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Special Agent Careers

Being a Special Agent is probably one of the most thrilling careers you can think of. Most people confuse a secret agent with this title, but both are quite different. They are smart individuals who are involved in state security, investigation, and criminal justice. Criminals fear them, as agents keep their eyes on them for quite some time.

Special agents conduct investigations of various criminal activities, including extortion, kidnapping, fraud, cybercrime, white collar, and several financial crimes. They also investigate potential terrorist threats, interstate illegal activities, and international espionage. If needed, suspects are taken into custody by them on the order of the court. They can also issue arrest warrants on their own.

As a Special Agent, you can earn $26.80 per hour, which is $55,734 per year. A bachelor's degree is the primary educational requirement for this job. But you might also need relevant experience to get hired. They normally have to work 50 hours every week, including holidays and weekends.

What Does a Special Agent Do

Police officers protect lives and property. Detectives and criminal investigators, who are sometimes called agents or special agents, gather facts and collect evidence of possible crimes.

Duties

Police officers, detectives, and criminal investigators typically do the following:

  • Enforce laws
  • Respond to emergency and nonemergency calls
  • Patrol assigned areas
  • Conduct traffic stops and issue citations
  • Search for vehicle records and warrants using computers in the field
  • Obtain warrants and arrest suspects
  • Collect and secure evidence from crime scenes
  • Observe the activities of suspects
  • Write detailed reports and fill out forms
  • Prepare cases and testify in court

Police officers pursue and apprehend people who break the law. They then warn, cite, or arrest them. Most police officers patrol their jurisdictions and investigate suspicious activity. They also respond to calls, issue traffic tickets, and give first aid to accident victims.

Detectives perform investigative duties, such as gathering facts and collecting evidence.

The daily activities of police and detectives vary with their occupational specialty, such as canine units and special weapons and tactics (SWAT). Job duties differ at the local, state, or federal level. Duties differ among federal agencies because they enforce different aspects of the law. Regardless of job duties or location, police officers and detectives at all levels must write reports and keep detailed records that will be needed if they testify in court. Most carry law enforcement tools, such as radios, handcuffs, and guns.

State and Local Law Enforcement

Uniformed police officers have general law enforcement duties. They wear uniforms that allow the public to easily recognize them as police officers. They have regular patrols and also respond to emergency and nonemergency calls. During patrols, officers look for any signs of criminal activity and may conduct searches and arrest suspected criminals.

Some police officers work only on a specific type of crime, such as narcotics. Officers, especially those working in large departments, may work in special units, such as horseback, motorcycle, canine corps, and special weapons and tactics (SWAT). Typically, officers must work as patrol officers for a certain number of years before they may be appointed to a special unit.

Some agencies, such as public college and university police forces, public school police, and transit police, have special geographic and enforcement responsibilities.

State police officers, sometimes called state troopers or highway patrol officers, have many of the same duties as other police officers, but they may spend more time enforcing traffic laws and issuing traffic citations. State police officers have authority to work anywhere in the state and are frequently called on to help other law enforcement agencies, especially those in rural areas or small towns.

Transit and railroad police patrol railroad yards and transit stations. They protect property, employees, and passengers from crimes such as thefts and robberies. They remove trespassers from railroad and transit properties and check IDs of people who try to enter secure areas. 

Sheriffs and deputy sheriffs enforce the law on the county level. Sheriffs’ departments tend to be relatively small. Sheriffs are usually elected by the public and do the same work as a local or county police chief. Some sheriffs’ departments do the same work as officers in urban police departments. Others mainly operate the county jails and provide services in local courts. Police and sheriffs’ deputies who provide security in city and county courts are sometimes called bailiffs.

Detectives and criminal investigators are uniformed or plainclothes investigators who gather facts and collect evidence for criminal cases. They conduct interviews, examine records, observe the activities of suspects, and participate in raids and arrests. Detectives usually specialize in investigating one type of crime, such as homicide or fraud. Detectives are typically assigned cases on a rotating basis and work on them until an arrest and trial are completed or until the case is dropped.

