What's involved in applying for a job at NSA?

If you think you've got what it takes, apply for an NSA job and get ready for a thorough vetting and background check.

If you're interested in helping protect the United States and its citizens against cyberthreats from foreign adversaries, there's probably no place you can make more of a difference than at the National Security Agency (NSA).

Because many of our readers are IT professionals, we'll focus on NSA's Computer Network Operations (CNO) division. CNO is considered one of the most technically elite organizations, so you must be at the top of your game. You'll need to bring IT, software engineering, networking, operating systems, and data analysis skills to work every day.

Some of the more exciting aspects of working in CNO are the wide range of skills you'll be using, plus the training and personal and professional mentorship you'll receive. The capabilities and skills you'll develop at NSA go beyond anything you might see in the corporate world.

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Thorough vetting

Once you decide you're interested in joining NSA, just complete an online application. After that, the real fun begins.

Working at NSA requires you to meet a high level of citizenship, professionalism, and loyalty. This process of getting to know you - and whether you can be trusted with America's security - can take quite as long as 20-30 weeks or more.

As we've discussed, you'll need top-notch technical skills. You also need to be a US citizen. If you have dual citizenship with another country, you may also apply. You may be asked to take a drug test. Even if cannabis use is legal in the state where you live, NSA evaluators may deem such use a liability or a security concern.

Once your application has been reviewed, you may be asked in for an interview. This part of process is a lot like what you're used to in applying for any technical job. You'll meet folks, answer questions, get answers to your questions, and possibly take some tests. If all goes well, NSA may decide you're a fit and offer you a job.

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Nothing but the truth

Here's where things start to diverge from the corporate world. If you get a job offer from NSA, it will be considered conditional. It's just the start of your journey.

There will be copious forms. This is where you provide information for your security clearance. You'll be required to pass a security check in order to work for the agency. If you've lived or worked outside the US, or had lots of contact with foreign nationals, the forms could take quite a while to fill out. Basically, you're giving security examiners a detailed personal history so they can ascertain whether it's safe to trust you with America's secrets.

Once you've completed all your disclosure forms, an investigator will look into your background, verify your information, and begin the background check process. This process can take a few months or longer.

The spy shows got some things right: If you pass the early stages of evaluation, you'll need to take a polygraph test.

Sitting down for a polygraph involves meeting with an examiner in an office setting. Don't worry if you're nervous during the test. Just about everyone is, and that's taken into account.

Before the polygraph, you'll be given an orientation session and told what to expect. The examiner will explain that your rights are protected by the Fifth Amendment and the Privacy Act. You'll even have a chance to practice the test.

During the actual test, you'll be connected to the machine (not unlike a blood pressure monitor) and asked questions. The examiner will also record your answers.

After you're done, you'll be sent home, and a second quality control reviewer will also look at your answers. If everything's good, you'll move on through the process. If something didn't record properly, you might be asked back for a second exam.

If all goes well, your conditional job offer will be turned into an actual opportunity to work for the American people at NSA. Every day, you'll be taking on foreign adversaries, cyber criminals, and terrorists. The work is secret; you can't share the details of your adventures with friends or family. But you'll know, and the professionals you work with every day will know.

If you're comfortable operating with little fanfare, it's worth considering a job that could change the course of world affairs, prevent or end wars, and save lives. What you do will matter, will make America stronger, and will give you a tangible sense of satisfaction and purpose. If this sort of job and this sort of life sound appealing, visit the job board and start the process.