The FBI Honors Internship Program
Cassie: Interviewing special agents on the scene. Analyzing DNA at the Lab in Quantico. Writing your first-ever podcast script.
Bella: Maybe it’s not the traditional way to spend your summer, but that’s exactly the point.
Because this summer, we’ve been getting an exclusive, behind-the-scenes look at how the FBI carries out its mission every day.
Cassie: A mission we've contributed to, too, as FBI Honors Interns.
Bella: On this episode of Inside the FBI, we’ll be talking about the Bureau’s highly competitive summer internship program for college and graduate students.
We'll learn more about how the application and background process works and hear from some of this year’s interns about their experiences.
Cassie: I’m Cassie.
Bella: And I’m Bella.
Together: And this is Inside the FBI.
* * *
Bella: Mariah is a first-year law student at the University of Mississippi and a recent graduate of Tennessee State University, one of the nation’s historically black colleges and universities.
This is her third summer with the FBI. She’s currently assigned to our Memphis Field Office on a squad that handles violations like civil rights, human trafficking, and violent crimes again children.
Cassie: Mariah says the FBI she saw on the small screen inspired her to get a first-hand look at the real thing.
Mariah: I grew up watching Criminal Minds. And so I always saw myself as one of the agents on Criminal Minds.
So, freshman year of college came, and we had an FBI representative come and talk to the students on campus. He talked so highly of the FBI.
So, my first year, when I found out about the internship program, I did not apply because I didn't think I was competitive enough. The second year came, and my mom kept pushing me to apply.
Bella: Mariah said that after she submitted her application, she waited a few weeks for a response...
Mariah: I got an email about it and I was excited because I was like, "Oh my gosh, I got the internship." And I was just ready to start.
Cassie: ...and then she learned she’d have to wait a little longer to get going.
Mariah: And then that's when they told me, "Okay, we're about to enter you into the background process." So that's when I learned that it was going to be an eight-month background check that had to be done.
Bella: FBI employees—and that includes interns—must be cleared to hold top secret security clearances. We asked Caitlin, an FBI staffing specialist who was an intern herself, about this part of the hiring process:
Caitlin: So, after an intern applicant accepts their conditional job offer, their information is sent out to their local field office. And that starts their process with intake, which is considered their polygraph, an interview, a drug test, and fingerprints.
And after they successfully complete their intake piece with the field, they then move on to the background investigation where their friends, family, work colleagues will be interviewed in relation to them. And then, pending all that review by security, they may or may not be favorably adjudicated.
Cassie: In Bureau-speak, that means nothing comes up in your background investigation that would disqualify you from working for the FBI.
Caitlin: And that whole process can take, on average, six to nine months depending on the person and their life experiences.
Cassie: So what is it about this background investigation that can take so long? As Caitlin explains:
Caitlin: It's really just the length of time it takes to accomplish everything. So, the interns are one group amongst all the people the FBI's working on through a background investigation. So, they're also working on all professional staff, special agents.
Bella: Caitlin says the most important thing you can do is to tell the truth. It’s important to know that what you report on your application will come up again in a polygraph and in your background investigation. Any inconsistencies that come to light can negatively impact your application.
While the background process is long, it shouldn’t deter you from applying. If you’re interested in interning with the FBI, do your research—make sure you meet eligibility requirements for the program and for working at the FBI, which you can find at fbijobs.gov. And make sure that you—
Cassie: —and your friends... your family... and your professors—who will be asked to answer questions about you—
Bella: —are prepared for the background investigation.
Cassie: When people think about working for the FBI, they also tend to think there are only a limited number of experiences or majors or skillsets that will fit the mold.
Allie-Grace: I never thought I would see myself working at the FBI. I never really saw it as a career opportunity for me. I was also under the impression that I wouldn't get this internship just because I didn't have a law enforcement background.
Bella: That was Allie-Grace, currently an intern in the Office of Public Affairs at FBI Headquarters. She’s a rising senior at Georgia Tech studying media and communications. She previously worked at the Georgia State Capitol, CNN, and in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.