Fish and game wardens enforce fishing, hunting, and boating laws. They patrol fishing and hunting areas, conduct search and rescue operations, investigate complaints and accidents, and educate the public about laws pertaining to the outdoors. Federal fish and game wardens are often referred to as Federal Wildlife Officers.

Federal Law Enforcement

Federal law enforcement officials carry out many of the same duties that other police officers do, and they also have jurisdiction over the entire country. Many federal agents are highly specialized. The following are examples of federal agencies in which officers and agents enforce particular types of laws.

  • Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) agents are the federal government's principal investigators, responsible for enforcing more than 200 categories of federal statutes and conducting sensitive national security investigations.
  • Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agents enforce laws and regulations relating to illegal drugs.
  • United States Secret Service uniformed officers protect the President, the Vice President, their immediate families, and other public officials. Other Secret Service agents investigate financial crimes.
  • Federal Air Marshals provide air security by guarding against attacks targeting U.S. aircraft, passengers, and crews.
  • U.S. Border Patrol agents protect the U.S. land and sea boundaries.

See the Contacts for More Info section for additional information about federal law enforcement agencies.

How To Become a Special Agent

Education requirements range from a high school diploma to a college degree. Most police and detectives must graduate from their agency’s training academy before completing a period of on-the-job training. Candidates must be U.S. citizens, usually at least 21 years old, and able to meet rigorous physical and personal qualification standards. A felony conviction or drug use may disqualify a candidate.

Education

Police and detective applicants must have at least a high school diploma or equivalent, although many federal agencies and some police departments require some college coursework or a college degree. Many community colleges, 4-year colleges, and universities offer programs in law enforcement and criminal justice, and agencies may offer financial assistance to officers who pursue these, or related, degrees. Knowledge of a foreign language is an asset in many federal agencies and geographical regions.

Fish and game wardens applying for federal jobs with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service typically need a college degree; and those applying to work for a state’s natural resources department often need a high school diploma or some college study in a related field, such as biology or natural resources management.

Federal agencies typically require a bachelor's degree. For example, FBI and DEA special agent applicants are often college graduates.

State and local agencies encourage applicants to continue their education after high school, by taking courses and training related to law enforcement. Many applicants for entry-level police jobs have taken some college classes, and a significant number are college graduates. Many community colleges, 4-year colleges, and universities offer programs in law enforcement and criminal justice. Many agencies offer financial assistance to officers who pursue these or related degrees.

Training

Candidates for appointment usually attend a training academy before becoming an officer. Training includes classroom instruction in state and local laws and constitutional law, civil rights, and police ethics. Recruits also receive training and supervised experience in areas such as patrol, traffic control, firearm use, self-defense, first aid, and emergency response.

Federal law enforcement agents undergo extensive training, usually at the U.S. Marine Corps base in Quantico, Virginia, or at a Federal Law Enforcement Training Center.

Work Experience in a Related Occupation

Detectives normally begin their careers as police officers before being promoted to detective.

FBI special agent applicants typically must have at least 3 years of professional work experience in areas ranging from computer science to accounting.

Other Experience

Some police departments have cadet programs for people interested in a career in law enforcement who do not yet meet age requirements for becoming an officer. These cadets do clerical work and attend classes until they reach the minimum age requirement and can apply for a position with the regular force. Military or police experience may be considered beneficial for potential cadets.

Cadet candidates must be U.S. citizens, usually be at least 21 years old, have a driver’s license, and meet specific physical qualifications. Applicants may have to pass physical exams of vision, hearing, strength, and agility, as well as written exams. Previous work or military experience is often seen as a plus. Candidates typically go through a series of interviews and may be asked to take lie detector and drug tests. A felony conviction may disqualify a candidate.

