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Ask Molly: On-the-Job Training

April 2, 2021


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Dear Molly,

I’m worried that I don’t have the right skill set to be a CIA officer, at least not yet. What kind of on-the-job training does CIA provide to help train its officers? Alternatively, what kind of opportunities does CIA have for people who want to pursue continuing education throughout their career?

~ Always Growing

Dear Always Growing,

Before I talk about anything else, let me ease your fears: CIA does not expect its officers to be prepared to recruit assets or brief the President of the United States on day one. Trust me, if that were the case, I think I might have had a very short career. We recognize that CIA’s mission is incredibly unique, probably unlike anything you’ve ever experienced before. The work we do isn’t taught in schools, it can’t be condensed into a course rubric, and no amount of assigned reading could possibly prepare someone for the task ahead. Our mission demands an equally unique – and surprisingly robust – training framework.

Following a fairly standard basic orientation, in which employees learn about CIA’s mission and structure, familiarize themselves with the Directorates and their functions, and network with others in their onboarding cohort, employees move to their home office, where additional, more specialized training awaits.

This specialized training can take a number of different formats. Analysts will likely move into what is called the Career Analyst Program (CAP), an intensive analytic program intended to train incoming analysts on our analytic writing style, briefing techniques, analytic methodologies, and a number of other skills critical to success as an analyst.

Support officers may head to a year or more of additional hands-on training related to their specific area of expertise: finance, logistics, security, or another one of CIA’s many support disciplines. The same applies to officers in the Directorates of Digital Innovation and Science and Technology. There are a wide variety of disciplines in all three, each of which has its own training program.

Officers in our Directorate of Operations have a particularly unique training experience. And while I can’t get into too much detail here, suffice to say that the program is intended to equip officers with the skills they need to recruit and develop assets.

In addition to onboarding training, CIA also offers a number of professional development courses to officers looking to deepen their expertise in certain areas. These can range from writing and briefing workshops to conflict resolution and budgeting courses. That is to say, for the officer looking to grow their professional skill set, there is no shortage of options at CIA, with more being added by the day.

As for continuing education, CIA supports employee development through outside experiences and training to build technical and leadership skills that meet our mission needs. We want to stay on the cutting edge of our fields and sometimes it makes more sense to send our officers to get training or experience outside of government to do that. These experiences must, of course, be mission-relevant, meaning that the skills learned should be directly applicable to the work you’re doing here at CIA. If I were a finance officer, for instance, it would be strange for me to seek CIA sponsorship to pursue a Masters in Fine Arts (though officers are more than welcome to do so on their own time!).

Hopefully you feel a bit more confident now, knowing more about the training available to CIA officers. Again, we’re not hiring people with the expectation that they tackle our biggest challenges on day one. We know that officers need to learn the how of intelligence first, and it is our priority to ensure that everyone is prepared with the skills they need to succeed. Like you, we’re always growing!

~ Molly

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