While Allie-Grace initially worried her communications background would not be a good fit, she’s since realized the value of her skillsets and how she can use them anywhere in the Bureau.
Allie-Grace: When I applied, I only put the Office of Public Affairs as my first choice.
But as I've learned throughout my time here, I can go into almost any division. Almost any division needs communicators, they need media, they need people who are editors, writers, and that kind of thing. So it's very exciting knowing that there's all these opportunities within the FBI that I didn't know about.
Now that I'm already at the FBI, so many more doors are open, and I can use my media and communication background, but it doesn't necessarily have to be the primary focus.
Cassie: Allie-Grace's time in the fast-paced public affairs office has given her the chance to work with the Bureau’s writers, photographers, and other creators to produce content.
Allie-Grace: So, I use my media and communication skills every single day. I conduct interviews, I write articles, I help write speeches, and I'm doing lots and lots of research on various topics.
I feel like my knowledge about the FBI has grown so much in just the short time that I've been here. And it's just so much knowledge that you're learning every single day.
And it is exciting knowing that everything that I did learn at school, I am able to apply here. I feel like everyone in our office is constantly writing something, whether that's internal articles, external articles.
Everyone's always busy.
Bella: Sam, who is wrapping up his third FBI internship, is a double major in biology and German at UNC Chapel Hill.
This summer, he’s been working in the Firearms-Toolmarks Unit at the FBI Laboratory in Quantico, Virginia.
Sam: Basically, in layman's terms, looking at cartridge cases and bullets and matching them to firearms.
And so I've had the opportunity to spend a lot of time with some pretty high-tech and pretty new instrumentation that's really paving the way for the future of firearms and toolmarks examining.
And so I'm scanning lots of cartridge cases, spending a lot of time on different machines, and having a blast overall.
Cassie: Sam says that his science background has definitely helped him while he’s been at the FBI but that he's realized there’s more to it than what you major in.
Sam: My first summer I was in a DNA unit. And so, a little bit more directly related to the biology side of things. And that's always helpful to have a bit of background information academically on the different subjects.
But that's really not the be all end all. Plenty of the interns with me here at the lab are in units that are pretty drastically different from what their majors are.
But what the important skills that they're looking for are more has to do with problem solving, research experience, communication, and teamwork.
Bella: Sam goes on to say collaborating with others, whether interns or other FBI employees, has been a highlight of his internships.
Sam: You're working with people who are in the same situation that you're in.
One of the most rewarding experiences I've had so far with my fellow intern was just trying to figure out one of the machines together. We went in with very little background knowledge about how it worked, but it was just trial and error, and you know what? We had a fun time communicating and trying to figure things out.
But even if you don't have a fellow intern in your unit, you'll definitely have the opportunity to work with other professional staff members at the Laboratory, and you'll definitely learn a lot in that way as well.
Bella: What would Sam say the biggest takeaway has been from his internship experiences?
Sam: If anything, falling down and trying and trying again, you know, starting from zero somewhere and trying to get to a spot where you're feeling comfortable.
Bella: We’d like to thank Mariah, Caitlin, Allie-Grace, and Sam for talking to us about the honors internship experience.
If you or a college student in your life is interested in working at the FBI, visit fbijobs.gov for more information. The application period opens September 13.
Cassie: And remember: There’s a place for every skillset at the FBI. No matter if you’re studying art or cybersecurity, biology or English—you can use what you know to help protect the American people and uphold the Constitution as an FBI Honors Intern.
And who knows—you might even get to take over the FBI podcast studio for the day.
Bella: This has been another production of Inside the FBI. You can follow us on your favorite podcast player, including Spotify, Apple Podcasts, or Google Podcasts. You can also subscribe to get email alerts for new episodes of our show at fbi.gov/podcasts.
Cassie: ...and I’m Cassie...
Bella: ...from the FBI’s Office of Public Affairs. Thanks again for tuning in.