By choosing a career in intelligence operations, you'll get to put your analytical and interpersonal skills to the test. Discover more about how these crucial roles can help to keep the country safe
The UK's three main intelligence services are:
- MI6 - officially known as the Secret Intelligence Service (SIS), MI6 collects intelligence from outside the UK to support the government's security, defence and economic policies.
- MI5 - the Security Service is the UK's domestic intelligence agency. Its objective is to protect the UK against internal or external threats to national security.
- GCHQ - the Government Communications Headquarters is responsible for gathering information by intercepting electronic and digital communications, and thwarting hackers and other technological threats.
Graduates are free to apply to any of the jobs advertised by these organisations, but there are also specific development programmes in place if you have a degree.
Working for MI6
While MI6 doesn't advertise any graduate schemes or development programmes, you do need a degree to be considered for the role of intelligence officer. It's a job that involves gathering, delivering and using intelligence that contributes to the security of the nation.
You'll need to have or be expecting at least a 2:2 to apply, and if you're still studying at university, you'll need to have received your confirmed degree result within 12 months of your application date. Foreign languages, great interpersonal skills, an aptitude for technology and an interest in other cultures would all benefit your application.
The starting salary for an intelligence officer based in London is between £35,534 and £44,903. An initial induction will assess your skills before you specialise, before potentially working overseas and later moving into management and leadership.
If you're interested and knowledgeable about data, as well as people and analysis, there's also a two-year operational data analyst training programme. Working across GCHQ/MI5 and SIS (MI6), you'll require an interest in technical-related issues and turning raw data into meaningful insights. Salaries for these roles start from £33,801.
Other MI6 jobs that graduates can consider include:
- science and technology - for example, network engineer, project manager, business analyst
- business support officers
- trades and services
- corporate services
- language specialist.
Learn more about MI6 careers.
How to join MI5
MI5 offers four development programmes at graduate level. The minimum entry requirement is a 2:2 in any subject, although it's possible to join some of the schemes without a degree if you have significant relevant work experience.
Earning a place involves completing online tests, a telephone interview, attending an assessment centre and a final selection board, as well as the initial application forms. The nature of the tests depends on the programme you've applied for - for example, it could be verbal reasoning or situational judgement.
The four programmes are:
- Intelligence Officer Development Programme (IODP) - a two-year scheme, made up of one or two separate postings in areas including policy, analysis, legal casework, digital intelligence and warranty. Your starting salary will be at least £31,807, with a guaranteed increase to £34,385 once you've completed your first year. The programme is designed to give you an understanding of how MI5 functions, while preparing you for deployment as an intelligence officer. At the end of the two years, you'll move onto the five-week Foundation Investigative Training (FIT) course, before becoming eligible for promotion.
- Intelligence and Data Analyst Development Programme (I&DADP) - this is a two-year scheme as part of a five-year career pathway that will train you to use advanced techniques to analyse and interpret data and communicate your findings clearly. Making sense of large data sets and spotting patterns is increasingly important to the success of MI5 investigations. You'll start on £33,350, with this increasing to £36,053 after the first year. After you're fully trained, you'll spend the next three years in a range of analysis-related posts. Read more about working as a data analyst.
- Technology Graduate Development Programme (TGDP) - a structured programme for graduates who want to start their carer in MI5's cutting-edge IT department. As well as a starting salary of £36,159 (rising to £39,091 after one year), candidates are given £5,000 over two years towards their personal development. There are two different streams - business and specialist. With the former, you'll use your interest in technology within areas such as project management, information architecture and business analysis. The specialist stream is aimed at those with science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) or technical degrees that have either a programming element or focus on IT/cyber security. This is because you'll be putting your technological skills to good use as a software engineer or cyber technical analyst respectively.
- Business Enablers Entry Scheme (BEES) - for those interested in a corporate career. You can choose to specialise in areas such as finance, HR, security or legal. Starting with a standard MI5 induction, you'll be placed in a corporate post for two to three years, including classroom and/or on-the-job training. Then, you have the option of staying in the same function or moving around different areas. The starting salary for this programme is £31,807, increasing to £34,385 after completion of the first year.
Find out more about MI5 development programmes.
As well as these graduate roles, MI5 now provides internships, as well as opportunities for school leavers in the form of a three-year software engineer degree apprenticeship and 18-month infrastructure engineer apprenticeship. The organisation is also looking for administration officers, English language analysts and service desk analysts.
There are several GCHQ schemes for current university students, including:
- an 11-week summer language talent programmes in Persian, Turkish or Mandarin
- a student scheme for technologists
- a maths and cryptography summer programme
- a Cyber Insights Summer School.
Jobs are also advertised for those who've recently graduated or are just about to. Among them is the Future Leaders Programme, designed to fast track you to a senior leadership position in five years. The minimum requirement is a 2:2 in any subject or a postgraduate certificate (PGCert) with a business or management focus. You'll need to be prepared for a challenging and intensive role, spent moving between six or 12-month placements in different business departments.
There are also opportunities at GCHQ for graduates in a number of areas, including:
- Cyber operations specialists - a 2:2 in a STEM subject is required for this key role where you'll need to apply technology creatively to solve problems. This may involve hacking the computers of criminals and terrorists to discover and disrupt their plans.
- Intelligence analysts - with a 2:2 or above, and a strong interest in technology and current affairs, you'll turn complex data into vital intelligence.
- Language analysts - if you have native speaker capability or graduate-level knowledge of the required language. GCHQ is particularly seeking speakers of languages including Korean, Persian and any Arab dialects.
- Maths - you'll need a 2:1 to be considered for one of these roles, which involve using powerful computer software, cryptology, cryptanalysis and mathematical modelling.
- Technical - requiring a 2:2 in a relevant subject, there are jobs for computer network specialists, software developers, infrastructure engineers and others.
If you haven't been to university and you're interested in a cyber security career, the CyberFirst programme provides school leavers with a route towards a degree apprenticeship in the subject.
Get more information about your early careers options at GCHQ.
Find out more
- Learn more about becoming an intelligence analyst.
- Consider cyber security training and other IT graduate jobs.
- Explore careers in the public services and administration sector.