Advancement

Police officers usually become eligible for promotion after a probationary period. Promotions to corporal, sergeant, lieutenant, and captain usually are made according to a candidate's position on a promotion list, as determined by scores on a written examination and on-the-job performance. In large departments, promotion may enable an officer to become a detective or to specialize in one type of police work, such as working with juveniles.

Important Qualities

Communication skills. Police, detectives, and fish and game wardens must be able to speak with people when gathering facts about a crime and to express details about a given incident in writing.

Empathy. Police officers need to understand the perspectives of a wide variety of people in their jurisdiction and have a willingness to help the public.

Good judgment. Police and detectives must be able to determine the best way to solve a wide array of problems quickly.

Leadership skills. Police officers must be comfortable with being a highly visible member of their community, as the public looks to them for assistance in emergency situations.

Perceptiveness. Officers, detectives, and fish and game wardens must be able to anticipate a person’s reactions and understand why people act a certain way.

Physical stamina. Officers and detectives must be in good physical shape, both to pass required tests for entry into the field, and to keep up with the daily rigors of the job.

Physical strength. Police officers must be strong enough to physically apprehend offenders.

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Average Salary
$50,582
Average Salary
Job Growth Rate
5%
Job Growth Rate
Job Openings
40,657
Job Openings

Special Agent Career Paths

Top Careers Before Special Agent

Top Careers After Special Agent

Special Agent Jobs You Might Like

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Average Salary for a Special Agent

Special Agents in America make an average salary of $50,582 per year or $24 per hour. The top 10 percent makes over $76,000 per year, while the bottom 10 percent under $33,000 per year.
Average Salary
$50,582
Find Your Salary Estimate
How much should you be earning as an Architect? Use Zippia's Salary Calculator to get an estimation of how much you should be earning.

Best Paying Cities

City
ascdesc
Average Salarydesc
Bethel Park, PA
Salary Range44k - 82k$60k$60,480
Gladstone, MO
Salary Range48k - 73k$60k$60,132
Anchorage, AK
Salary Range52k - 64k$58k$58,234
Bartlett, TN
Salary Range42k - 70k$55k$54,783
Glendale, AZ
Salary Range39k - 65k$51k$50,765
Brookfield, WI
Salary Range34k - 56k$44k$43,758
$34k
$82k

Recently Added Salaries

Job TitleCompanyascdescCompanyascdescStart DateascdescSalaryascdesc
Special Agent
Special Agent
State of Washington
State of Washington
06/29/2021
06/29/2021
$56,77206/29/2021
$56,772
Special Agent (Police)
Special Agent (Police)
BNSF Railways
BNSF Railways
06/28/2021
06/28/2021
$68,04006/28/2021
$68,040
Special Agent
Special Agent
Union Pacific Railroad Company
Union Pacific Railroad Company
06/26/2021
06/26/2021
$80,00006/26/2021
$80,000
Special Agent: Linguist
Special Agent: Linguist
Federal Bureau of Investigation
Federal Bureau of Investigation
05/25/2021
05/25/2021
$62,55605/25/2021
$62,556
Special Agent
Special Agent
Federal Bureau of Investigation
Federal Bureau of Investigation
05/25/2021
05/25/2021
$62,55605/25/2021
$62,556
See More Recent Salaries

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Special Agent Resumes

Designing and figuring out what to include on your resume can be tough, not to mention time-consuming. That's why we put together a guide that is designed to help you craft the perfect resume for becoming a Special Agent. If you're needing extra inspiration, take a look through our selection of templates that are specific to your job.

Learn How To Write a Special Agent Resume

At Zippia, we went through countless Special Agent resumes and compiled some information about how best to optimize them. Here are some suggestions based on what we found, divided by the individual sections of the resume itself.

