that there were certain programs geared for those in college (like me), meant to help us overcome those hurdles. A number of internship opportunities existed, as well as a special college recruiting plan, for example.
When the presentation adjourned, the recruiter moved to an adjoining room in order to interview each applicant individually. By luck of being the closest, I was allowed to proceed first. The recruiter had seated himself at the opposite end of a long boardroom table, and in front of me had a copy of my resume. Nervous doesn't even come close to describing how anxious I felt.
A long wait
The process was simple, however. He inquired about some areas of my past employment (a blessedly brief scenario, given my lack of prior job experience) and we spent several minutes discussing why I'd chosen to apply with the FBI. We also discussed experiences I would hope to gain from my potential employment, whether it was acceptable that my employment might necessitate cross-country moves, and the details of the training requirements for FBI agents.
During the close of the interview, I inquired as to why the application didn't require any drug tests or background checks. As it turns out, these are only a requirement after you get a conditional approval for employment, which minimizes costs to both interviewees and the bureau. Congenial to the end, the interviewer walked me to the door and informed me that I should receive a follow-up communication within a month.
It was one long month. I checked the mail religiously, which was somewhat out of character for me at the time.
Nearly three weeks later, I found a polite response in the mail that I was, in short, not hired.
That was something I'd been gearing myself up to hear; for after all, I didn't have any special linguistic background, nor did I have any special talent like technological know-how that would have been of particular interest to the bureau. Still, it was a worthwhile experience for me to go through the interview process, despite not ultimately getting the chance to live out my fantasy job.