Michelle Pickens had just resigned her position at the Internal Revenue Service Criminal Division to seek a new career opportunity. She wanted to become a Special Agent with the FBI. At the FBI Academy in Quantico, Virginia she found herself surrounded by a group of highly-qualified candidates with whom she would spend five months in training. Together they hit the books, studied investigative techniques, went through firearms training, and reached their physical fitness goals. “I made some very good friends at the Academy, and I remember looking forward to my first assignment as a Special Agent,” Pickens recalls.
That was 11 years ago. Today, Pickens says joining the FBI was a great career choice, “It’s given me the opportunity to get incredible experience and it’s been extremely rewarding. It’s provided me a chance to see different parts of the country and spend time overseas. I’ve been able to investigate several major cases.” Her first case dismantled a $32-million Ponzi scheme in Phoenix. Now Pickens investigates white collar crime for the FBI’s Salt Lake City Division. “I know that people with bad intentions are going to mess up one day and I’ll be there to catch them,” says Pickens. There’s another benefit to working for the FBI that she is quick to point out, “I knew when I started that I’d be making the same amount of money as the person sitting next to me. We are all treated equally.”
Before joining the FBI Petra Butler-Castleberry worked for the Secret Service. She knew federal law enforcement was the career for her, and in the mid-1990’s she applied for the FBI. Now a supervisor over the Salt Lake City Division’s cyber crimes squad, she is reminded everyday about why her work is so important. “We arrest people who harm children and we get them off the streets,” says Butler-Castleberry. “Not everyone wants to work cyber crimes, and that’s what is great about the FBI. Some people want to work on the criminal side and investigate kidnappings and violent crimes. Others enjoy working fraud cases or want to focus their efforts on national security.”
Like in other professions, juggling personal responsibilities and a career isn’t always easy. “When there’s a missing child and you have to be out there searching, you will have to tell you own child you can’t make it to their event; a missing child takes precedence,” says Butler-Castleberry. “However, you’ll find your kids will be extremely proud of what you do.”
Former prosecutor Sanitha Ulsh chose a career in the FBI because she was intrigued by the thought of investigating cases. Becoming a Special Agent with the FBI allowed her to blend investigative techniques with her legal expertise. Ulsh brought her background as an attorney to the agency and, in turn, the FBI gives agents like Ulsh an opportunity to continue their training on legal matters. For Ulsh, it’s the best of both worlds. “I have never, ever, looked back,” said Ulsh, who gets a lot of e-mails from former colleagues interested in joining the FBI. “People described it to me as the greatest job, and that’s what I say to others.”
Today, 19 percent of FBI special agents are women. Special agent Juan Becerra is the recruitment coordinator for the Salt Lake City Division. “Female Special Agents bring valuable skills to the FBI that sometimes only women can provide,” said Becerra. “Women have the ability to provide new analytical perspectives and in some instances they are better at performing difficult interviewing techniques involving children because of their ability to share and extract feelings and information from victims as well as subject interviewees.”
In 2010 the FBI hopes to hire approximately 900 new agents and 1200 professional support personnel nationwide. Becerra says the FBI is looking for qualified people from all walks of life. He reminds applicants there are many advantages to working for the FBI. “The FBI offers people a unique career that will bring a level of satisfaction that no other career can provide…the ability to serve your country during times of peace or war as well as provide a good standard of living for your family.” He also offers this insight to potential applicants, “Not every day is the same in the FBI, and we face differing and new challenges every day. The camaraderie gained and loyalty found among our employee ranks is unparalleled in other job circles.”
So what does it take to become a special agent? Applicants must have earned a four year undergraduate degree and have at least three years of professional work experience. Accounting, finance, chemistry, biology, international studies are just some of the college degrees that could make a candidate more competitive. Becerra says foreign language skills are also helpful. Some potential applicants express concern that they might not qualify for FBI employment due to past drug use. Becerra encourages those who may be considering a career with the FBI to review theFBI’s drug policy online. People who are interested in learning more or obtaining an application can find more information at http://www.fbijobs.gov/