View Detailed Information

Special Agent Demographics

Gender

male

78.6 %

female

17.9 %

unknown

3.5 %

Ethnicity

White

64.5 %

Hispanic or Latino

16.6 %

Black or African American

12.5 %

Foreign Languages Spoken

Spanish

57.9 %

French

10.0 %

German

5.8 %
See More Demographics

Special Agent Education

Majors

Business
12.7 %

Degrees

Bachelors

63.4 %

Associate

12.7 %

Masters

10.3 %
See More Education Info

Online Courses For Special Agent That You May Like

Introduction to Criminal Law
ed2go

An in-depth look at criminal law and the real world of prosecutors, defense attorneys, and the paralegals who work closely with them...

Introduction to International Criminal Law
coursera

About the Course - From the Nuremberg trial to the case against Saddam Hussein, from the prosecution of Al-Qaeda terrorists to the trial of Somali pirates - no area of law is as important to world peace and security as international criminal law. Taught by one of the world's leading experts in the field, this course will educate students about the fundamentals of international criminal law and policy. We will explore the contours of international crimes such as genocide, war crimes, terrorism, a...

Criminal Law in 120 Minutes: A Fast Track Course
udemy
4.4
(276)

A 2 hour fast track summary of Criminal Law, targeting all common law LL.B examinations!...

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Top Skills For a Special Agent

The skills section on your resume can be almost as important as the experience section, so you want it to be an accurate portrayal of what you can do. Luckily, we've found all of the skills you'll need so even if you don't have these skills yet, you know what you need to work on. Out of all the resumes we looked through, 67.5% of special agents listed clearance on their resume, but soft skills such as communication skills and empathy are important as well.

  • Clearance, 67.5%
  • Criminal Activity, 8.7%
  • Law Enforcement, 8.6%
  • Arrest Warrants, 2.7%
  • Counterintelligence Investigations, 1.3%
  • Other Skills, 11.2%
  • See All Special Agent Skills

Best States For a Special Agent

Some places are better than others when it comes to starting a career as a special agent. The best states for people in this position are Delaware, Connecticut, West Virginia, and Ohio. Special agents make the most in Delaware with an average salary of $71,490. Whereas in Connecticut and West Virginia, they would average $70,727 and $70,069, respectively. While special agents would only make an average of $69,211 in Ohio, you would still make more there than in the rest of the country. We determined these as the best states based on job availability and pay. By finding the median salary, cost of living, and using the Bureau of Labor Statistics' Location Quotient, we narrowed down our list of states to these four.

1. Delaware

Total Special Agent Jobs:
249
Highest 10% Earn:
$129,000
Location Quotient:
1.38
Location Quotient is a measure used by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) to determine how concentrated a certain industry is in a single state compared to the nation as a whole. You can read more about how BLS calculates location quotients here

2. Rhode Island

Total Special Agent Jobs:
211
Highest 10% Earn:
$122,000
Location Quotient:
1.2
Location Quotient is a measure used by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) to determine how concentrated a certain industry is in a single state compared to the nation as a whole. You can read more about how BLS calculates location quotients here

3. Ohio

Total Special Agent Jobs:
1,643
Highest 10% Earn:
$119,000
Location Quotient:
1.11
Location Quotient is a measure used by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) to determine how concentrated a certain industry is in a single state compared to the nation as a whole. You can read more about how BLS calculates location quotients here
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Top Special Agent Employers

1. United States Army
4.2
Avg. Salary: 
$67,919
Special Agents Hired: 
461+
2. United States Secret Service
4.4
Avg. Salary: 
$69,677
Special Agents Hired: 
371+
3. Department of Homeland Security
4.5
Avg. Salary: 
$68,197
Special Agents Hired: 
138+
4. United States Department of the Treasury
4.6
Avg. Salary: 
$69,808
Special Agents Hired: 
87+
5. United States Department of State
4.4
Avg. Salary: 
$66,416
Special Agents Hired: 
81+
6. Northwestern Mutual
4.8
Avg. Salary: 
$71,460
Special Agents Hired: 
67+

Special Agent Videos

Updated October 2, 2020