Intelligence services careers for graduates

Daniel Higginbotham, Editor
January, 2023

By choosing a career in intelligence operations with MI5, MI6 (SIS) or GCHQ, you'll get to put your analytical and interpersonal skills to the test. Discover more about the crucial roles that help to keep the nation 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 foreign, 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.

MI6 jobs

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, also known as an intelligence analyst. 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 - business analyst, change manager, network engineer, software engineer, software developer, technical security engineer
  • business support officers
  • trades and services - security officer, telephonist
  • corporate services - finance, HR, legal, procurement
  • language specialist.

Learn more about MI6 careers.

Working for 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 £33,350, with a guaranteed increase to £36,053 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 £34,414, with this increasing to £37,203 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 Central London starting salary of £37,396, which rises to £40,428 after one year (£35,283 moving up to £38,143 for those working in Greater Manchester), candidates are given £5,000 over two years towards their personal development. There are nine streams focusing on a range of areas such as project support, business analysis, information and cyber security, data engineering and security engineer. These specialist streams are aimed at those with science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) background.
  • Business Enablers Entry Scheme (BEES) - for those interested in a corporate services career. You can choose to specialise in areas such as finance, HR, legal, project management, recruitment or security. 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 £34,414, increasing to £37,203 after completion of the first year.

Find out more about MI5 development programmes.

As well as these graduate roles, MI5 internships are available to those in their penultimate or final year of university:

  • Technical Internship - an 11-week programme based in Central London for those studying a STEM-related degree (on track for a 2:2) and who are looking to work on projects for one of MI5's technical teams. These areas include UX (user experience), software engineering, business analysis and covert technical operations (CTO).
  • Summer Diversity Intelligence Internship - across the 11 weeks enthusiastic problem solvers from an under-represented background will get to understand how the agency protects national security while helping to investigate and disrupt international terrorism. Upon completion of the internship, you'll be invited to apply for the intelligence officer role or a place on the IODP.
  • Procurement Internship - a 12-month programme split into two six-month rotations for those with an interest in procurement. You'll get to work on the delivery of mission-critical products and services and at the end of the internship you'll be invited to interview for a procurement officer role upon graduation.

If you haven't gone down the university route, there are also 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 and IT service desk analysts.

GCHQ careers

There are several GCHQ schemes for current university students, including the following summer placements:

  • an 11-week Summer Language Talent Programme in Persian, Turkish or Mandarin
  • the Student Scheme for Technologists is offered in areas such as research, engineering and computer network operations
  • a nine-week Maths and Cryptography Summer Programme
  • a ten-week Cyber Insights Summer School.

Graduate opportunities at GCHQ are available in a number of areas, including:

  • Cyber operations specialists - you'll get 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 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 - these roles involve using powerful computer software, cryptology, cryptanalysis and mathematical modelling.
  • Technical - there are jobs for computer network specialists, software developers, infrastructure engineers and others.

For instance, if you're interested in a cyber security career, you could consider the National Cyber Security Centre's (NCSC) three-year CyberFirst Degree Apprenticeship programme. Explore the role of a cyber security analyst.

Open to school/college leavers with BBC grades at A-level, the apprenticeship provides a route towards the BSc Cyber Security. Working while you're studying, you'll benefit from a starting salary of more than £22,000. During the first two years you'll be based in Cheltenham, but the third year may involve occasional travel to Bude, Manchester or Scarborough.

There's also a degree apprenticeship in software engineering, based in Manchester.

Get more information about your early careers options at GCHQ.

Find out more

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