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Tips for Pursuing a Career in Intelligence

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By Leischen Stelter

Frances Rouse started her career in nuclear engineering, redesigning components in nuclear power plants. Her career migrated to the aerospace industry, where she was a design engineer on the F16 Fighting Falcon, fighter jet and V22 Osprey, tilt-rotor helicopter. However, she wasn’t totally happy and fulfilled by her career as an engineer.

“I love research and analysis and that’s a thread that’s run through every job I’ve had,” she said. Frances decided she was going to go back to school and get her degree in Intelligence Studies. She did a lot of research to figure out what school to attend. She considered brick and mortar schools, but she wanted to be able to stay near her children and the local schools were okay, but none had impressive intelligence programs.

She decided to enroll in the Intelligence Studies program at American Military University. “It met my needs of being able to take school at my own pace and do it from my own home,” she said. “It was also important for me to be able to see the resumes of the instructors because then I could get a feel for the industry from people who have lifelong experiences in what they’re teaching me,” she said. Frances will finish her last class for her Bachelor of Arts in Intelligence Studies with a concentration in Intelligence Analysis this spring.

Her favorite classes were Geographic Information Systems I and II, which provide students with the tools for data acquisition, management, query and display data visually in a way to understand patterns, trends, relationships, and more. “Those classes made a big impact on me. The industry is growing leaps and bounds and it’s so relevant and important to be able to put time and space together and be able to see things in real time,” she said. In terms of career pursuits, Frances said she’s drawn to issues surrounding food insecurity. When people around the world aren’t fed properly, there is an increased risk for social unrest as well as the rise of terrorism. “That’s fascinating to me and [food insecurity] is a big problem and we can see other problems that are arising out of it,” she said.

Critical Skills for an Intelligence Analyst
What are the most important skills to possess (or develop) for the intelligence field? Yes, you need to be able to think analytically and conduct in-depth research, but one of the most important skills is the ability to communicate well. “Your writing has to be spot on,” said Frances. “I guess I didn’t expect analysts to have to have such a high standard in writing,” she said. Fortunately, Frances said, every professor she had at AMU insisted on strong writing skills. Word choice was another issue that came to her attention early on in the program and the importance of choosing accurate language to describe situations. One of her professors made a good point that one day you could be writing the President’s Daily Brief, so your writing skills must be precise and clear.

Keep your Political Views in Check
It’s also important to keep an open mind, said Frances. “One thing is that I never had political viewpoints, so I’ve never been colored by a political party,” she said. “I think I have a better understanding of how international politics works and how intelligence plays in that because I didn’t have anything tainting my viewpoint.” Classroom discussions would often lead to people getting passionately involved in the political side of an issue, rather than focusing on the intelligence aspect. “I think when a person goes into intelligence, if they can take their political blinders off they’ll get a far better understanding of how it’s used and how it works,” she said.

Network, Network, Network
Make an effort to network inside the classroom and out. Frances recently attended the 2012 United States Geospatial Intelligence Foundation Symposium in Orlando. “It gave me a greater understanding of the intelligence industry overall and there were so many groups represented there – it’s hard to describe what a great experience it was,” she said. Seeing some of the new technology and analysis techniques on the show floor was interesting. She also got to network with potential employers and learn more about some of the companies she had only read about. While Frances had made a concerted effort to network within the classroom, it was a great experience to actually meet and talk with people, face-to-face, about the industry and some potential career options.

Always Keep Learning
Intelligence is a field that is constantly evolving, so it’s important to stay on top of it. “The more education you have, the better,” she said. When Frances completes her Bachelor’s Degree in Intelligence, she plans to enroll in the Master’s program. Showing you have a strong educational background in the field is important for career advancement, plus it can keep you updated with new and emerging threats. “You have to stay relevant in the intelligence field” she said.

Leischen Kranick is a Managing Editor at AMU Edge. She has 15 years of experience writing articles and producing podcasts on topics relevant to law enforcement, fire services, emergency management, private security, and national security.

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