Jennifer Bach is living a dream she has had since middle school.
As an FBI special agent for more than 16 years, she has led an exciting career investigating a range of federal crimes from human trafficking and public corruption to hate crimes and civil rights violations.
She has been an instructor at the FBI Academy in Quantico, Virginia, and now she is the Norfolk Division’s applicant coordinator. Her job is to recruit the next generation of special agents, and she is sharing advice and insight into the application process for aspiring agents.
It is not easy to become an FBI agent. Special agents are responsible for conducting sensitive national security investigations and enforcing hundreds of federal laws. The standards are extremely high, and the application process can take a year or more.
Special Agent Jennifer Bach, FBI Norfolk applicant coordinator and recruiter
Jennifer advises applicants to have patience and be flexible: “It takes a lot of tenacity to get through the process. It doesn’t happen overnight,” she says.
Successful candidates must meet basic requirements regarding age, education, and professional experience, but they must also pass a rigorous background investigation, maintain a high level of fitness, and demonstrate the FBI’s Core Competencies—skills such as communication, initiative, leadership, problem solving, and judgment.
“It is a whole person process," she explains, "and we are looking for people with significant life experience who can demonstrate these core competencies by providing specific professional examples.”
Special agents face unique challenges every day, and the FBI is looking for candidates with diverse backgrounds, skills, and experience. Jennifer studied biology in college because she liked the subject and knew science degrees were in demand by the FBI. Then, she earned a master’s degree in education and became a high school teacher and administrator before joining the Bureau.
Certainly, agents with STEM educations and specialized training in areas like law and accounting are critical to the FBI’s mission, but a lot of backgrounds help build essential skills. Jennifer says, “You can major in anything. You should major in something that you are passionate about.”
Jennifer says a lot of applicants are surprised that the FBI is interested in people with backgrounds in fields like counseling and psychology: “People in those fields have excellent communication and interpersonal skills that would make them a great agent. Our ability to communicate effectively and to connect with the people we serve is our greatest asset. Your major isn’t the only thing that reflects your ability to do the job well.”
Jennifer emphasizes that while an applicant’s education is important, their professional experience and accomplishments are even more relevant. “What I really want to know is what have they done since graduating from college. Your professional and life experience after college often tells us more about your ability to do the job.”
Special agents also face physically challenging, sometimes life-threatening, situations and the FBI requires them to stay in excellent physical shape. Maintaining strength, flexibility, and endurance are necessary for the agent’s safety and the safety of others.
To ensure applicants meet the FBI’s fitness standards, they are required to pass the Physical Fitness Test (PFT). “It’s more than being able to pass a test," Jennifer explains. "Physical fitness is an essential component to your ability to do your job effectively. We are looking for someone with a good moral compass who can make sound decisions quickly but must also be physically fit.”
Jennifer stresses that candidates should not apply until they are certain they can pass the PFT. “This is one part of the process where an applicant has total control,” she says. Her advice is to “go out and actually do the test to get a baseline. Then, be honest with yourself and decide what you need to do to be prepared.” When she applied, Jennifer sought help from a personal trainer, but today the FBI offers a training app and resources online.
Above all, Jennifer wants applicants to understand becoming an FBI special agent is more than a job—it is a responsibility. “It is hard to imagine until you are living it day in and day out. It is a 24/7 commitment, a calling, something you are never able to put aside. We are looking for applicants who understand that when everyone is running for the exits, you must stay. It is a huge responsibility but an amazing privilege.”
- Apply to the special agent position
- For more information about the qualifications, disqualifiers, core competencies, and application process, see Special Agent Selection Process: All You Need to Know to Apply (PDF)
- Download the FBI's Physical Fitness Test app
- Review PFT training tips (PDF)