No “james bond types”: what matters when applying to the federal intelligence service

"James Bond types are not welcome": What really matters if you want to work for the Federal Intelligence Service

If you want to apply to the Bundesnachrichtendienst, you should be able to be discreet

If you want to apply for the Federal Intelligence Service, you should be able to be discreet. Axel Schmidt / Reuters

The Federal Intelligence Service (BND): Germany’s foreign intelligence service. An agency that for many in Germany still has something of a secret about it. As an intelligence service, the BND cannot disclose all information. At the same time, of course, it is also an employer. Business Insider spoke with Julia Ritter and Anna Mai of the Federal Intelligence Service’s personnel marketing department about what the BND looks for in applicants, what tasks are covered, and how the application process works.

Applicants should be discreet instead of playing James Bond

If the first thing that comes to your mind when you think of working for the BND is spy movies, and you imagine yourself like James Bond with a license to kill, racing around the world in fast cars and expensive clothes, blowing up building after building and constantly exchanging gunfire with your opponents, then you probably tend not to be very suitable for a job with the Federal Intelligence Service. „James Bond types are not welcome. Self-promoters are not suitable for our sensitive tasks", says Ritter. Employees would have to be able to be discreet.

But how do you apply for a job at the BND?? It all starts with an online application. There you submit your application documents, which are necessary for the corresponding position. They are screened and it is seen if your qualifications fit the advertised position, training or studies. Depending on the position, you may have to meet a minimum grade point average. And you need German citizenship. But personal suitability is also particularly important. For this, the employees look at the applicant’s letter of motivation.

The BND is interested in the motivation of applicants

However, Ritter explains that the second step enables those responsible to better see whether someone fits in with the BND: the contact interview. Such an interview can sometimes last two and a half to three hours. But there are also shorter interviews. Ritter explains the length of the interview by saying that two areas conduct the interview with applicants. Human resources department asks applicants for general information. In the interview with the respective department, technical questions are asked. In some cases, experts from different fields are involved.

„At the BND, you mainly work in teams. That’s why the ability to work in a team is an important quality", she says. In addition, applicants to the Federal Intelligence Service must be willing to gain further qualifications and bring a certain flexibility with them. At the agency, it’s common for employees to rotate internally in their jobs every three to five years, if they like it.

As an employee of the BND, you have the opportunity to work in a wide variety of teams and areas of responsibility. According to Ritter, someone who started out in administration could later work in a team on evaluation, create situation reports or switch to operations. If they want, employees can also work abroad.

Applicants from STEM fields are particularly in demand at the BND

The tasks at the BND are wide-ranging. That’s why it’s hard to name specific requirements. According to the experts, people from a wide range of fields work at the Federal Intelligence Service, from tourism specialists to orientalists, computer scientists to aerospace engineers. There is currently a strong focus on STEM fields, i.e. applicants for the fields of mathematics, computer science, natural sciences and technology, when it comes to new hires. These can be network analysts, cryptologists, computer scientists or software developers. Language skills are also in high demand. According to Ritter and Mai, examples include French, Russian, Persian, Arabic and Chinese. It is not just a matter of potential applicants speaking the language in question, but also, if possible, being able to interpret and translate.

In general, the Bundesnachrichtendienst, as Germany’s foreign intelligence service, deals primarily with information. They are collected, evaluated, processed and analyzed. It is about the political, economic and technical developments in different countries. Therefore, applicants should also be interested in these areas if possible. It also covers military issues, as well as possible security threats to Germany. Federal Intelligence Service employees mediate in humanitarian negotiations and advise on decisions based on their findings. If you were employed by the BND, you would be working on behalf of the German government.

Applicants for the BND have to pass a security check

But for that you have to be taken first. The third step of the application process, for example for a training or study position, is a one-day assessment center. This third step does not always necessarily take place. For the STEM field, there is a special selection process where the second and third steps are combined in one day. The assessment center works at the BND just like in the business world, says Ritter. The cognitive ability of the applicants is tested. They also check how well applicants can present orally and in writing, and there is an interview with a selection committee. In a way, the situation during the assessment center also tests the stress resistance of the applicants.

„After this third step knows the applicant whether we plan to hire him or her", says Ritter. However, this does not mean that the applicant can start immediately. „Then we perform the legally required security check.", explains Ritter. It can take up to nine months for the process to be completed. It is necessary because BND employees work in a security agency.

„During the security check, one of the things we do is ask questions around the person to make sure that person really exists", explains Ritter. The people interviewed are previously specified reference persons, if possible from different walks of life of the possible new employee. These can be friends from childhood, studies and later career. For this legally required security check according to the Security Screening Act (Sicherheitsuberprufungsgesetz, SuG), a separate autonomous department is responsible. The other areas would not know why someone was rejected, for example. Since the BND currently employs people in the good three-digit range and employees sometimes have to travel abroad for such checks, the check can take longer. After the security check, a medical examination is required.

Applicants sometimes have misconceptions about the BND

However, it also happens again and again that applicants have a false image of the BND. „Intelligence services in Germany have no executive powers- so they can’t use coercion- and have a different understanding than some services in other countries", says Ritter. Employees are sometimes armed, but when they are, they are defensive. „The BND does not intervene in events abroad. Intelligence resources must be used with a sense of proportion be applied and only if they are proportionate.“ More specifically, it means that the Federal Intelligence Service does not influence elections, for example. What does exist, however, is a workshop for means of transport. These are, for example, bags that are designed so that things can be transported inconspicuously.

In the future, the Federal Intelligence Service is now keen to increase the quota of women in the service, says Mai. Currently, there is a slight outnumber of male applicants at a rough ratio of about 60 to 40, he said. „We would like to increase the percentage of women at BND, especially in the STEM area", says Ritter.

If you’re interested in an apprenticeship, a degree program or a job at the BND, you should apply early, the experts say. Unsolicited applications are no longer possible. You should apply for a vacancy about a year earlier if possible, for example, a year before you finish your bachelor’s degree. If you end up spending a month longer on your studies, Mai says that’s not such a bad thing: "We’d rather have to wait longer for suitable applicants than not be able to wait for suitable applicants.“

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