Supervisory Special Agent Johnson was a breath of fresh air to Professor Justine Madoo’s CCJS452 students as a guest speaker, offering advice on the FBI’s hiring process and answering questions about his tenure as an Agent.
Johnson started out working the drug scene and gangs in Dallas in the mid-1990s, using wires on crack cocaine addicts to help locate and stop the flow of drugs at the source. He later started working “to catch a predator” operations and eventually moved over to cybercrime, where he most notably worked on the Leandro Aragoncillo espionage case and as the Director of the Chicago Regional Computer Forensic Laboratory, where his staff assisted in the forensic investigation of Former Illinois Governor Rob Blagojevich’s corruption scandal. He now works at the FBI headquarters in Washington D.C.
Although many students in Professor Madoo’s summer session II offering of “Treatment of Offenders and Delinquents” were interested in a wide variety of law enforcement agencies, including the Drug Enforcement Agency, the U.S. Marshalls, and the U.S. Secret Service, Johnson assured them that most federal law enforcement agencies hiring processes are very similar to the FBI’s.
Johnson went over a few of the basics of becoming an FBI Agent. He explained there are two phases to the FBI’s hiring process: Phase One, which includes screening, a meet and greet, and an examination of your resume, and Phase Two, which is an intensive interview.
Johnson had a few pointers about Phase One. First of all, he stressed when the FBI conducts background checks, they perform their due diligence. As many already know, the FBI is going to talk to your co-workers, friends, past and current employers, and old neighbors, which Johnson adds is not an end all to your screening, as the FBI understands that, for instance, sometimes neighbors aren’t the best of friends. However, if the FBI does find significant discrepancies between your application, your polygraph test, and your background check, it can often mean you will not move on to Phase Two “for a lack of candor.” Johnson advises that you be as honest and open as you can be about your background and history on your application in order to avoid this problem.
Secondly, Johnson believes your resume should be no more or no less than two pages long. For some, this may seem too short and insufficient space to list your experience and accomplishments. Johnson advises if your resume is more than two pages, it should be because the information is critical and essential, not extra padding. Not sure if you have two pages of significant work experience? Johnson believes this is problematic. He explains the FBI generally hires Agents around age 27 or 28 because they want individuals with “a breadth of work experience,” which means recent college graduates may not be at times qualified.
What Johnson recommends to recent graduates who want to be an FBI Agent, but don’t yet have the experience necessary, is to still try to work for the FBI, just not as an Agent initially. Johnson believes that by doing this, you’ll be “[getting] your foot in the door” as it shows that you really are interested in the FBI’s mission and are committed to the organization. Additionally, Johnson adds “the FBI would rather promote from within,” so “take any opportunity that you can” in order to “set yourself apart” from the rest of the pack when it comes time for hiring. The FBI will also look for individuals who have work experience and the necessary skills in other areas the organization is looking for. “We don’t discriminate; if you have the skills we need, please put in an application.”
Phase Two in Johnson’s eyes, is all about interview skills. He says if there is one piece of advice to take away from him, it’s that good interviewing skills are incredibly important because “the interview sets the table for everything else… it’s the key piece to get you in the door.”
According to Johnson, most people do not get to Phase Two, so it’s impressive when an applicant makes it that far. However, more often than not, Johnson sees qualified applicants not get the job because of poor interview skills. He explains interviewees are often very nervous, which prevents them from putting their best foot forward, but he also made it clear to be careful to not be cocky in an effort to mask nervousness.
Lastly, Johnson added some quick interview tips that you may be familiar with: make a lot of “I”, “me”, or “my” statements during your interview, spell check your resume, look presentable, and make sure to spell out any acronym for any law enforcement or military experience you may have.
If you would like to reach out to Supervisory Special Agent Johnson with questions about applying to be an FBI Agent or for general career advice, or if you are interested in taking CCJS452, please contact Professor Madoo at email@example.com with questions and to receive his contact information.