Intelligence services careers for graduates

Dan Mason, Editorial manager
November, 2019

Put your analytical skills to the test in a rewarding role protecting the country from harm. Read on to learn more about the different intelligence jobs you could pursue

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 - Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) 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 you should be in the last six months of your time at university. Foreign languages, the ability to work independently, great interpersonal skills, and an interest in other cultures will all benefit your application.

The starting salary for an intelligence officer is £33,800. 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, there is also a two-year operational data analyst training programme. Other MI6 jobs that graduates can consider are:

  • science and technology (e.g. 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.

If you're successful, your starting salary will be at least £31,807, with a guaranteed increase once you've completed your first year. The four programmes are:

  • Intelligence officer development programme (IODP) - a two-year scheme, made up of one or two separate postings, designed to prepare you for deployment as an intelligence officer. In the third year you'll move on to the five-week Foundation Investigative Training (FIT) course, before becoming eligible for promotion.
  • Intelligence and data analyst development programme (I&DADP) - focused specifically on data analysis. This is a two-year scheme that will train you to use advanced techniques to analyse and interpret data, and communicate your findings clearly. Making sense of large data sets, sometimes incomplete, is increasingly important to the success of MI5 investigations.
  • 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 £34,366, candidates are given £5,000 over two years towards their personal development. There are different streams - business and specialist - with the latter aimed at those with science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) degrees.
  • Business enablers entry scheme - for those interested in a corporate career. You might specialise in finance, HR or legal, for example. 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.

Find out more about MI5 development programmes.

GCHQ careers

As well as several schemes for current university students - such as 11-week language talent programmes in Persian, Arabic, Russian and Mandarin, and a Cyber Insights Summer School - GCHQ advertises jobs specifically for those who have 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 just 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 the following areas:

  • 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.

Get more information about your early careers options at GCHQ.

Find out more

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